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Cubana Group will expand into other countries within five years – Obi Cubana

Cubana Group will expand into other countries within five years – Obi Cubana

OBINNA IYIEGBU popularly known as ‘Obi Cubana’ is a very busy businessman. Despite his busy schedule, he had an exclusive interview with a BusinessDay team comprising ZEBULON AGOMUO, TELIAT SULE and CHIJIOKE ONYEOGUBALU on what motivated him to set up the Cubana Group, industry trend and future aspirations. Excerpts:

The Cubana Group is such a popular brand that an average Nigerian will want to be associated with. Could you tell us what informed the choice of the businesses or sectors in the economy you invested in over time?

Before Cubana Group, I started Ibiza which was an entertainment and hospitality outfit. That was in 2006 in Garki and then right now we have it in Lagos and Awka. But Cubana Group is the luxury end of the Ibiza investment. So, the sole purpose was: I love entertainment and this dated back to my school days because then people gathered in my house and I entertained them. I loved to cook food; I loved to bring drinks so it became like a norm. Actually, I never planned to have that. My thinking was that I was going to be a civil servant, having read Political Science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and having been among the first set of corps members to serve at the National Assembly immediately after we regained democracy in 1999.

So, the dream was actually to be a staff of the National Assembly but because it didn’t work out, the next thing I tried to do was the boutique business; that also didn’t work out. So, I knew my calling was elsewhere. In essence, I love to relax a lot; I love to make people around me happy; I love to gather people and entertain them. It was from that gathering to Ibiza and then to the Cubana Group.

When did you conceive the idea to go into this particular line of business and for how long have you have been in this business?

I started this business in 2001; that’s like 21 years ago because I did my youth service from 1999 till 2000. In 2001, we established the garden business. Then, Ibiza was established in 2006, that’s 16 years now and Cubana will be 14 years since it was established in 2009.

Nigerians love to relax but the pocket is a limiting factor. Since you have been in the business, has it been up to your expectations?

We have witnessed the ups and downs of the business. Apart from the economic hardship, there was a time we were dealing with the insurgency of the Boko Haram in Abuja, which is significant because at a point all of my businesses were domiciled in Abuja. In terms of the economy, we know the time of our high ends and our low ends. At the end of the day, it has not been bad at all because, through the state of the economy, it has really not been bad at all because we have been able to sustain our businesses; we have been able to grow from one level to another.

We have been able to pay salaries, to make people grow through us. Some of our boys have actually established their own and they are doing very well. Some people have been able to pay their school fees through the businesses while working part-time.

QUOTE:

I didn’t enter the business to make quick money and run. I am trying to do something that will leave a lasting legacy that even when I am not here, others can carry on

We know that quality determines a lot in business as what separates a business from another is the quality of its services, or the products that it offers. How do you manage quality control so that your clients receive the same level of service in all your branches?

If you look at the staffing at Cubana, you will see that they are young people who are hungry to make a name for themselves; who are hungry to achieve and the top management staff are either my friends or my classmates or my school members, people who came highly recommended because of their ability to sustain growth.

I didn’t enter the business to make quick money and run. I am trying to do something that will leave a lasting legacy that even when I am not here, others can carry on, whether my children decide to go into the business or not. We try to create a brand that will stand the test of time.

Do you have some global brands that you would like to replicate their successes in Nigeria?

I have studied MacDonald’s and some businesses like Coca-Cola. The people who set up the businesses are all gone, but the brands remain strong. I now told myself, how come in Nigeria, our businesses don’t last the way these ones last?

I said let me try and make a difference, and follow their footsteps. There may be a lot of challenges here but the people I look up to especially McDonald’s are because if you go to Dubai, you see McDonald’s, you enter there, the same taste, the same quality. Go to London, go to America, anywhere you see McDonald’s, it practically the same taste, the same quality all over the world. I look up to that as a brand.

As a matter of fact, I take it out specifically and say that McDonald’s has actually left indelible imprints in different countries. I don’t know how many as of today, but I have looked at them and the way they operate and the way they have been able to sustain the business.

How many branches do you have across the country and how many more are in the pipeline?

The Cubana group is a mix of both hotels and the clubbing business. In Abuja, we have four hotels. In Port Harcourt we have one and a restaurant, and in Owerri, we have the Cubana club at the event centre. In Enugu, we have a club business, and in Lagos, we have two- one on the mainland, and the other on the Island. We have the Hustle & Bustle too. We are trying to expand on the Island also. I think we have 13 outlets and we are trying to do more.

You have been doing great but it appears Nigerians didn’t know the Cubana Group until the burial of your mother last year. Why did you decide to keep so low until last year? Also, philanthropy comes naturally for you because just recently we saw what happened with that hawker. What pushes you to do this?

The act of giving is not about being rich and a good example is that particular boy. He was not rich; he was a mere hawker. At a particular point, he felt that he was in a better position than those people inside the vehicle and he gave. Maybe, he gave less than N500, just that time, and he was lucky at that point that somebody caught him on video because a lot of people have done that who were unnoticed.

He was lucky at that point. Even, if people came together and contributed money to him, the money will finish one day but we are going to educate him and give him the necessary tools that will make him more money than he will ever earn.

Read also: Meet Adenike Fagbemi, PR entrepreneur with passion for Nigerian brands

So, I think the act of helping people is not because of how rich or how wealthy. It comes from within and it comes naturally. Some people are pushed to do it. Some people do it because they see other people doing but some people it’s just like an autopilot, it just comes out.

Apart from the entertainment and hospitality industry, which other sector of the Nigerian economy are you involved in?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we faced the hardest challenges in life because practically everything we had was shut down. It was difficult at that period. So, I now thought this is an opportunity for me to diversify. Some sectors were not affected in the Covid-19 like healthcare, consumption, and real estate. We have floated Casa Cubana. We are building reasonable and affordable luxury houses on the back of the lack of houses for people.

Then recently, l started shouting about one particular thing- Odogwu. People were actually wondering whether it was a show I wanted to do, or whether it was politics. We just floated Cubana Trading and Investment Company. We will be launching by the 22nd or thereabout. Odogwu is a Bitters and this Bitters is like a cleanser and everything. That is the first line we are going to do but it is a luxury end so we are going to unveil it soon. It is going to be consumables, we can do pampers, we can do spirit, and everything so that is how we are diversifying.

Where do you see the Cubana Group in the next five years?

I look at Cubana Group in the next five years, that is by 2027, as one of the world-leading business groups because I want to make in-roads into London, some African countries, starting from this year. We are looking towards getting a Cubana in London, trying to get in Ghana, trying to get in South Africa.

I might not get into South Africa because there is an original Cubana existing in that country which is not mine. But I am looking at it that in the next five years – I look at Shoprite and MTN, and look forward to the Cubana Group being as big as, or even bigger than, them. I am looking at taking the Cubana Group brand outside the shores of this country so that people will be proud of Nigeria.

This is purely a Nigerian company and a Nigerian product. We are proud of this and then people will be motivated to do the same thing. Dangote is operating in some African countries. We want to also export the Cubana brand out there in the world so they can see what Nigerians can do.