At 70, Sir Godwin Ubaka Okeke (GUO), the founder and chairman of GUO Group Of Companies is still waxing strong and planning to do more for humanity through his business empire. In this report, RICHARD ABU examines his rise from the ruins of the Nigerian Civil War to becoming a business icon, concentrating on transportation, manufacturing, real estate and others.
His success story cannot be successfully told without the input of his parents and his personal vision and conviction that the best of most serious human beings come out from difficult time.
His decision to go into business can be described as the accident of fate and his resolve to dare the odds and conquer. He started small and has become mighty and great.
GUO as he popularly called was born on Monday, 6th June, 1949 at Iyi-Enu Hospital, Ogidi, Onitsha. He is the sixth of eight children of his parents comprising seven male and one female.
His entry to the business world from GUO’s account started the day after the Nigerian Civil War ended on 15th January, 1970. With some of his brothers, they trekked 12 km from Adazi-Ani to Nnewi and returned home safely, which to them was a confirmation that the war had ended.
The next day, he obtained his parents’ consent to travel to Onitsha who willingly released their Peugeot 404 saloon car to him. While in Onitsha, Okeke visited his parents’ properties which were all intact. He proceeded to Fegge (the then trading district in Onitsha). When he came back to the car to return to Adazi-Ani, passengers milled around the vehicle, asking to be taken to Enugu. He picked eight of them to Ogbete in Enugu, charging each Nigerian £1 which was extremely scarce at that time.
As soon as the passengers alighted, Okeke said that those going to Onitsha rushed to his car and he carried eight passengers back to Onitsha at the same fare. At Onitsha again, people wanted him to go back to Enugu but he refused because it was late in the night. When he returned to Adazi-Ani, his mother was extremely anxious that she was in tears thinking that something untoward may have happened to him signifying that the war may not have really ended.
The day after, GUO arrived in Onitsha from Adazi-Ani as early as 5am to resume his business – conveying passengers between Onitsha and Enugu as vehicles were scarce. He did several trips daily which signalled the foray into transport business. He combined the transport business with trading which he had been doing during weekends from school helping his parents at the various markets.
In the course of running the transport and trading businesses, the federal government announced that all Biafran currency should be deposited in banks. He went to the bank to make inquiries on the modalities of the pronouncement and found out that irrespective of the amount of money deposited, a uniform receipt was issued. He suggested to the family that they should split whatever amount they had and take it to bank separately.
This was to increase the number of receipts that would be issued and the idea worked for the family as each member had receipts in their respective names.
On redemption of the receipts issued earlier, the federal government paid £20 for each receipt. With these proceeds, Okeke started a poultry farm with his parents at Adazi-Ani complemented with a shop for merchandise that operated from Ogbete, Enugu.
Looking back, GUO, now 70, is adjudged by his family members, associates and the Christian faithful, as a remarkable family man and a model social entrepreneur whose numerous business activities across multiple sectors have created shared values with immense impact on human development.
An astute businessman whose business empire was built with a clear vision, hard work and trust in God, is using his wealth to address social issues on security, education and healthcare, which have endeared him to citizens in the last mile of his local communities.
His participation and contribution to Nigerian business sectors is not limited to transportation, manufacturing, trading and real estate. His initial GUO is a notable brand recognised by millions of Nigerians who travel primarily by road. The brand awareness is far-reaching but the man behind the brand is simple and humble, which is why all who get a chance to meet and interact with him are astonished and pleasantly surprised.
GUO started his primary education in 1955, aged 6 at Central School, Onitsha. He had his secondary education at Community Grammar School, Nnobi from 1963. In 1966, he attended “Man O’ War” training in readiness for becoming a prefect. The training is akin to leadership training or National Youth Service. This course prepared him for surviving the Nigerian civil war and navigating the turbulent waters of business.
Among his milestones started in 1971 was becoming a supplier of eggs to University of Nigeria, Enugu campus; 1972 – deployed Volkswagen Combi bus which was the only brand of passenger vehicle then used to ply the Onitsha to Lagos; 1975 – deployed two 911 trucks at N9,900 each for haulage of cargo, and 1981 – deployment of luxury buses.
For his contribution to the business sector, he received the honorary Doctorate Degree, Doctor of Business Administration (D.BA) from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, 2008 and was honoured by the federal government with Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), 2007
GUO is also knighted by the Diocese on the Niger (Anglican Communion) and admitted into the Order of Gideon on the Niger, among others.