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Friday 4 September 2015

Meet the former Biafra refugee who became Floyd Mayweather's favourite supercar dealer

Obi Okeke and Floyd Mayweather.
Obi Okeke first came to the United States as a 5-year-old refugee during the Biafra Nigerian Civil War in 1967. His mother, from Ohio, was able to leave the country with him, but his father, who was born in Biafra, stayed to fight.

Over four decades later, Okeke, now 53, is a fixture in the luxury automobile industry, dealing in cars that cost millions and selling to clients like Floyd Mayweather.

After that first move to the US, Okeke returned with his family to Nigeria, where he stayed until attending a private high school in Switzerland.

And that’s when he discovered great cars.

While in Switzerland, Okeke developed a love for European wheels. By the time he was 15, his teachers had already known that he would end up in the car business, he said. Following high school, Okeke came back to the US and started college at Northeastern University in Boston, although he did not graduate from the school.

When he was 21 years old, Okeke conducted the first of many car deals he’d close in his career. He purchased a BMW 323i Alpina online and was able to sell it for a profit of nearly four times what he paid. The transaction was encouraging.

As you would expect for a car salesman, it took some time for him to work his way up to the status of being a salesman of supercars and the co-owner of a dealership. And he bounced around a lot: from Chevy to Dodge to Volkswagen to Lexus to BMW to Mercedes — and his last stop before opening his own place, to Ferrari-Maserati.
Following six years as the general manager of Ferrari-Maserati in Calabasas, California, Okeke in 2012 cofounded Fusion Luxury Motors in North Los Angeles with a man named Yoel Wazana.

Why Fusion is different

Fusion Luxury Motors is a specialty dealership that sells cars that are geared for collectors, Okeke said. Currently in its inventory, car prices range from $US49,000 to $US3.8 million.

The inventory, however, hasn’t been acquired by way of auction, which is a route many dealers take. In fact, Okeke says he’s never bought from an auction. Rather, about 98% of the inventory comes from private parties, and the remaining 2% from dealers, he said.

“When you’re in the business for as long as I’ve been, you meet a lot of people,” Okeke said. “When I came here, people knew about me. I’ve been very fortunate to build a deep client database for finding cars.”

When the dealership opened in 2012, it only could only display up to five cars. By April 2013, though, it had moved into a 12,000 square foot show room that can hold 45 cars.
Fusion Luxury Motors.

That means a lot of growth for Fusion and a lot of vehicle acquisitions for Okeke and Wazana, all of which come out-of-pocket. But still, Okeke doesn’t see his car dealership as competing with the larger Los Angeles-based dealers because “the market is big enough for everyone.”

“We’re just a small dealership trying to be the best at what we’re doing,” Okeke said. “We’re not just focusing only on selling a ton of cars.”

What truly makes Fusion different than a regular car dealership is the turnaround time required, or lack thereof. Okeke says a normal car, like a Toyota Corolla, has to be sold in 45-90 days or it starts losing value. His strategy is different.

“My cars aren’t dropping in value,” he said. “They’re going up. So I really don’t worry about turnaround time.”

Normally, however, a “low-end” car at Fusion, which is under $US150,000, takes between two and four months to sell, Okeke said. Higher end cars that are often eclipsing $US1 million generally take between six months and a year and a half. Of course there are exceptions, though, like the $US1.9 million Koenigsegg he sold in less than 30 days.

Relationship with Floyd Mayweather
Okeke and Mayweather with a Bugatti Veyron.

Mayweather is easily Okeke’s biggest-name client. He says Mayweather will stop in about once a month just to see what’s available and if there is anything he wants to buy.

Okeke said he doesn’t sell to a lot of celebrities, even though they stop in to look every now and then, just as Keith Urban did a few weeks ago. And the business plan behind Fusion explains why.

The strategy is to sell high-quality, rare luxury cars to car collectors, not just to deal expensive supercars to celebrities that have the money.

“Celebrities may buy a Range Rover or Aston Martin or something, but that doesn’t mean they care about cars or want to collect,” Okeke said. “My buyers are people who have a true passion.”
Despite being one of the biggest names in sports, Mayweather falls into that category. His car collection features three Bugattis and many other of the premium car brands, like Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Rolls-Royce.

In total, Mayweather has bought at least 40 cars from Okeke. Most recently, Mayweather purchased a Koenigsegg CCXR Triveta from Okeke for $US4.8 million, according to the boxer’s Instagram. Okeke confirmed the purchase but could not disclose the price.

Previously, the most expensive car he’s ever sold, also to Mayweather, was a 2003 Ferrari Enzo. The car was advertised at the time for $US3.2 million, although Okeke couldn’t disclose the final selling price. Mayweather has since listed the car for sale with Fusion, which just sold at an advertised price of $US3.8 million.

Lifelong enjoyment

Cars have been the one major passion of Okeke’s since he was a young boy, and that has never changed. When he started in car sales, he said it wasn’t for financial reasons, it was simply to be surrounded by cars.

“Once I found out I was good at what I was doing, I really just wanted to get to the top,” Okeke said. “I didn’t know how to, but I just kept trying and trying.”

Personally, he doesn’t collect cars. He’s satisfied with being around them all day at work and helping others find the car of their dreams.

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