Exclusive Interview: An Encounter With A Business Hero Of Our Time

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Entrepreneurs are those who play roles in the economy, which have to do with coming up with concrete business initiatives; setting out to take risks in pursuit of those initiatives and ultimately receiving some rewards or profits from the endeavours.

They (the entrepreneurs) say there is nothing more rewarding than being your own boss while doing the job you love. They agree that it is real hardwork and roller coaster ride, but if you have the will power and determination to see things through, it may just be the best decision you ever made.
Our Diamond Report roving Reporter, earlier this week, ran into one of such astute businessmen, with very rare spirit of entreprenuralship and the spartan spirit of "never say die" in their determination to succeed in business, to benefit themselves and the society. This 'catch' was the person of Mr. Donatus Okwudili Eze, the Managing Director/CEO, of Toprite Supermarket & Pharmacy Limited, located at No. 342 Zik's Avenue Awka, and No. 20 Orlu-Ekwulobia Road, Uga, both in Anambra State.
 Mr Eze who hails from Opi in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State and a highly lettered business man- holding a Higher National Diploma, a post graduate Diploma and a Masters Degree- all in Business Administration, is a diverse business man- into buying and selling, involving the importation and distribution of drugs and other essential commodities. He is also a philanthropist an educationist and a Community Leader.
Sheer determination to succeed in the war against poverty had propelled Dona, whose popular business name is Akanna (the finger of God) to enter the world of business with a paltry sum of N5,000 in 1991 (which came down to only N2,000 after the initial take off expenses), working so hard all through the years, swimming against numerous tides, but today, happily and comfortably belonging to the Club of millionaire business men- both in cash and asset base.
On what had spurred him into business- particularly that of Medicine and Supermarket, he says he was worried as first son who lost his father early in life, about how to take care of his mother and his siblings, and minimize his widowed mother's sufferings- this thought bogging his mind as early as his primary school days- so that, even after his maternal Uncle, Mr. Solomon Ugwoke (based in Gabon then) had offered to train him in secondary school, he nearly quitted in class 3, out of this burning desire to go into business, in order not to prolong the family's sufferings. No wonder he did not hesitate doing this immediately after leaving secondary school. 
And how did he begin and progress against these odds? Mr Eze recounts how an early setback just one month into his chosen patent medicine business nearly made him throw in the towel and leave: his father's mother had died, and as first son of his late father, he was required to go home and see to the funeral expenses of the old woman with the only money on him then- N740, being the savings he had made from the N2000 he started business with-within the one month of operation. But somehow he still decided to return to the business virtually empty-handed, to start afresh.
Apparently directed and encouraged by the spirit of God, he had decided on the very difficult and fearful option of seeking and taking loans from friends and Uga Micro Finance Bank- which He (God) had blessed bountifully- as these monies (the loans) helped him a lot to diversify and grow steadily- made possible by a number of wise decisions taken by him-(still the Lord's doing-"Akanna")- so that by 1999/2000,he had begun to be counted among the wealthy business moguls, with several accomplishments: getting married happily without tears, procuring landed assets, as well as a chain of vehicles that have assisted him in the running of the business, providing s0me other personal comforts, and magnanimously extending helping hands to people in need(philanthropic activities) for quite a good number of years running now-which he plans to continue doing even with greater vigour.
On what have been the secrets of his success, in spite of such formidable initial and occasional challenges associated with lack of seed money (take off capital),etc, as well as his lack of relevant education in any field of medicine, Dona told us he had relied on the following secrets : a Godly conscience-guiding him against compromising truth and honesty; good pricing system (moderate charges- not too low and not too high at all); good choice of location or place of business; good packaging of products (believing that the eye feeds first before the mouth does); also his good listening ears and cordiality to customers- which makes him to always literally, deliberately obey all customer's legitimate demands.
His business tentacles is today, all over the places- both within and outside Nigeria- especially the United Arab Emirate (UAE), with over 25 companies supplying him with drugs and other essential commodities, with the accompanying high spirit of fulfillment in life- from the business success. Mr Eze is particularly over-joyed by the floating of two pharmaceutical companies, fully operational today and manned by fully trained Pharmacists, in line with his life-long dream.
He is also thankful to God Almighty for the leadership potentials He endowed him with-which has been discovered by his Community and other people in the social groups where he belongs. Also is the gift of philantropic spirit from God, which he has deployed over these years of successful breakthrough, into helping the needy find relief out of difficulties-this also in line with his desire in life.
Below are the excerpts of the ExclusiveInterview granted Diamond Report by this highly literate, tender-hearted business genius- the blow by blow account of his rise from grass to grace:

DR: M.D Sir,could you please, tell members of the public who you are or what you are?
Presently I am a diverse business man, diverse in the sense that I am into different types of businesses; I buy and sell; I import and distribute. I distribute to some local companies. I equally purchase from outside Nigeria. Equally, I am a philanthropist, educationist, community leader; for instance, I am currently the President of my community- Idi-Opi Community in Nsukka Local Government Area.
DR: Can we have an idea of your educational history or background?
I had my primary education between 1975 and 1981; that was at Central School, Eke Agu, Opi in Nsukka Local Government of Enugu State. Between 1981 and 1986, I attended Boys Secondary School, Opi. I left Secondary School and went into the business where you see me today; I started by learning the trade of patent medicine. Between 1986 and 2001, I was seriously into this business of mine, and had to skip education then, till after my marriage in the year 2000.
After my marriage in Nov. 2001-that was after wedding- I went back to school the same month and have been into schooling (further studies), till date. After securing some my O' level subjects, which were missing in my WASCE in 1986, from the National Teachers Institute in Kaduna, I proceeded to Fed. Polytechnic Oko, in Anambra State, for my National Diploma in Business Administration. Between 2003 and 2006, I finished my OND and secured a degree admission into the Anambra State University, Igbariam.
I wanted to pursue my degree in Business Administration, but unfortunately and fortunately, two of my siblings got University admission at the same time, and I had to suspend my own acadmic pursuit and came back to my business- because one of them who got that admission then, had helped in managing one of my outlets. So because he got admission, I had to come back and take his position in the Business outfit. That was how I abandoned that my Anambra State University Admission, and had to spend three good years out of school- that was between 2008 and 2011.
Between 2011 and 2013, I went back to Oko Poly to do my HND and after my HND, I got admission to study Political Science at the Enugu University- which I went in for, and did, came back then enrolled again to do my PGD in Business Administration at the Imo State University, which I have finished and presently I am doing my Msc in Management in the same University.
DR: What spurred you into medicine & super market business?
First of all, I saw hell passing through the primary school. Because of the early death of my father; there was nobody to train me. The little my mother was getting was not enough to take care of my school requirements and feed me and my siblings. Based on that, I was worried about how to take care of my mother and my younger ones- being the first child.
So, the responsibility of bringing my siblings up, rested only on me. Before I could finish my primary education, I was already thinking of what to do, to ensure that my mother stopped suffering. As God would have it, an Uncle of mine (my mother's brother) came back from Gabon and took the responsibility of sponsoring me through Secondary School. His name is Solomon Ugwoke alias Solo Gabon.
Before I could finish my primary school, I was thinking of how to make sure my younger ones continued from where I stopped- not actually as if I didnt want to go back to school, but I was not sure of someone who would sponsor me.
I even wanted to come out of Secondary School in my 3rd year, simply because my Uncle wasn't around to pay my school fees- he went back to Gabon, leaving no money for my school fees. So I was asking myself why dont I go and look for where to raise money and make sure that we don't continue suffering.
So, immediately after my school, I didnt want anybody to come back and tell me that I needed further education. All I did was that I called my Uncle and told him I wanted to go into business. Then he asked me of what I wanted to do. I had three options: patent medicine, electronics or timber. Out of the three, recommended patent medicine. I said Ok..I settled for this, passed through the normal patent medicine training/apprenticeship; that was between 1987 and 1991. Then I was ready, but there was no money.
The Learning did not really last up to three years, but because there was no money then, I had to spend another two years waiting for money to come. Then, that my Uncle- Solomon, had to request another of my Uncle, who was in Abuja, Mr Peter Ezema, to come and assist me, and he gave me the sum of N5,000.
With that N5,000, I came to Uga here, to start the patent medicine business. Luckily, I had another paternal Uncle who was working with the Water Corporation in the then Old Anambra State- at one of the Boreholes in Uga here, located particularly at Umoru. That was the man I told I was looking for where to stay and he said I should come up and stay with him.
There were some requirements for the patent medicine trade: first of all, you have to register with the National Association of Patent Medicine Dealers, secure Vendors License, look for a Shop, construct the Counters, rent a House where to live and buy cooking utensils and other household items. I had to bring down from the village, all available items like foam, centre table, chairs, etc, just to make sure I cut down cost.
By the time I was ready to go to Onitsha to buy the drugs for sale, I had only N2,000 left on me; after those expenses on logistics. I went to Onitsha and bought medicines worth only N2,000 and came back and started. Some of these drugs were two bottles of chloroquine, two bottles of paraceutamol, two bottles of multivite syrup, etc- just very small quantities of some of the drugs in regular demand. That was on 3rd March, 1991.
Within only one month of my establishment, I lost my paternal grandmother and I had to travel home with N740, being the savings I had made so far- which I intended to return to Onitsha with, to buy more drugs for sale. But I had no option that to go home for the funeral ceremony of the old woman-with my standing then, as the only person the family looked up to. So I spent the whole of what I had saved (N740) on the burial rites and my mother had to source money and give me for my transport back Uga home.
I came back here and started afresh with what was left in the Shop- one month after establishment. So you can imagine what was left in the Shop- a business that was started with only N2,000. But I was not discouraged, I was determined- because I know that if I resigned from the business, I would have nothing doing. So I had to stay where I was and continued the struggle.
After about two years, a friend of mine, named Christian Ugwu, a civil Engineer, whom I had run into here after about two months of my coming, gave me the sum of N5,000 as a loan, but he said which I should pay back in instalments; in a way that I would not feel the pains, and that was how it turned out- no pains till I finished the repayment.
*We had met and liked each other, lived together, cooked and ate together, and did virtually everything together.
So I continued-making some reasonable progress till 1994, when I approached the Uga Micro Finance Bank for a Loan with which to boost the Business. I had to first open an Account with them, which I operated for a period of 6 months. Then, I requested for a Loan and was given N30,000- as trial Loan, to see how I would face with that first.
With this Loan, I went back to my business, determined to diversify in order to make more money. Indeed, I had begun the diversification gradually after collecting that N5,000Loan from my friend, Christian. One of the major areas I ventured into, was general provisions.
I had my reasons for becoming so poised to succeed-a negative response from one Michael Eke from Onicha, Enugu Ezike, whom I had approached for advise as an elder, and who had been into patent medicine business for years. He had advised me to go back to the village, because Uga was already filled with people that knew much about drugs; may not fair well.
So I left him, refusing to be discouraged. I did not buy his idea. I went away.
Now, about diversifying, immediately I got the first N5,000Loan, I went into cosmetics and essential commodities known as provisions; all these things. I had my reasons:since so many people were into patent medicine hereand I was not well known yet- why not diversify? So that if I don’t sell my medicines; I sell my Cosmetics; if I don't sell my cosmetics, I sell my provisions.
I also went into storage; that was when I got the N30,000 Loan from Uga Microfinance. When I got the N30,000, I already knew that by every December time, one particular drug we sell here called Butazoladin used to be in high demand and the price used to go up very high.
When I got the N30,000 I divided it into two and stored the Butazoladin with N15,000.
The storage took place around August and by December of that year, the price of a tin of it (which I bought at N400 each) then sold for N1,200. I came back and carried all the Butazoladin in my storage back to Onitsha and sold them off making huge profits.
Then, because my store still needed more stocks of drugs, I did not want cash; I requested that the man gives me a variety of drugs.And after a while, I was able to pay back the N30,000. That was the first risk I took but God saved me with that Butazoladin business.
I continued until around 1994/95, when I got first my boy. After a while, we agreed that the boy had to spend 6 months, for me to teach him the trade.
Within one/two years, someone approached me and told me that he had a shop somewhere at Agbako, in Awarasi, Uga here- a shop which he rented for his sister who was also trained in this trade, but unfortunately, she deserted. He wanted to know if I could take over the shop and pay him - for both the structure and the drugs left there.
So we had to go there and after checking everything, I paid the man; that was how I got my second shop, for the first time. And I had to send that my boy up to the place. And during the first visit which I made after renting that shop, I ran into one of my cousins. He told me he lost his father and had nothing doing. I then asked him how ready he was, to serve. So, I brought the boy back to Uga with the intention to give him to someone else who was in need. When we arrived, I saw the zeal in him for this my kind business, then I asked him whether he meant or he had another thing in mind. But he said he had interest in what I was doing. And that was how I got my second boy and we started. I saw the business growing gradually and between 1996 and 1997, I was having 3 shops- I established one for that second boy while I still remained in my main shop.
DR: How honest and loyal have your workers been to you- I mean these apprentice boys?
Yes, the boys were loyal. But along the line, I had so many other boys I brought that were not loyal; they took my money and went their way, but I don't count that one now; I count on my success, not those losses.

DR: MD Sir, could you continue to enlighten us further on your business exploits, leading to your present success story, inspite of the occassional losses?
Between 1997 and 1998, I decided to leave those shops at Uga for my boys to manage, and moved down to Onitsha Head Bridge and was shuttling from Onitsha to Lagos- where they called 'Lagos line’. I rented the shop in May 1998 and was there till October the same year. Within this period, I saw I was not 'making it; though I made a lot of sales, the profit was not anything to write home about- I mean the turnover. I was seeing my cash, but after expenses, I was left with nothing- transportation from where I lived there- at Ose Okwo Odu on daily basis, feeding, etc.
So I asked myself: If things were that way while I was still squatting with my Uncle, how much worse would it be after I have rented a house of my own- with all the bills involved: water, electrcity, house rent itself, etc?
Then I decided to pack up all my wares (wholesale products) and returned to Uga and began to retail the goods; this was between 1998 and 1999. And it was within this period I made much progress. By first quarter of 1999, I got this place where we are now, and I shifted one of my 3 boys from one of the old shops to this new one, while I remained in the old place for a while.
Before I could finish the retailing of the products I brought from Onitsha (that was in the first quarter of 1999), I was already into big money. It was that year I started building my first house in the village; that was when I also rebuilt this shop to my taste- total reconstruction. Between that year, 1999 and 2000, I had completed the house in the village and packaged in. It was around the same time I got married.
It was this time too I rode my first car. Actually, this first car did not belong to me; it belonged to that my maternal Uncle- Solo Gabon: he had brought it (a Peugeot 504 salon) from Gabon, and gave it to me to hold for him. I used the car between 1998 and 2000, and by 2002, I bought my own first car- I had already married before I got my own car- another Peugeot- which I used till 2007 when I bought a Nissan Sunny Car and used it along side the Peugeot till 2010 when I bought my Toyota 4 Runner, and other cars followed.
DR: What have been your challenges in the business so far?
My special challenge in this business has been academic background..Yes, for you to be in this trade, you should have enough education in that direction; that is cognate to medical practice; not that I was not literate enough, but that my education so far, till I went into this business, was not relevant.
The challenges have been this way: virtually everyone that comes to purchase drugs from you would want to know what you studied in the University, in order to be sure that you know what you are giving him/her; that what you give them will not harm them through your quackry whatever. Not that I lacked the knowledge of what I was doing, but because, no cognate certificate to back it up; everybody sees you as quack, even when you now better than the so called medical doctors/practitioners.
Another challenge has been financial. I lacked the money; that was why it took me that long- between 1991 and 2000, to break even. I know some of my mates who begun to make it after 2 or 3 years of establishment.
He attests that the Community has been friendly, no constraint also from Government.

DR: What have been the Secrets of Success?
In spite of the challenges, the secrets of my success are numerous.
One, I do my business with conscience. You know, when your business is profit-oriented, you have to be careful the way you go about it; some people don't compromise quality , I don't compromise truth.
Whatever it takes me to give you the best, I wouldn't mind going extra miles to ensure I give you the best of it...Again as someone who has studied business administration up to this level, I know much about the 4 keys of the market and I have been applying them: the product quality, pricing system, the place of business and the packaging. There are some goods which are brought here by some companies, and after taking a look at the packaging, I say, look, go back and do something about this packaging. The drugs may be very efficacious having the quality required, but once the packaging is poor, I will tell you, look, I wont display this in my shop, despite the fact that the quality might be okay, but let it look attractive first.
Then I look at the price and the pricing system, look also at the environment, where the Business is situated; you consider whether the people can afford to buy the Products at that price. Pricing is one of my secrets; I don't over price; I believe much more on the rate of turn over, not highest price. The rate of turn over is based on all these principles: the pricing system must be okay and the quality of products high.
But again, if you bring the price down too low, they will suspect you. So you place your price in such a way that it is neither too high or too low. And if there is any reason why the price of any product is too law, you must explain- that it is not an inferior drug.
Also key to my success is my good listening ear; I am a good listener. I have this cordial relationship with my customers- I listen to them, talk to them, I take their order.
DR: How did you venture into full blown supermarket business?
I am an Entreprenuer. Having read business Administration, I know that an entrepreneur is one who can identify a business opportunity and be able to cash in.
At a stage in my business here, I looked around and saw that there was no formidable supermarket around. The one we had in those days- in the early 90s, when I came here, was no longer fuctioning, so I had to go in. I said, ok, if I can raise any little sum and buy all these things, it could pay off. That was the first time I got N1 millionLoan from the Bank- the same Uga Community Bank, around the year 2010. They gave me N1 million and I went into super market business. Between 2010 and 2013, the money had multiplied triple folds. By 2013, I made my first travel to United Arab Emirates.

DR: Where have your business activities taken you to and your experiences?
- I often travel to Lagos-Nigeria, Lagos Island (Ebute Ero Market) where I buy so many goods for the supermarket. By 2013, I travelled to Dubai United Arab Emirates. And Onitsha market here has been my most frequent port of call; the largest market in West Africa.
At the moment, I have more than 25 companies supplying me with drugs and other goods. I also distribute for some companies. Some of these companies include: M&B, Emzor, Shalina, Clarion, etcetra.
DR: How accomplished in life do you feel, then your new dreams and strategies for achieving them?
I thank God for His mercies so far. Since joining the patent medicine business, I have never been comfortable being merely a manager of a patent medicine store; I dreamt of becoming a Pharmacist seriously. And notwithstanding that I did not read Pharmacy as a course, I was still fully determined to float a Pharmaceutical Company before I leave this world. And I thank God that this dream has been accomplished- I have floated a Pharmaceutical Company. I feel that sense of accomplishment. I thank God that, today, I have left that level of patent "Medicine dealer" to this higher level- of owning not only one but two Pharmaceutical Companies.
Also, I thank God that I have been able to leave the shores of Nigeria to other countries of the world to do business- such as the purchase of goods, which I return with, safely, to distribute to Nigerians. I thank God again that my success in business today is part of the reason why I have a happy family. I am happily married with two kids- boy and girl, who are very marvellously wonderful children.
In the wider society; that is beyond my family, I feel fulfilled in some philantropic activities I have been able to engage in. My philantropic spirit rose as a result of my experience in life. I shed tears a lot in those days when my parents could not afford my primary school feels; especially my common entrance and First School Leaving Certificate Examinations. And saw so many other people suffer the same thing who eventually ended up the same way I was to end, if not for the help from my maternal Uncle.
For this reason, I put myself in the shoes of those indigents of the society. Now that God has blessed and lifted me up this much, when I see people going through such terrible condition, I remember my old days of suffering. And I am glad that I have been able to help as many such children as possible- such as paying their school fees, purchase of books for them, clothing and feeding, etc. Today, I have more than twenty people who have passed through me; people I have been able to assist get into one business, trade or the other. And they are today strongly established; within Uga here, I have more than fifteen of them who learnt this trade from me, were fully setlled, and are now so well established.They are scattered in several parts of the country too- Onitsha, Abuja, Umunze, Abakaliki, Markurdi, and so on.
Many widows have also benefitted from me in the area of feeding clothing and so on, so also are numerous orphans- providing them their sundry need.
In the social circle, I feel so highly fulfilled as the President General of my Community- Idi, Opi Community- a position I never contested; my people said they saw what was in me (which I didn't know of) and chose me. So, I thank God for such opportunity He made possible for me, without me vying for it. I cannot now recall all that I have been able to do for my people in that position. But certainly I see how God has used me to touch their lives.
Again was the invitation from the entire Opi Community to serve as Secretary to the electoral body that organised the last election for the leadership of the whole Opi Town Union. As Secretary, I conducted the election quite transparently and efficiently.
My other positions of trust (which join to give me sense of fulfilment in life) include: Vice Chairman of PTA, Gaius Benton Schools, Vice Chairman, Nat Associate of Patent Medicine Dealers, Aguata Branch Vice Chairman, Uga Branch of the same Association, Chairman, Concerned Citizens Committee of Friends, Enugu State, Director, Nsukka, Sen. Zone Grand Peoples Alliance for Democracy, Enugu State.

DR: Who are those who have touched your life specially and in what ways?
Those who have touched my life so positively and those who have special places in my heart are my maternal Uncle, Solomon Ugwoke, aka, Solo Gabon Engineer Christian Ugwu, Peter Ezema, and my mother, Mrs Eliza beth Eze Nwa Ugwu. She suffered for me, right from my birth till now; she has been so prayerful; she saw me through my primary education, suffered and strained herself to support my chosen business with N1,000, as I set out of the village in 1991.
Uncle Solo Gabon, trained me in secondary school, facilitated the initial N5,000 which I joined with the N1,000 from my mother to start off this business. By facilitation I mean that after paying for the cost of my training (learning of the trade), he requested one of my maternal uncles, then living in Abuja, Mr Peter Ezema, to source that N5,000 and give to me- which he obliged to, and did.
What is next before me to feel much more fulfilled is industrialization. I am seriously dreamy about going into Production Ventures, to help humanity more and more.

DR: Your policies or philosophies of life Sir?
I have a personal policy as well as my business policy. My personal policy is based on the golden rule principle: do unto others as you woul like them to do unto you, whereas my business policy is truth, honestly and carefulness, knowing that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. The slogan is "Do the best and expect he best".
Both principles- both personal and business are based on my understanding of the scriptures. I believe so much in God and highly respect whatever God has said about life of human life, I don't joke with them. Because I know that the word of God will come to pass, whether you believe in it or you don't believe. So based on that, I make sure that whatever I do unto others is fare and just.

DR: What is your take on the Nigerian economy, with the survival of small scale business and common man's survival in mind; your words of advise too?
My impression is that one day, it must be corrected. Nigeria is not the only country that has suffered economic recession. I know that one day, a better leader will come on board and the right policies put in place and all the troubles will be corrected; I am optimistic about this.
My few words of advise to Nigerians are that they should exercise patience and manage whatever we are doing with trust and faith; one day it shall be well.

DR: Do you have leisure times? How do you spend them?Do you have hobbies too?
I spend my leisure times reading and writing. I am a poet, with 14 poems to my credit at the moment, but not yet published. Those are my hobbies too.
Diamond Report wishes to leave the following comments regarding the philantropic heart of Mr Donatus Eze, following his success in business and heart for the poor.Many people-especially those who passed through harrowing moments early in life before breaking through, always want to justify why they are not in position to help others- even when they can afford to help- because, they still keep a long list of how many deep waters and storms of life they passed through. Through this experience (of hardship earlier) many have learnt how to be self-dependent and to walk alone. 
However, Mr Dona Eze, evidently among those who saw horrors earlier in life (survival challenges) see things totally differently from this school of thought. He has a heart that bleeds for the poor and needy; his early life's experience of hardship rather made him feel for people in similar condition, wanting to help them out, so that the history of bad condition does not continue to revolve round and round.
Of great admiration, commendation and emulation by others is his great sense of tenancity of purpose, in accordance with the view of Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959) in his historic and highly instructional poem, titled, “Don’t Quit”:
“Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he stuck it out,
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow,
You might succeed with another blow..
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tints of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems far,
So stick to the fight when you are hardest hit,
It is when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.”

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