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Successful Entrepreneurs in Nigeria – Their First Jobs (Part 11)

In the world today, the privileged positions of founders and Chief Executives have almost become exclusive to degree and MBA holders. However, a few have proven with their stories that grit, hardwork, sweat ,toil and initiative can make a man successful in business, even without executive degrees.

Two successful entrepreneurs and key personalities that stand out in this area are Chief Razaq Akanni Okoya and Mr Cosmas Maduka.

Chief Rasaq Okoya – Apprentice Tailor

Razak Akanni Okoya, a billionaire industrialist and the Aare of Lagos was born in 1940 in Lagos. He is the owner and founder of Eleganza group of companies, which has a market spanning the entire West Africa.

He attended Ansar-Un-Deen primary school in Oke Popo, his only formal schooling. He worked in his father’s tailoring business, which also included the sale of tailoring accessories.

With a tailor for a father, Razaq spent most of his after-school hours learning the trade. They made on-demand clothing, bicycle seat covers, and other clothing accessories for sale.

With this apprentice lifestyle, Razaq became an expert tailor before he finished his primary education. While many thought that Razaq chose to become a tailor because his father was one, the industrialist explained later in an interview that the choice came after much thought and considerations.

He had considered becoming a lawyer or a teacher, but also wanted to become wealthy. He also observed the society around him and saw that some of the wealthiest people were businessmen. He decided then that he wanted to become a businessman. He was already 17 years old before he finished primary school, and did not want to waste any more time on formal education.

“While in school, I could see my teacher in worn out and often shabby clothes and shoes and at the same time, I could see well-dressed businessmen at Dosunmu Street, the then heart of business in Lagos. My father was a very good tailor with a brand new car, a Chrysler for that matter, five houses and a lot of apprentices, which could be an inspiration for a young man,” he recalled.

The experience he got gave him the confidence to start tailoring activities on his own. He saved every penny he made until he had 20 pounds. His mother gave him the extra 50 pounds, and with the blessing of his father, he started importing and trading goods from Japan.

The quick turnovers gave Razaq the financing he needed to expand the business and increase the orders. With lots of profits coming in, he completed his first house at Surulere by the age of 19, and by the age of 21, he had three more houses in the same location

Razaq then decided to venture into shoe manufacturing, but started out by paying factories in Italy to produce the shoes so that he could import the finished products. This moved on smoothly for a while until the company defaulted on one of his orders, using his advance payment to settle other bills instead.

The company has grown over the years and now employs thousands of Nigerians across its factories where it manufactures coolers, chairs, soaps, weave-ons for ladies, cutleries, electric fans, plastics, etc.

The Eleganza group is now headed by his youngest wife, Mrs Shade Okoya as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, while he is Chairman of the group

Read Also: Successful Entrepreneurs in Nigeria – Their First Jobs (Part 9)

Chief Razaq Akanni Okoya has earned and received several awards and recognitions over the years. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of Business Entrepreneur by ThisDay Newspapers: an award which was presented to Okoya by Bill Clinton, Former President of United States of America.

He was awarded the Golden Award for Quality by the Nigerian Institute of Standards, and also holds the Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) honour from the Federal Government of Nigeria.

In January 2020, when the industrialist turned 80, he was asked his thoughts on formal education, having achieved so much with only his primary education and he said, “I have nothing against education. But at times, education gives people false confidence. It makes people relax, trusting in the power of their certificates rather than in working hard. I knew I wanted to be rich, and I knew I had to work very hard.”

Cosmos Maduka – Hawked Akara to Supplement Family Income

Cosmas was born on 24 December 1958. He hails from Nnewi, Anambra State and was born to late Peter and Rose Maduka. He had to drop out of school, in basic three, few years after losing his father. As a result, he began to assist his mother in her business. He hawked Akara (bean cake) alongside his brother to assist in the family’s needs.

As a pre-teen, Cosmas was taken to his maternal uncle to serve as an automobile apprentice. He served his uncle who sold motorcycle parts in Lagos. Unfortunately, at age 14, his uncle relieved him of his duty because Cosmas closed shop to attend a church programme. This infuriated his uncle, so, he paid Cosmas off with N200 for his 7 years of service. That marked the beginning of Cosmas’s independent entrepreneurial journey.

Cosmas took the N200 and partnered with his brother. Together, they formed Maduka Brothers and were trading in automobile parts. They soon parted ways because of financial differences. All the experience and connections he built while working with his uncle came in handy in his entrepreneurial pursuit.

He started buying motorcycle parts and selling. Also, he got goods from Boulus Enterprise, a bicycle and motorcyle marketer. Then, in 1977, he established the Coscharis Motors, now Coscharis Group. Coscharis is a combination of his name and his wife – Cosmas and Charity.

Coscharis started the importation of automobile spare parts, accessories of Japanese vehicles, and all other kinds of automobile products.

The company grew and expanded and in the 1980s, the Nigerian government decided to grant importation licence to 10 Nigerian companies. Coscharis was among the selected companies and that was the beginning of a new dawn for Cosmas and his company.

Read Also: Successful Entrepreneurs in Nigeria – Their First Jobs (Part 10)

Today Coscharis Group is a business conglomerate with over 26 branches nationwide. Also, the company has presence in 3 other African countries; Ghana, Gabon, and Cote D’Ivoire. His subsidiary, Coscharis motors is the sole distributor of BMW in Nigeria. It also markets Range Rover cars, Rolls Royce, and other American car brands like Ford.

Aparts from Cascharis Motors, other subsidiaries are Coscharis Farm, Coscharis Technology Limited, and Coscharis Medical and Food Ltd

In 2015, Cosmos Maduka was showcased on Forbes Africa Cover as the one who turned $1 dollar to $500million, and was highlighted in a select meeting of Forbes Africa TV Series “My Worst Day with Peace Hyde.”

In 2003, Cosmas Maduka got an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration (Ph.D.) University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Maduka additionally filled in as the President/Chairman of the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation for a very long time during which Nigeria drove Africa in all the occasions.

In 2012, he was drafted as a Harvard Business School Alumni having finished an Executive Education Program. Maduka was among citizens awarded with the National Honours of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2012. Cosmas Maduka has an estimated net worth of $800 million.