By Nkechi Chima, Abuja
Managing Director and Chief Executive of Nurnberger Group, Anthony Ezekwugo, is an astute businessman who has made great impact in real estate sector with stellar investments. He also has interest in strategic and portfolio management initiatives and medical tourism (with a focus on linking up Nigerians in need of healthcare services with appropriate hospitals in Germany.
In the area of real estate development, his first gigantic project, Nurnberger Plaza, remains a landmark commercial property in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. His firm is currently engaged in consultations and negotiations towards developing a real estate project that will be the biggest and largest mall in Abuja, at a location that is still a closely guarded secret.
Ezekwugo is a graduate of International Business Studies from Martin Luther University in Halle-Saale, Germany, who also has Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in SME Finance and Development from the University of Leipzig in Germany.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, the Nnokwa, Idemili, Anambra State-born entrepreneur talks about his early life, how he studied in Germany and gives insight to how he got into business and eventually established Nurnberger Group. He also explained why he prefers to invest in commercial real estate rather than residential properties.
Could you tell us about your early life?
I started my early life in Enugu. I attended Women Training College Primary School. In 1989, I proceeded to CIC, Enugu, for junior secondary education. From 1991-1994, I had my senior secondary education at St. Charles Special Science School, Onitsha. Afterward, I travelled to Cameroun for apprenticeship in business, which is popularly known by the Igbo’s as ‘boy boy.’ After learning for five years, my boss settled me and I started business, buying motor parts in Nnewi, Anambra State and transporting them to Cameroun to sell, which didn’t really work out well for me. In 2001, I travelled to Germany to seek greener pasture; I hustled like everyone living abroad. In 2004, I discovered that it wouldn’t be profitable to be hustling on the street without having a future, so I embarked on furthering my education to make life more meaning for me. In Germany, you have to go through one year course known as prelim to ascertain if you will be able to cope with university education. I enrolled and succeeded. Afterward, I studied for a degree in International Business Studies from Martin Luther University in Halle-Saale, Germany. I also got an MBA in SME Finance and Development from University of Leipzig, Germany.
Are you married?
I’m married to my beautiful wife, Chiamaka Ezekwugo; we are blessed with two children, a boy and a girl. She is also a director in my company and a major stakeholder.
What were you doing before you established Nurnberger Group?
I was Account Manager for African Market at headquarters of Staedtler Mars GmbH & Co in Nurnberger, Germany. It’s a German fine writing instrument company, and a manufacturer and supplier of writing materials, which include artist and engineering drawing instruments. While at Staedtler, I was responsible for breaking new investment grounds in Africa and Middle East. However, I have worked on a number of green and brownfield transactions covering oil and gas, power, agriculture, real estate, hospitality, medical tourism and financial services. In 2014, I decided to come back to Nigeria hoping to work with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, after I saw an advertorial that they needed a Nigerian who could speak a foreign language. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the job, because I didn’t have a godfather close to the people at the top – you know the Nigerian Factor issue. So, I decided to go into business. I came back to Nigeria with 11 trucks and had to construct 45,000-litre tankers to transport petroleum products from Lagos to Abuja or Kaduna while the government was subsidizing the transportation of refined petroleum products. The Petroleum Equalization Fund was paying a premium. It wasn’t easy for me as an Igbo man doing business in the north, because I didn’t understand Hausa. Some of my drivers were messing up, so I decided to sell my trucks and venture into real estate. Providentially, I had a landed property on Wuse 2, so I had to develop it; honestly, it was like an elephant project, because of the huge amount involved in building the plaza. But, I was encouraged to execute it as my first major project, which was named Nurnberger Plaza. Because of the size of the project, I could not finish with only my own funds, so I had to take a loan from the bank to finish the project. Commendably, we have paid off the bank loan and we are reaping the benefit of this gigantic project. Also, I engage in development of luxury apartments, but they are not as lucrative as commercial properties. So, I decided to focus on commercial projects, because it’s more profitable. Laudably, tenants consider it more important to pay their office or business rent than house rent, because it’s where they earn their living.
As a real estate developer, which is your area of specialization?
We build and sell properties, lease or rent. Also, we have a non-governmental organisation through which we give back to the society for supporting our brand. However, we give the less privileged suffering from malaria free treatment and test, because malaria kills more than HIV in Nigeria and Africa.
Recently, you were given an award for business excellence at the Peace Achievers International Award. With the several awards you have received so far, how does it make you feel that your philanthropic works is been recognized?
Firstly, I must commend my community for conferring me with a chieftaincy title as Ikenga Odaa Opue Nnokwa for my development stride. I feel elated that Nigerians appreciate my efforts, which are my involvement with an international organization in Germany, where we assist financially to bring back stranded Nigerians who travelled for survival, but couldn’t succeed. Also, I assist people get connected with medical experts in Germany for medical attention. Aside, the Peace Achievers award, I have received notable awards from different organizations such as Nigeria Diaspora Global Hall of Fame, Ohanaeze Ndigbo 2019 Igbo Day, Great Achievers Award; among others.
Do you have any political ambition?
I’m looking forward to 2023, I hope to venture into politics, but I’m still consulting with the stakeholders and other reliable people, to seek their support.
What have you achieved in business?
This January 2021, we will start up our flagship project; we are building a massive shopping mall in Abuja with facilities such as cinema, game, theatre and event centre with over 100 shops with investors like Shoprite. However, I wouldn’t like to disclose the location, because I don’t want people to sabotage what we are doing. It will be the biggest shopping mall in FCT, when the project is executed.
What have been your challenges in business?
The challenges of doing business in Nigeria are numerous. The business climate that works in other countries doesn’t work here. Nigeria is a country that imports basically everything. So, once the exchange rate of dollar goes up, your calculation goes to the dustbin. Again, the government is not really coordinated; there are problems of double and triple taxations in the country. Imagine, AMAC will tax you; another body from the government will also tax you. AMAC alone has over 18 different sections operating under them, when they come to besiege you with Civil Defense or Policemen to pay one tax or the other. In fact, the multiple taxes we are paying kills business in Abuja, I don’t know about other cities. In Nigeria, we generate our electricity; to a certain extent 30 per cent of your profit goes to electricity generation alone. You have to install a big generating set to run your business. They should also reduce the VAT which is now 7.5 per cent to the former five per cent to encourage businesses in the country. Our economy is experiencing second recession, I believe if the government can get the basic priorities right, the country will be a better place for all. We need the basic amenities, such as good roads, electricity with low tariff charges. Honestly, Nigerians are the smartest wherever you find them working abroad, but in Nigeria the government is not supportive. In Germany, while at Staedler, they wanted to establish a branch in Nigeria, but the Nigerian government didn’t utilize their business proposal. Imagine, a country known as giant of Africa, yet we can’t produce pencil or toothpick, instead we prefer to import wooden pencils from China.
What advice do you have for young ones aspiring to go into your kind of business?
They shouldn’t give up! The young ones need to bring down their expectations. Don’t be greedy; then let the business pick up. As a beginner, you need people with the financial ability to invest in or support the investment for your business to grow.