The seeds of Faith Mba's entrepreneurial spirit were planted while growing up in Nigeria, but they sprouted thousands of miles away in Vermont.
Mba's journey to owning a Toyota-Ford dealership in New England spanned three continents, beginning at a flea market in Nigeria where he hawked women's clothing with his mother. He worked for a few years in the Netherlands before coming to the northeastern U.S., where his wife was raised.
As one of the few Black people in tiny Westminster, Vt., and with his thick accent, Mba knows he stands out. His worldly perspective has taught him to approach uncharted territory as a cultural chameleon of sorts.
He learned to speak Dutch and German in the Netherlands, where he met his wife. Coming from a tropical climate, the 44-year-old says he hates snow — which there's plenty of in the Northeast — but has learned to ski.
He left eastern Nigeria for the Netherlands in 2002 to attend school. But after only a few courses, Mba ended up working at his uncle's Enterprise Rent-A-Car branch there and sending money home to his family in Nigeria. That sparked an interest in the automotive business.
"When I lived in Europe, I tried to be a Dutch person," said Mba, whose dealership, Faith's Toyota-Ford, lies just over the river from New Hampshire. "Even if I'm not white, I tried to learn the language. I think it's my background that helped me to survive up north in Vermont."
His proclivity to adapt and take on new challenges gave him an edge as he ventured into car sales in America only a few months after immigrating here in 2004. Living near his wife's family in Spofford, N.H., he got a sales position at a nearby Kia dealership. His skeptical in-laws wanted to know when he would get a real job. Mba knew it was a risk.
He had never sold cars before, but he was no stranger to selling. As a youth in Nigeria, Mba had honed his sales skills pitching his mother's merchandise to passersby. His experience at Enterprise was valuable as well.
He traces his desire to be a dealer to his Igbo culture; the Nigerian ethnic group is big on making a living through commerce, he says. His mother once told him that if he pursued a career in sales, life would go well for him.