Chux amamgbo, KSJI CEO, Interglobe Ventures & Trust Ltd
By Beifoh Osewele
His gentle mien belies his giant frame. Standing at over six feet, he has an intimidating stature. But all those who know him would readily agree that Chux Amamgbo, chief executive officer of Interglobe Ventures and Trust Limited is a perfect gentleman. A member of the Knight of St. John’s International, he is also a successful businessman. But the University of Nigeria, Nsukka graduate of Finance, says his most valuable business lessons were not learnt at the Ivory Tower, he picked them from his late mum, a trained teacher.
“My mother taught me all I know about business,” he says gleefully and in a tone invested with reverence and pride. “I will never forget her,” he continues as he hands you a copy of the burial programme of his late mother, Mrs. Augustina Ejerifemba Amamgbo. She died at 76 and was buried on November 23. But Sir Chux had barely interred the remains of his mother when his father died. In fact, he buried mama on Friday and was in church on Sunday for thanksgiving when he got a message that his father, Pa Patrick Amamgbo had been rushed to the hospital.
He died soon after. The two met in the line of duty as teachers and were married in 1957. To say the least, the tail end of 2012 was a dark one for the man. But in spite of that, Amamgbo says there is a lot to be grateful to God for. “We still praise God, because, at least, I am alive to overcome all the travails, problems and misfortunes. I still give God the glory because, as the only son, it has always been their wish that I be alive to bury them,” the Umudike, Uzoakwa, Ihiala, Ihiala LGA born paper merchant intones deeply. In this interview, Sir Chux speaks on his childhood experiences and life as an only son of teachers. He also offers insight into how to be successful in business.
Why did you study Finance, and not Law, Medicine or any other course?
When I went to the teachers’ training, for you to do sciences, you had to do practical and other related things. I dropped from sciences because there were no laboratory or anything to do the practical. I knew I was not going to make it. So, I decided to settle for business subjects, which I could easily read on my own.
Again, our role models then were the professors and the elites – people like Donatus Uche and Dr. Linus Uche who entered the university around 1975. Because of them, I vowed nothing would stop me from going to the university. So, when I wanted to take JAMB the second time, I went to ask them what subject one could read to become a banker. What I told myself then was that I wanted to be seeing money. I said even if I didn’t make money, I wanted to be seeing people who have made money, as they would be coming to the bank to transact business. That spurred me to study Finance. Donatus told me that finance would take me to the bank.
Have you fulfilled the dream of working in a bank?
No, but I have worked in the finance industry. I worked in the insurance industry during my NYSC in 1985/86. For two years, I worked as an accountant in Industrial Clays Nigeria Ltd.
After my youths service, my parents insisted I must get married before I leave their vicinity. So, I married in 1987. The following year, I got a job in Lagos at Thor Projects Finance Ltd as project analyst from 1988-1991. Then, I joined Ernok Finance Ltd as credit manager in 1991. By 1993, I became the general manager. And that was during the crisis in the finance sector. Most finance companies were collapsing. In fact, in Ernok, we had a lot of cases. You give people loans, they would not repay. As the credit manager, I was the one going to court.
You studied Finance to be a banker. But today, You’re fondly called ‘paper merchant.’ Why?
It is because I import paper. That’s what I do. I do paper business. We started with it and I have not left it.
Can you recall how you came into selling paper?
It began while I was still with Ernok Ventures Limited. As a result of the crisis in the financial sector, I suggested the idea of trading to my chairman. But everybody in the office said, ‘Ah, this Ibo man don start.’ Other workers were from Yoruba and Delta areas. In fact, one lady said, she wouldn’t want Ernok to do crayfish business. My reply was, if selling crayfish would give us money, let us do it. Two weeks passed and nobody came up with anything. I was passing by Smurfit Cases one day and decided to find out the raw materials they were using. I told the MD (managing director) that I was interested in supplying them raw materials. He said no, because so many people had taken LPOs in the past but failed to deliver. I pleaded with him to give me a trial. He gave me an LPO to deliver paper raw materials. When I showed it to my chairman and director, they said they were not interested. After much persuasion, they reluctantly accepted to finance part of it. The goods were still at the port when another company called us to say they would add money to the LPO price. The LPO price was N13, 000 but they were ready to pay N16, 000 per ton. What we did was to split the goods; part went to Smurfit and the other to the new client. We made huge profit that we never expected.
That was how we stopped everything about finance and started importation. Around 1995, I went to my chairman to request for equity participation in the business, even if it was just 10 percent. But he bluntly refused. In 1996, I told him I wanted to leave. He said I should give him one year. In August 1997, I gave him my resignation notice to take effect from December. He willingly accepted it.
I started my business, Interglobe Ventures and Trust Ltd in 1998.
So how were you able to raise the take off capital?
I took a bank loan. The first money I borrowed was N600, 000.
Which comes first when you want to start a business; capital and idea?
I believe idea come first. Strength, tenacity and trust are also key. When I resigned, most of our clients were surprised to hear that I was not the owner of Ernok because of the way I handled the business. I never once told them to give Ernok N10 and give me N2, they saw me as somebody who could be trusted. So, that trust and integrity I had built over the years helped me to start off.
Some people say the Nigeria business environment is volatile. What do you need to survive in it?
Yes, it is quite tough. You need three things: trust, trust and trust. You must be truthful. You must have integrity. I tell you, today, my suppliers give me goods and say, ‘Chux, pay me later.’ I have three suppliers abroad, they ship in the goods, and expect me to pay them after three months. I pay. I can’t run away. One of them told me five years ago, ‘Chux, I like you because you tell us the truth, even when it is bad.’
And what I do with the banks is that when I borrow money, I keep to the terms of payment. I pay them back on agreed date. I am a willing debtor. I might borrow N3million to do business; at the end of the day, it may fall to N2.9million. I make up the N100000, pay back the bank and next day, I knock on their doors to ask for another loan. They would willingly give. When you borrow N1 and pay back, be it a bank or an individual, when next day you come back for N1million, they would willingly give you. But if you borrow and you fail to keep to the term of payment, you have locked up that side. Words would go round that you are not a reliable person. This principle has helped me a lot. Even when I was in Ernok, I was a friend to the banks, and I never lacked, until my suppliers found me worthy to be giving me goods on credit.
What is your attitude to money?
Money has spirit. If you allow the spirit of money to control you, you are done for. But if you control that spirit of money, you would be a happy person. If you have money, all that it would be telling you is to use it to do this and that for yourself. There is a book I read that says, you’re remembered for what you do for others, and not what you do for yourself. That has been my philosophy. So, I see money as a means of helping people.
You should never allow the love or pursuit of money to becloud your conscience. You should be able to use your conscience to control money; and also, use money to assist others.
I am very careful the way I look for money. That is why I have never fallen victim of 419. I would never because even as a finance/credit manager then, people would come with LPOs, saying you would use N1 million and the profit would be N3million, I would throw away the LPO. If the profit becomes unreasonable, I would definitely know that it is phoney. It is greed that makes people fall victims of 419 (fraudsters).
I have noticed that you run a family business. Is it for any particular reason?
Yes. In Nigeria, jobs are not scarce. What is in short supply are faithful people. If you engage somebody to work for you, just blink, he swindles you. That is not the orientation I had. I had worked for people. Even as I speak today, I am still in good term with my chairman (former employer), even though we split. I gave him four months notice and ensured that if there was any area he needed my expertise, I was around to offer it. His office was on the sixth floor while I rented mine on the fourth floor. Most people don’t think like that. They would simply swindle you. When I started my business, I engaged a general manager, sales manager, accountant and so on. I wanted to create jobs. But what happened? My GM was going to places to tell them he could supply better than the company he was working for. He was engaged in a lot of unethical practices. Even my sales manager didn’t behave any better; my goods were missing in the warehouse. My accountant was not faithful too.
The year 2002 was a very challenging one for me. That was the year I sacked my general manager, sales manger and accountant, because my goods were missing, a lot of things were going upside down, the monies were not coming in. I discovered that it was as a result of dishonesty. So, I had to sack them and reform myself again.
That was when I started putting my wife and relations into the business, at least to be sure that the people I am dealing with are people that have my interest at heart.
In 2012, you didn’t only become an orphan, you lost your dad barely two days after burying your mum. How do you view 2012?
Well, it would be a year I would say I would not want a repeat of. It was actually painful towards the end of the year, having lost both my parents. We still praise God, because, at least, I am alive to overcome all the travails, problems and misfortunes. I still give God the glory because, as the only son, it has always been their wish that I be alive to bury them. I still thank God for.
You are an only son in the midst of how many children?
In the midst of seven, but now six. My immediate senior sister is late now. I am the third.
You must have been pampered?
Never. If I am grateful to my parents today, it is because they never pampered me. They never made me realise my position as an only son. In fact, it was when I went for an interview after my graduation that I realised the importance of being an only son. I went for an interview with Price Waterhouse and I did very well in the written test. When it was time to see the faces behind the scores, I faced the panel and they asked about my background. Immediately I said I am an only son among seven women, every member of the panel turned on me: ‘How long can you stay without seeing your parents?’ ‘How long do you think you can leave your home, your family?’ and so on. It was then it occurred to me the strategic position I hold in the family. But my parents never made me realise that I am so precious. They didn’t pamper me, even though they showered love, affection and attention on me. But pamper? Never. So, I am really grateful that they never over-pampered me.
In those days, teachers were highly respected, if not dreaded. Did they use the whip?
Oh, a lot. Yes, they were great disciplinarians, especially my father. Once you committed an offence and my father wanted to flog you, even if you ran into a hole, he would follow you right into it and flog you silly.
Teachers were not the richest of persons then. So, what was your upbringing like?
There were lots of challenges. They both had to wait for 30 days for salaries. At times, the salaries were delayed. And with eight of us to cater for, it was really hectic. I remember that even at the secondary school, I had to drop two steps to be able to benefit from the universal free education, because my dad felt the school fees was over-burdening him. I had to leave Abbott Boys Secondary School, Ihiala for Teachers’ Training College, Choconeze, Mbaise.
My father actually wanted me to be a higher elementary teacher. He pumped and drummed teaching profession into me. But, as God would have it, I worked hard to be a graduate. I did, because, I remember when I was in year one at the TTC (Teachers’ Training College), my classmates were already in their third year at Abbott Boys. I vowed to take the exams my classmates were taking. So, at the teachers’ training college, I studied on my own. I was reading economics and other subjects that were not related to TTC. In TTC, you did arithmetic, physical and health education. I did all those in the classroom, but at the dormitory or when I went to read, I mapped out time for other subjects. I personally went out of my way to buy books on economics, mathematics, and other subjects. I was studying them on my own with the target that in my third year, my classmates would have been in their fifth year. So, while they would be taking WAEC, I would take GCE. In my third year, I sat for the GCE and the result came in my fourth year in 1978 and I passed. I then took JAMB in 1979. I was offered admission at the University of Ife to study Sociology and Anthropology, but my father saw the result in the post office box and seized it. He never wanted me to leave the TTC. He didn’t show me the result until after the school had resumed. I was in my final year at TTC. He wanted me to make my higher elementary before proceeding to any other higher institution. I felt so bad. I really shed tears, because I had really wanted to go into the university. I completed the TTC, taught for one year and applied for JAMB again in 1981. I was admitted at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Finance.
What are the lessons you learnt from your parents?
Let me start with my mother. I learnt how to be industrious from her. She was so industrious. Give it to my dad, he was really in charge as head of the family, a great disciplinarian, but in terms of investment, it was my mum. If she had N2, she was thinking of how to invest N1 against tomorrow. She loved buying properties. She could go hungry just to acquire one property or the other. When I came out from the TTC, I taught for one year. My mother encouraged me to save to buy a parcel of land. He bought it with my first six months salary of N840.
Believe you me, if we didn’t have that parcel of land, we would have been so much constrained. Immediately she bought it, she started asking us for money to build it, because we were living in a family compound. I was teaching and my two elder sisters were teaching too. We were contributing every month. Before the end of 1991, we had a very befitting house. So, she was such an industrious person. She was a farmer too. Part of Mama’s life that has surprised and impressed many who know her in equal measure, is her industry and ability to combine her profession as a teacher with farming. Besides ensuring that all her farmlands were cultivated, Mama was noted for always being in the forefront to purchase fertilizer so as to ensure bumper harvest. It is from proceeds of her farm investment that made her to encourage her children to always invest and provide for the rainy day.
My father never liked farming. He was comfortable with his teaching. He was a very devout Christian; never missed the church. In fact, he ensured he took me along each time he was going to church. When I had my first holy communion in 1970, I became a Legionary immediately. I was also a Mass server. My father encouraged me because being a member of the legionary helped me a lot in my character formation. My father was in charge, so he made sure I kept the rules. Both of them helped in shaping my character and life.
But as a businessman, you see more of your mother’s influence?
Yes, I think my success in business is as a result of the habit I picked from her. She taught me hardwork and resilience.
Do you have what you consider turning point in your life?
One of the turning points in my life was when I started my own business. Before then, I had a challenge. My parents and my parents’ in-law never wanted me to leave the paid job. But I knew I was going to make it. They didn’t know the zeal I had. So, when I started working for myself, I was strengthened. I was able to grow in leaps and bounds. That was a turning point for me in business.
Then in life, about 12 years ago, I came to know that the world is empty. It was a turning point. I came to realise that life is not what we think it is.
It was the accident I had. My wife was in the vehicle. I lost my immediate senior sister in the accident.
You were driving?
No, a driver was there. When it occurred, it was a big lesson for me. It sobered me, because it made me to realise that somebody could die at any moment, because I would have just lost my life in that accident. And to God be the glory, here I am today with the belief that my senior sister paid the price for me. It was a great lesson for me. It happened on April 1, 2001 when I was barely 40. It sobered me. Till tomorrow, my heart bleeds when I remember that very moment. My sister paid the supreme price for me. It taught me a lot of lessons.
I noticed that the celebration of your 50th birthday in 2011 was very loud. Why was it so?
At 50, I feel God has really been gracious to me. I was able to move into my own house, move into my personal warehouse and office and God has spared my life to 50 years, so I opened my doors. Having gone through some hardship when I coming up, I believe I should be used as an instrument to help others. And that is one of my prayer points- God, use me to help others.
Let us talk about mentoring. You are patron to Catholic corpers in your parish, Christ the King Catholic Church, Akowonjo. When you sit down to advise them, what do you tell them?
The problem with our youths is that they want to be faster than their legs. I may have two or three cars now, but a boy of 25 years who was not even born when I became a graduate is thinking of how to acquire fleet of cars, buildings and all the luxuries of life without knowing that you have to work for it. You have to have a gradual rise. That is where I always centre my advice. When we were growing up, our role models were learned and respected persons in the society. But today, the role models are those persons who have made money; either stolen money from politics, drugs or 419. Once you have made money in the Nigeria context, nobody asks how the money came about. All they want to know is that you have made money, you are driving jaguar, limousine and all that. Nobody ask questions. And youths of nowadays easily fall prey to that. They would want to be like those persons. They want to make that money fast. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t pay. When you cut corners, you are obviously going to hit the wall. My advise to youths is to take life easy. They would definitely get there.