Chukwuka Monye: Life Of A People Builder
Our interview was set for 10 am; he had landed Lagos the day before when we concluded on the time for our meeting.
By the time we got to the office, he was having a session with some students. He had the students enraptured, eyes firmly trained on him, lapping the words that came out of his mouth. Sadly, I had to interrupt the session.
After exchanging pleasantries, with a wide grin on his face, he asks holding a piece of fabric made by his brother and designer, Ugo Monye, “Is this look okay?” An affirmation from me sees him go to the dressing room.
Before we start the interview, he notices I am worked up over an issue, and calmly tells me to “put a smile on my face”.
It is my second meeting with Chukwuka Monye, one of Nigeria’s proven successes and the founder of one of Nigeria’s finest indigenous consulting company Ciuci Consulting.
“It comes as a surprise when foreigners hear that a Nigerian owns and runs the company,” he says with the pride that most Nigerians are familiar with.
Monye has always been a natural with leadership roles and excellence. A school prefect in primary and secondary schools; member of the Who’s Who in American Universities & Colleges; member of the Pi Alpha, a society for the top 10 percentile; valedictorian of his set; first to complete his 4-year degree in 3 years at the Warner University, Florida and first black student union president of his university. Monye has had many firsts.
“If you look at all the indicators and indices, and my position in my family as the first child, you will see that is a role that I have to play.
“Sometimes, I don’t even want it but it is more like I didn’t have a choice and I excel doing it.”
Although one might think that he had his future set, Monye who refers to himself as a “local man” says that his interest in business was met with some opposition.
“I was a science student but I wanted to do arts. I found myself excelling without studying for my sciences. My career counsellor even advised that I should study medicine and I said, ‘No I wanted to do business’ and she said business was not prestigious. ‘How can you have As and want to do business?’ I think in retrospect, they are saying I guess the boy knew what he always wanted.”
Excel in business, he did as he became the youngest branch manager of a credit union in Florida.
Despite his successes, his yearning to see the youths of the country become better, saw him return. “People started saying he is losing it. Who is advising him wrongly? Moreover, you will work and by the time you finish paying your taxes, little is left yet the expectations back home are plenty.”
Monye is also not oblivious of the fact that there were going to be limitations if he was going to rise to where he wanted. “I was growing rapidly in the corporate setting but each time I spoke to other professionals especially African Americans, they would tell you about the glass ceilings. After some soul searching, I told myself, if I was in Naija, there would be no glass ceiling so I better go back and create a niche for myself.”
This decision has become one of his best; not just to him but to many who have benefited from him one way or the other. “I think I got immersed back into Nigeria so well that most times my clients who have business here and abroad say that what they appreciate that I bring to the table is that I am just local enough and international enough.”
In a country where the shelf-life for some industries is 2-3 years, Ciuci Consulting which started off as an experiment has since celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Monye says that the offerings of Ciuci Consulting are also the root cause for its establishment.
“As I interacted with people, most of them mentioned ‘people problem,’ so I said to myself, ‘let me start a company, understand the people problem and solve it internally.’ ”
This experiment which runs on the grounds of ‘integrity and honesty’ has now lasted 12 years and has executed over 300 projects by providing ‘advice to businesses in Africa’, and developing ‘locally based human capacity.’
However, he adds that he was not of the impression of the number for years mattered a lot until he celebrated Ciuci consulting’s 10th anniversary.
“I didn’t realise that 10 years was a feat. I remember when we were at the Stock Exchange where we were celebrating our anniversary and people were congratulating us for staying in the market this long. You would expect that people would want to talk about the expectations of the organisation but most people were giving me hugs because we were 10. People congratulating you because you ‘survived’ alone shows that it [the Nigerian market] is a difficult market,” he says with a laugh.
But there have been moments he has felt that the road is rough. “Sometimes, I’d tell God, this ‘sufferhead’ is too much, why am I always suffering but when I remember one pastor’s statement, ‘what doesn’t break you makes you stronger’, I get encouraged.”
On gaining grounds, he opines that the reception at the beginning was bittersweet.
“Sometimes, people would ask, ‘who are you guys affiliated with abroad?’… It just seemed as if clients had a complex. They wanted foreign firms to do a lot of their advisory work but in the last couple of years, we have been positioned nicely. I think it’s because we stayed through to our essence and focused on quality and our tenacity, we just dug deep and did our work.”
In addition to this, “we are constantly faced with systemic problems, lost values, regulatory problems and government problems, too many uncertainties,” he notes.
Grab a copy of today’s Guardian Newspaper to read the full interview in LIFE Magazine.
Tip: LIFE is an insert in the Sunday edition of The Guardian Newspaper.