To those who know him, or have heard about him, Chidozie Nwankwo is a highly successful man. He is a man that could rightly be described in the Nigerian parlance as having “made it”. This description would be very much in order and quite befitting of the astute businessman when it is considered that he has an impressive array of thriving enterprises to his credit, some in very strategic sectors of the economy.
But Okonkwo is not a successful man, from his own point of view. Call it modesty, and you won’t be far from the truth. He prefers to see himself as working towards attainment of success and is not “there” yet since, according to him, success is a continuous process. “The level you attain depends on the standards and goals you have set for yourself and your business, because these standards set invisible limits to your growth and success”, he argues, pointedly. The truth in this argument lies in the fact that he is continually setting higher goals. That is to say that when he achieves a goal, he sets a higher one that makes what he just achieved nothing to celebrate.
Nwankwo is the name behind the Wichtech Group, the flagship company in his stable best known for coated metal roofing materials that are fast becoming a household name not only in Nigeria, but outside the shores of the country as well. If you are a regular watcher of CNN, you must be familiar with the commercial that shows different and outstandingly beautiful designs of coated roofing sheets that come in different colours of black, deep grey and deep red. It is the kind of sheets you find on the roofs of well-appointed houses in the highbrow areas of Nigeria’s urban centres.
A glance at the profile of Wichtech easily explains why the company has such an intimidating presence in Nigeria and other parts of the world. The company is involved in almost every aspect of building, as manufacturer and supplier of roofing, plumbing and paint products that are reputed to be of the highest quality. Before now, it had been one of the largest importers and distributors of roofing and plumbing products in Africa.
Wichtech has, for over 10 years, been a leading partner of AHI Roofing Limited, a New Zealand-based roofing company that supplies stone-coated roofing products in over 120 countries around the world. The company also handles distribution of AHI products in Benin, Ghana and Cameroun. AHI is itself a part of Fletcher Building Limited, the biggest listed company in New Zealand. The company also supplies top brands like IPS pipes from Argentina, as well as Polyfit Plumbing Systems and PVC rainwater and drainage systems from the United Kingdom.
A practical demonstration of Nwankwo’s policy of continually setting new goals is his deliberate policy of investing in people for improvement of standards in a rapidly changing world where innovation is key to survival. This comes in form of the regular training employees of Wichtech receive on key aspects of the business, from experts in the areas of professional management, leadership and customer service.
Part of the regular training is on the technical aspect, and for this, the company employs a full-time training manager from the UK who oversees training of installers in Nigeria. The company has so far trained over 6, 000 plumbing and roofing installers in the country, and plans are afoot for the opening of dedicated training colleges in Lagos and Asaba. Emphasis on training, with resultant high quality, is what gives Wichtech the brand equity it enjoys within and outside Nigeria.
Bumpy ride to success
For Nwankwo, the road to success hasn’t been one that is smooth, by any definition. The journey to where he is today confirms the words of Robert Schuller, the late popular American televangelist, motivational speaker and author, who said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do”.
Nwankwo is a success story today because he made the decision to outlast tough times, rather than the other way round. In the course of his business life, he has seen the weather change several times, some so inclement a chicken-hearted businessman would have given up. Not for Nwakwo. He refused to give up, preferring, instead, to confront challenges as they occurred.
He started his business journey in 1985 with N10, 000, the fruit of his savings and tokens from his family. That amount was not something that could make any new investor approach business with laxity. He knew that failure was not an option. He would either succeed or perish, as he had nothing to fall back on if anything went wrong.
Nwankwo’s first business was supply of glass sheets to Oluwa Glass Company Limited in Ondo State. The success of the business over a very short time left him astounded. It wasn’t quite long before he ventured into importation of raw materials used in the manufacture of glass sheets and building products. He soon identified an opportunity in the textile business, and wasted no time in commencing importation of textile from Asia. This was quickly followed by establishment of what he called “blue ocean”, to offer opportunity for other importers to go into the business.
The success of the import business spurred establishment of a shipping company called Global Express Shipping Services. It was the company that opened the gold mine for Nwankwo. The company set up shop in Indonesia and later expanded to Hong Kong, China, where it had three offices, and other Asian capitals. The phenomenal success of the company was made possible by the fact that Nwankwo had a partner who owned 40 per cent of the business. The company, Global Express, partnered Maersk, one of the world’s biggest shipping companies, becoming its biggest customer in Nigeria for 10 years.
Nwankwo has faced challenges that have come in different forms. For instance, there was a case of importation of a container load of products, complete with all the shipping documents, which turned out to be wrong products. There was an instance of the inexplicable disappearance of a whole container of products at the ports. But none of the challenges matched that of government policy inconsistencies.
A case in point was government’s ban on imported textile when that was one of Nwankwo’s high revenue yielding businesses, accounting for 80 per cent of his company’s imports. That action forced him to close down offices in Aba, Onitsha and Nnewi, throwing 200 employees into the labour market. It was perhaps the most painful decision Nwankwo has had to take in his entire business life. It also closed the chapter on his textile import business. He counted his losses and moved on, rather than brood days on end.
The closure of the import business did not leave Nwankwo on a dry land, thanks to the fact that he did not put all his eggs in one basket. A shrewd businessman with eyes on any pie that could look promising, he had recognized an opportunity in the building industry even when the import business was thriving, and had decided to exploit it.
He had set up Wichtech Industries in 1999, entrusting the fledgling business in the hands of a management team that comprised mostly his friends. And when he folded up the shipping business in 2005, he put the right structure in place and took over management of Wichtech.
The company is today a colossus bestriding Nigeria’s building industry landscape because Nwankwo keeps innovating. “I am continuously setting higher goals for myself and the business”, he explains. “We work towards achieving those goals. Each time we meet one goal, another goal comes up”. With this drive, Nwankwo nurses the dream of making Wichtech one of the top companies on the African continent. It is a dream that is realizable, going by the way he is driving the business.
Nwankwo has been able to make Witchtech stand out from the rest because of the company’s reputation for providing value for its customers, with focus on quality, not quantity. The company combines high quality building products with the best customer experience. “My dream as a builder is to develop properties that will be sustainable over time and can compete with international standards”, Nwankwo said, in the story of his life titled, Thorns and Turns: My Business Story.
“I thank God that we are actualizing that dream now”, he said. “Whole most businesses in Africa are focused on making money, we look beyond money and go the extra mile to deliver the best and sustainable value to our customers, and our customers remember us for that”.
Nwankwo believes that for any business to succeed, vision must be the starting point. Indeed, it is more important than strategy, and must be in place before the latter. “Your vision drives your strategy and gives you a benchmark to measure your performance”, he says in the story of his life. “If you have the right vision, it basically takes care of the strategies; but if you think about strategies first, it will inhibit your vision”. He has a clear and compelling vision for Witchtech, and has been working on the strategies to make the vision a reality.
“My vision for Wichtech for the next five years is that it grows to become an international property developing company”, he says. Part of the strategies for realizing that vision is venturing into real estate business, with estates at Ikoyi, flat projects at Banana Island and Osborne, as well as shopping complexes in various locations. He has what could be considered a prophecy: “I believe Wichtech Properties will be the leader in the industry”.
A deeply religious man, Nwankwo sees the hand of God in every step he has taken in his life. He sees God as his source of inspiration. It was that inspiration that made him quit the textile business after government banned its importation, especially since he could not get involved in importation of contraband goods, being a devout and born again Christian. “My business is motivated not by income, but by the dignity of offering quality products and services to my customers without compromise”, says Nwankwo. His greatest fear is to offend God who, according to him, is the owner of Wichtech.
Nwankwo’s advice to young entrepreneurs is to maintain a strong profile and integrity. He advises them not to be in a hurry about money, but to do what would make their clients and customers trust them. “Strive to be the best at whatever you do, and nature will come back to promote you”, he advises. “Know that the way to up is down, and the way to down is up. Believe in God always remember Him”.
Political leadership beckons
Nwankwo hails from Anambra State where a governorship election is expected to hold in November this year to bring to an end the two-year tenure of Governor Willie Obiano. Though still barely nine months away, political maneuverings, alliances, scheming and partnerships have since been underway even before now in the state’s political firmament. The aim is to position people that are considered in different circles as the best materials to succeed the incumbent governor.
At first it started as a rumour that Nwankwo, known more as a businessman than a politician in a state with the highest collection of successful entrepreneurs than any other South East state, was interested in succeeding Obiano. The rumour itself did not last long as the highly successful businessman came out to confirm that he was indeed throwing his hat into the ring. And he is doing so on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A casual observer would be tempted to dismiss Nwankwo as a greenhorn with little or no political experience to withstand challenges that are expected in a state that boasts of many veterans of electoral battles in the three major parties, namely, the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and APC. However, such position would blatantly ignore Nwankwo’s pedigree in service to the people, which usually plays a more important factor in who gets elected as governor, other than the period one has spent in politics. And if this factor comes into play, the Wichtech founder would have a lot going for him.
Nwankwo comes from the business community, a constituency that controls over 70 per cent of the electorate in a state that brims with industrial heavyweights; where commerce is the economic mainstay. To say that he has a large followership in the business community would be to make a gross understatement. He as a rich pedigree in the private sector, where Wichtech employs over 4, 000 Nigerians, many of whom are from Anambra.
His image as a philanthropist looms large in the state and places him in good stead to emerge the choice of the people. For 33 years, he has used his not-for-profit, non-governmental organization – Kingdom Heritage Foundation – to provide succur to the poor and the needy in the areas of free healthcare, education, empowerment of over 10, 000 widows, provision of scholarship to over 300 students in secondary and tertiary institutions, provision of food to thousands of people, as well as startup capitals for young entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, artisans and legal services for those who cannot afford such. In a deeply religious state as Anambra, the foundation has sponsored over 30 missionary crusades. Over 100, 000 families have benefitted from the activities of Kingdom Heritage Foundation.
Nwankwo is going into politics as one that could correctly be described as a man of the people. Despite his achievements and the fact that he belongs in the exclusive club of elites, he mixes freely with the poor and the lowly-placed, remaining accessible to everyone. There is a belief in many quarters that he would bring his wealth of experience in the private sector and his service to the public to bear on his governance of Anambra, a state that has yet to realize its full potential as an industrial hub in Nigeria, if given the opportunity.
Who is Nwankwo?
Nwankwo was born 54 years ago to the family of Chief and Mrs. Joseph Nwankwo of Ifite, Oko, in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State. He started his academic pursuit at Central Primary School, Odoakpu, Onitsha, from where he obtained the First School Leaving Certificate before attending Comprehensive Secondary School, Onitsha. He studied Building Technology at GTC, Onitsha, obtaining the Federal Craft Certificate.
He went to London to study Building Technology with the City & Guilds, before proceeding to the Greenhills University in Denmark, where he studied and obtained a B.Sc. degree in Building Services. He continued his search for more knowledge with acquisition of technical and professional certificates from Europe and the United States. In the course of his educational and business sojourn, he has received honorary doctorate degrees from reputable universities, including Greenhills, his Alma Mata, and the Commonwealth University Belize, in December, 2015.
Nwankwo entered the business world in 1985 and founded Chido Business Ventures one year later, making it a limited liability company in 1992. His partnership with Oluwa Glass saw him winning an award as an outstanding distributor for the company.
Today, he sits atop a conglomerate as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Wichtech Group, which comprises Wichtech Industries Limited, with over 160 offices across Nigeria and some African countries, Wichtech Homes Limited, and others.