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Profiles

Innocent Chukwuma: From selling spare parts to manufacturing an indigenous automobile brand

Already dominating the spare parts and automobile space, Innocent could have rested on his oars but not so.

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Innocent Chukwuma: From selling spare parts to manufacturing an indigenous automobile brand

At the height of the “backward integration” campaign and calls for manufacturers to source their materials locally, Innocent Chukwuma of Innoson Vehicles stands out as the only manufacturer in the automobile space who has localised the production of vehicles.

From a small start of assembling the automobiles in Nigeria, Innocent Chukwuma has expanded to start producing and sourcing over 80% of his production materials locally, thereby creating employment at the local level.

This week on founders profile, we will be looking at the zero to hero story of this dauntless entrepreneur, the man behind Africa’s first indigenous motor brand, Innocent Chukwuma.

READ MORE: Innoson partners Nigeria Army on military hardware.

A rough start

A year after independence, Innocent Chukwuma was born on 1st October, 1961 in Uru-Umdim, Nnewi (now in Anambra State). As you may well know, Nnewi is also known as the Japan of Africa, for being a hub for automobile spare part dealers.

His was a very humble family, with Chukwuma Mojekwu (Innocent’s father) working as a junior civil servant and the mother/wife, Martina Chukwuma being a stay-at-home mum. Innocent was the last of six children, comprised of four boys and two girls.

As a child, Innocent lost his dad and was left to be raised by his mum. Though this was a traumatising and shocking experience for him at the time, he would later remark that the love from his elder brothers filled the gap, helping him to pull through the tough time.

He had his education in his hometown, up till the secondary level. All the while, he nursed dreams of becoming an Engineer. However, by the time he completed his secondary school education in 1978, he applied to the university, but failed to attain the cutoff mark and so was denied entry.

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READ MORE: Innoson boss reacts to arrest warrant, says order is an abuse of process taken so far

Making the most of fate

While awaiting another chance to apply, he started assisting one of his elder brothers who had a medicine store. This brief stint as a teenage sales boy showed Innocent that he had a natural talent for trading.

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Combining his interest in engineering with his love for trading, Innocent moved on to commence a one-year apprenticeship with Chief Romanus Eze Onwuka who was the biggest motorcycle spare parts dealer at the time. Onwuka later founded the first private stadium in Nigeria, Rojenny Stadium in Oba near Onitsha.

Within the year, Innocent mastered the act of buying and selling of motorcycle parts, a trade which many others take as much as five years to master. He later returned to his brother, Gabriel to put his knowledge into use.

Gabriel had already registered a business name – Gabros International – to trade in motorcycle parts. So, when Innocent returned, he gave him N3,000 to get the new venture off the ground. With this sum, Innocent purchased the first goods and rented a shop and within another year, proved to his family that he was worth his salt.

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When they took stock of the business after 12 months, the brothers found out that the motorcycle part business under Innocent, was generating about 10 times more income than the medicine store. This realization formed the basis for closing the medicine store to concentrate on the spare-parts business.

Gabriel Chukwuma later invested in sports, real estate and hospitality, becoming chairman of Gabros International Football Club, a club which he later sold to Ifeanyi Ubah.

The birth of Innoson

In 1981, Gabriel gave Innocent some money to start up his own business. Adding this to his savings, Innocent started trading in Honda motorcycle spare parts under the name Innoson Nigeria Limited. This was not to last very long because Innocent’s dexterity soon provided him with sufficient capital to start importing motorcycles, not just the spare parts.

The birth or expansion of any business is tied to identifying a problem and proffering a solution. Innocent observed that the costs of motorcycles were a bit outrageous because they were imported in their already assembled form. Importing motorcycles like this made it impossible for a container to carry more than 40 units. As a result, the retail price was relatively higher.

Innocent then reasoned that if he could import the parts and assemble them in Nigeria, he could sell at a lesser price.

At this rate, the same 40ft container that could only take about 36 units of whole motorcycles, could take enough parts to assemble 200 units. After getting them assembled, Innocent had an advantage – he could sell his for N60,000, while competitors who were importing it whole could not afford to sell it less than N150,000 without running at a loss.

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He was also able to vary his brands to get the best products at better prices, and very soon his competitors started buying from him. With this, purchase of second-hand motorcycles dropped because people were now able to get new motorcycles at very cheap prices.

With time, competitors like Leventis and Yamako figured out the strategy and also started importing parts to assemble locally.

READ ALSO: Government of Sierra Leone purchases Innoson Vehicles for military use

Innoson takes to sail

Already dominating the spare parts and automobile space, Innocent could have rested on his oars but not so. He later says in an interview that it was always his concern to beat cost and be ahead of the game.

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“…I looked at a motorcycle and realised that there is a lot of plastic on the body. So I set up a plastic factory. I decided to produce all the plastic components in my factories so that more units of the spare parts can go into a container.”

The plastic manufacturing firm is now one of the largest manufacturers of plastic products in Nigeria, and also one of the largest manufacturers of crash helmets in West Africa, with his erstwhile competitors now buying plastics from him.

With this done, it was only a matter of time before he dared to produce the first fully Nigerian vehicle under the aegis of the Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company. According to Innocent, he decided to go into vehicle manufacturing when he saw that the motorcycle business was becoming crowded out with Nigerians and Indians.

The Innoson Group has several subsidiaries now. Innoson Nigeria Limited (located in Nnewi) was incorporated in July 1987 and is now specialised in the manufacturing of motorcycles, tricycles, spare parts and accessories. It is Anambra State.

Innoson Technical & Industrial Co. Ltd is located in Emene, Enugu state and started operations in 2002, producing household and industrial plastics, storage container, fixture & fittings, health and safety accessories, electrical components and accessories.

Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM)  is located in Nnewi and was commissioned in October 2010, and focuses on producing city bused, safe and cost-effective mini & midi buses, pick-up trucks and garbage collecting vehicles. The company also provides good services for repairs and parts supply.

The locally-made vehicles such as IVM Umu, IVM Umu and IVM Uzo now attract patronage from the political elites, government agencies and parastatals like the Armed forces as well as other paramilitary bodies.

Innoson General Tyres and Tubes Co. Ltd is located in Enugu state and simply produces motorcycles tyres and tubes, currently averaging about 8,000 pieces of motorcycle tyres and 13,000 tubes daily.

READ ALSO: Why Anambra, Kogi, and Enugu are yet to be recognised as oil-producing states

Innoson Kiara Academy

Technical expertise needed for the operation of a vehicle manufacturing company is not readily available. For the first few years of operation, IVM had to import a lot of foreigners to get the job done. However, Innocent soon came up with a technical expertise transfer strategy where the foreigners would return to their countries after teaching the indigenous staff.

“There are lot of unemployed graduates in Nigeria and we cannot continue to bring foreigners” he explained.

To further arrest the challenge of manpower, he established the Innoson Kiara Academy, a Technical and Vocational institution established in partnership with an international consulting firm.

The academy (branches in Enugu and Nnewi) runs a 9-months Education for Employment (E4E) programme providing courses that are tailored around the production processes and procedures of various factories within the Innoson Group. The students are taught in a kind of modern apprenticeship delivery format, and are expected to either become self-employed at the end of the training, or get absorbed into the public or private sector.

Innocent recalled that prior to this time, the Innoson groups had challenges of recruiting graduates who did not have any training on the practical production processes, but not the subsidiaries in the group simply recruit staffs from the academy who blend in easily once they resume.

Suits and legal tussles

Innocent Chukwuma and Innoson Group have been involved in several suits over the decades of its operations but most notable are its several legal tussles with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc. In one such suit, the Federal High Court, Ibadan Division, On 29 July 2011, through a garnishee order absolute ordered the Defendants (GTBank) to pay the sum of N2,048,737,443.6k to Innoson Nigeria Ltd.

GT Bank appealed the verdict twice claiming that the judgment was obtained by fraud, but the appeal was dismissed affirming the judgment of the trial Court. In a final note on 12 May 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed the GTBank’s motion stating, inter alia, that GT Bank engaged in double speaking and in a frivolous frolic in bringing the application.

In the fresh suit, Innoson Nigeria Ltd and Chief Innocent Chukwuma maintained that the words published by GTBank – that it obtained the Court of Appeal Judgment by fraud and fraudulent suppression of the fact that Innoson Nig. Ltd. was paid the sum N1,406,515,845.98 in final liquidation of the judgment debt – implied that Innocent Chukwuma and Innoson Nigeria Ltd are dubious, dishonest, dishonorable, and untrustworthy, of questionable character, fraudster, criminally deceptive, cheats and obtaining money through false pretenses.

The co-claimants insisted that GT Bank has injured their reputation, moral character, credibility, office, vocation and trade and demanded N400billion in damages; N100billion exemplary damages; N100billion for injury to feelings – mental pains and anxiety; N150billion for injury to reputation and N50billion general damages.

Acclaims

Innocent was made honorary Life Vice president of the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture on 23rd of November, 2013, and is also a grand fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Strategic Management.

He sits on the board of IVM Innoson Group of Companies and is a member of the Manufacturer Association of Nigeria.

He also has on his shelf the Meritorious Awards by Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) 2008, Award of Excellence, Manufacturers Association of Nigerian (MAN) 2008 and also serves as a Chancellor at Imo State University, Owerri.

He received Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business Administration by the University of Nigeria in 2014, another from the Enugu state university of science and technology, and also a Doctor of Management from the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna.

He also received the Auto Personality of the Year by Guild Motoring Correspondence in 2013, Professor Barth Nnaji Prize for Technology at Igbo Awards in 2017, Best Customer by Bank of Industry, 2011, Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) 2008 and Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) 2011, among others.

Ruth Okwumbu has a MSc. and BSc. in Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Delta state university respectively. Prior to her role as analyst at Nairametrics, she had a progressive six year writing career.As a Business Analyst with Narametrics, she focuses on profiles of top business executives, founders, startups and the drama surrounding their successes and challenges. You may contact her via [email protected]

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Profiles

From Chemist to Bank CEO – The Story of Uzoma Dozie

Uzoma’s Dozie’s career history highlights his remarkable journey from a romance with Chemistry to running a top-tier bank.

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Uzoma Dozie’s Sparkle partners Open Banking Nigeria

When in 2019, talks were underway for one of the biggest mergers in Nigeria’s banking history, Diamond Bank CEO, Uzoma Dozie had his competencies called to question over why an almost 30 years old bank founded by his father, should end with him, the son. After the merger, the younger Dozie went ahead to launch his Digital Bank, Sparkle and has since then released several products and services, effectively silencing his detractors.

Early years

Uzoma Dozie is the first of the five sons of Pascal Dozie (PGD). He was born in England in 1969 at the time when his father was working with Greater London Development Council as a young graduate. The family soon relocated to Uganda when Pascal Dozie was contracted by the Ugandan Government as a Statistician, to work with a team carrying out an economic study in conjunction with the African Development Society Group.

In 1971, Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and crisis broke out in Uganda. The family had no option but to return to Nigeria, where the country was just trying to pick life again after the war. The family settled in Yaba area of Lagos, and Uzoma started schooling.

READ: Experts laud Google’s decision to offer banking services 

His secondary education took him across three schools, the Lebanese Community School (LCS), Yaba; Government College, Owerri, and Command Secondary School, Kaduna.

Uzoma remembers that he did not always have things figured out, and as a child, had conflicting career interests. He was first interested in photography and for a while, it seemed like he would pursue this passion, but he changed his mind when he became a teenager and picked interest in becoming a doctor – a heart surgeon.

“In Nigeria then, you were either a doctor or an engineer. It was when we went for an open day at the University of Sheffield, where I was told that I had to spend seven years to become a doctor, that I decided to change my intended course of study.

“I later went to the University of Reading where I studied chemistry. After that, I went to the University College London to obtain a master’s degree in organic chemistry. We worked really hard to develop products that would help fight a number of diseases,” he recounted in an interview.

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While his studies helped him understand analytical processes, it only left him more confused about what he was to do professionally. He was quite certain he did not want to become a chemist but went ahead to work as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company in the UK for a couple of months before relocating to Nigeria.

Career moves

Back in Nigeria, Pascal Dozie had founded Diamond Bank and was doubling as Managing Director and Board Chairman, when Uzoma returned. With Pascal’s encouragement, Uzoma decided to test the waters of the banking career and see if it would feel like home.

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Uzoma got a job with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) on Broad Street, while Fola Adeola was the Managing Director. He learnt a lot from working there, and gradually, banking was becoming a little more than ‘daddy’s suggestion’.

“My father wanted me to gain industry experience, but he didn’t want me to start at Diamond Bank in order to avoid favouritism as the boss’ son, and he didn’t want to protect me as well, he needed me to find my own feet and fit. I spent a year at GTBank where I learnt a lot about developing a great work culture,” he said.

Shortly after spending a year at GTBank, the June 12, 1993 election crisis and accompanying unrest rendered Uzoma jobless for about a year. Afterwards, he joined Citizen International Bank (later known as Spring Bank), where he was placed on the oil and gas desk. This was a different experience, more demanding and challenging. He had to travel a lot to oil-producing areas like Port Harcourt, where he interacted with locals over their complaints.

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Uzoma left Citizen bank after a while and proceeded to Imperial College in the UK for an MBA. Upon his return to Nigeria, he joined Diamond Bank. He later became the Executive Director in charge of Lagos Businesses for a couple of years before he was appointed Deputy Managing Director in charge of Retail Banking. In November 2014, he was unanimously appointed by the Board as Group Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer.

One significant take-home Uzoma got from heading the Retail Banking Directorate was the significant gap in the market for a new approach to services for retailers, and this later became the basis for Sparkle. He also observed the kind of growth Diamond bank experienced when it partnered with and built new services and new channels with fintech solutions, and says that traditional banking system constricted growth because of the limitations to human resources.

He recalled that it took Diamond Bank 20 years with 400 branches to acquire five million customers, but the mobile platform tripled the figure in 3 years, a sign that it was time to go digital.

The Access-Diamond merger and accompanying rumours

Long before the official announcement of the merger deal between Diamond Bank and Access Bank, the grapevine had several versions of the story. Some of these versions portrayed the merger as a failure of Diamond Bank and blamed Uzoma for destroying a bank his father started.

“We just focused on making our customers, staff, and shareholders happy. The Diamond-Access merger was smooth. Herbert Wigwe and I did roadshows to answer as many questions as possible. The Diamond Bank investors were happy about the deal they got. The deal was a sweet deal for our investors; they moved from a tier II bank to a tier I bank. There was pretty much nothing to explain to anyone,” he said.

However, what these rumours meant was that Uzoma Dozie was going to have to prove himself with his start-up – Sparkle, and so far, he appears to be doing fine.

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Diamond sparkles

“Keep Sparkling” was the tagline that PGD held on to at Diamond Bank, insisting that all of his staffs were ‘Diamonds’ and must stand out always. This tagline later influenced Uzoma Dozie’s choice of name for his digital bank – Sparkle.

The goal was to use Sparkle to help retailers achieve their daily objectives and scale their businesses, providing a suite of innovative lifestyle services. Other services included in the innovation include customer experience-led support services, ranging from inventory management and invoicing statements to foreign exchange services.

Powered by AI and Machine Learning, Sparkle was also built to create a dynamic community around Nigeria’s retailers and consumers, influencing purchasing decisions based on user-generated behavioural purchase data.

Sparkle partnered Visa, Network International, as well as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft, to create the platform to enhance convenience & service, and allow outside developers to contribute and build solutions. Sparkle also has a customer service chatbot called Indy, which provides users with real-time information.

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Uzoma secured a banking license from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to offer financial services, and so Sparkle allowed users to make purchases online and in-person with both Sparkle physical and virtual cards. Where necessary, users can also pay bills and split payments using SparklePay which lets users send money to people without knowing their account numbers.

About this innovation, Uzoma Dozie said “Retailers and consumers in Nigeria are currently disconnected; Sparkle is building the solution around its understanding of the challenges of small businesses, which will help reduce the operational risks small businesses are exposed to in their infancy. Sparkle is a product, a community, born out of necessity for Nigeria’s retail landscape. We will connect millions of retailers on a digital platform, providing a service they can trust, that is seamless, and that allows for frictionless transactions across all activities and business services.”

The startup recently launched a new service called Sparkle Business, to provide access to various products and services for small businesses and SMEs in the region, including services like Tax Advisory/Calculations, and Payroll/Employee Management.

There are no mentions of an IPO or external funding for the Digital bank, anytime soon.

Other interests

Dozie sits on the Board of Women’s World Banking; and has spoken at several events around the world on the issue of technology and financial inclusion.

Even as a banker, he had developed an interest in the tech space, and launched TechFest in 2018 to bring together leading dignitaries of Nigeria’s technology and business sectors. He showcases tech start-up CEOs and founders in Tech Turks, his online TV show where he discusses opportunities and challenges in the tech industry.

Uzoma Dozie has also founded an angel fund called Black Knight, through which he has invested in a number of Nigerian technology start-ups. According to Uzoma, Black Knights is taking a long-term approach to investing in Nigerian enterprises by providing them with access to funding, access to market, access to business advice and mentorship, and creating a community of entrepreneurs.

Family influence

As the son of PGD, the busy economic consultant and later on Founder, Uzoma recalled that he did not see much of his father, but when PGD was around, he would tell them stories.

“We learnt a lot about decision making, speed, and risk from our parents. I remember how my father took an early bet on MTN Nigeria and I don’t need to tell you how successful it is now,” Uzoma said.

He also noted that his mother’s advice on being transparent is one he has adopted in several trying situations as a Chief Executive. “My mother taught us to be open; if you fail, don’t hide it. She would tell everyone, ‘Look at my son, he failed in school’ and that would kill all the rumours. Transparency removes uncertainty, so you own the story.”

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Billionaire Watch

Billionaire investors in Nigeria you may not know

A compilation of top Investors in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, with whom you may be unfamiliar.

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As a Nigerian interested in investing or making money, names like Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Jim OviaRabiu Abdulsalam, etc.come to mind as aspirational role models when it comes to net-worth. These men have all made billions of naira investing in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange either as founders or strategic investors.  

  • However, there are many other ‘lesser-known investors in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange who are worth billions (in naira).
  • These investors are seasoned and while they may not always be the founders of the companies they are invested in; they own a significant chunk of the business through strategic investment stakes that earn them billions annually in capital appreciation and dividends.  

 

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