CHUKWUMA: BUSINESSMAN WHO DEFIED THE LIMITS
The youngest among six children, Chief (Dr) Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma (OFR), was born into the family of Mr & Mrs Chukwuma Mojekwu of Uru-Umudim, Nnewi, in Anambra State, without the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. But, what he lacked in affluent parental background, he made up for with intelligence, hard-work, discipline and business acumen - qualities that have continued to interplay remarkably in his many ventures.
Thus, like many a successful Nnewi, and indeed Eastern, businessman, his trajectory in the private sector took off modestly when his elder brother, Chief Gabriel Chukwuma (Gabros) identified the good qualities in him and paved the way for the youngster's journey into the business terrain as an apprentice after his education in his home town.
First, it was patent medicine trade that he tried his hands on, but later developed a stronger passion for motorcycle spare parts, which is not a typical of people from the highly industrial and commercial Nnewi town. This early tutelage became the veritable foundation the young Chukwuma needed to demonstrate an innate flair for trading, especially in motorcycle and automotive parts.
With his knowledge of the trade now honned, in 1981, Chukwuma ventured fully into the trade under the name Innoson Nigeria Limited (with motorcycle parts and accessories as his main stock). It was this seed sowed 21 years ago that flourished and multiplied like a mustard seed, into the many companies under the big umbrella called the Innoson Group.
This is because from being a leader in motorcycle parts Innoson Nigeria Limited later launched into the importation of the products from China, and by the turn of the 1990s, had become so popular that its products were doing well across the country and in the West African sub-region.
Guided by the instinct of a far-sighted investor, Chukwuma promptly realized that the time was now ripe for Innoson Nigeria to domesticate the production of the motorcycles with substantial local input. This had the attendant benefits of enhancing the company's grip on the market and contributing positively to the development of the economy by way of technological transfer, employment opportunities and competitive pricing of the motorcycles.
To realize this dream, Chukwuma in 1994 entered into a symbiotic partnership with some Chinese motorcycle manufacturers, which was consummated with the establishment of a facility in Nnewi, where top quality motorcycles were produced. However, the targets of comparatively low prices and transfer of the production technology, were only partially achieved owing to the fact that the assembly process was totally manual and did not make for high volume.
This explains why only one year later, in 1995, Chukwuma defied a major industrial boundary, by installing an automated assembly line at the Nnewi plant, thereby making Innoson Nigeria the first fully indigenous motorcycle maker to join Leventis and Boulos Enterprises in their club of companies producing the machines in Nigeria.
Playing a vital role in the successes recorded by Innoson Nigeria is Midway Ventures Limited, a vital marketing arm of the company
In the motorcycle industry, Chukwuma also holds the undeniable credit of being the one that crashed the prices of new motorcycles and drove tokunbo (imported second versions) out of the market. He introduced the technique of packing as many as 240 completely knocked down (CKD) sets (motorcycle components) in one 40-feet container as opposed to about 80 fully built units hitherto imported in the same long container.
Thus, Innoson Nigeria limited prompted a revolution in the motorcycle industry in Nigeria, which ripples are still lingering in the market. First, the price of an average motorcycle crashed from over N100,000 to between N50,000 and N75,000 when the products of the Nnewi plant started hitting the market across the country. Consequently, patronage naturally shifted from imported second-hand motorcycles (which used to sell for about N90,000) to new, factory-fresh ones as the latter became cheaper, thereby robbing the former of its attraction.
Even though the prices of new motorcycles have gone up a little bit since then as a result of other uncontrollable economic factors, second-hand versions have remained unattractive.
Less than 10 years after going into making motorcycles locally, Chuwuma branched into plastics manufacturing: This was when Innoson Nigeria Limited, in 2002, sired Innoson Technical and Industrial Company Limited, located in Emene, Enugu. This manufacturer of first-grade plastic products for household use, industrial applications and export, bears even a more astonishing testimony to Chief Chukwuma's reputation as a turn-around 'wizard' with a Midas touch.
Known formerly as Eastern Plastics, which was owned then by the Enugu State Government, the company was at the time of its acquisition by Innoson, derelict with obsolete machinery. But it was later re-equipped with state-of-the-art production facilities and transformed into the biggest plastics company in Nigeria, with products widely acclaimed to be among the best in the market. At the last count, Innoson Technical makes more than 60 plastic products with the list steadily growing as fresh moulds are added to the production lines to satisfy the demands for new items.
It, therefore, did not surprise industry watchers when in July, 2008, the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), at an elaborate ceremony held at the factory, presented Innoson Technical with a MANCAP quality certificate, after rigorous tests on some of its lines of products, including the nationally-acclaimed Innoson plastic chairs.
Found within Innoson Technical range of products are some vital parts produced for the motorcycle-making Innoson Nigeria, the new Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited (IVM) and other clients in similar and diverse industrial sectors.
In February 2007, Chukwuma embarked on what some analysts perceived then as a mission impossible, when it incorporated Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited (IVM), to produce sundry commercial automobiles, utility vehicles and passenger cars, in collaboration with a consortium of Chinese auto manufacturers.
With the public display of some of the vehicles at the 2nd Nnewi International Auto Trade Fair held at the Beverly Hills Hotels (Gabros Sports Complex) in the last quarter of 2009, IVM did not only silence the critics, but made a bold statement about its readiness to achieve the avowed mission of being the first (indigenous) auto maker to produce truly Nigerian vehicles that are affordable and reliable.
IVM is today a success story which has attracted effusive commendations and awards from various quarters, including the nation's seat of power. While opening the plant on October 15, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan not only hailed Chukwuma for the courage of venturing into an industry many ran away from, but also assured him of government's patronage from the government.
But even before the President's visit, IVM had attracted an official delegation from the Ghanaian government, which through a minister, dangled incentives before Chukwuma with an appeal to come over to Accra for talks on how he could set up a similar plant in the former Gold Coast.
Not surprisingly, IVM has become a major supplier of buses to the country's transportation sector, including the mass transit scheme launched on January 8, 2012, by President Jonathan. Innoson not only built majority of the mass transit vehicles unveiled that day at the Eagle Square, but has been engaged to provide a good number of the 6,000 units to be injected into the scheme between now and July, 2012.
The Innoson vehicles produced in Nnewi are Nigerian in name and indeed, for aside the fact that the nameplate they are wearing is IVM, or 'Innoson' and not the name of any foreign brand, there is also an appreciable level of local content in every unit.
And just as the ovation for the Nnewi-made vehicles was hitting a crescendo, Chukwuma, in collaboration with other investors, established another multi-billion naira industrial outfit, namely General Tyres & Tubes Limited, (also located in Emene Industrial Layout in Enugu) which has started trial production of tyres and tubes.
At full capacity, General Tyres & Tubes can meet the nation's motorcycle (and later motor vehicle) tyre and tube needs.
In recognition of his contributions to the business and productive sectors, Chukwuma and his business empire have at different times won various awards, honours and recognitions, including Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR), in November, 2011, National Honours of the National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) in 2010, both conferred by President Jonathan; Special Merit Award by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN); Meritorious Award by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) in 2008; Special Presidential Merit Award by Nigerian Society of Engineers December 2011; MANCAP Award of Excellence by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in 2008, and many others.