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Chris Kirubi: How Kenyans expand his business empire… morning, noon and night!

If you get sick and use a medical insurance card for biometric identification, you are making Kirubi pretty penny in what he said “is my favourite, best investment decision ever.”

Sartorial Elegance: His Sh 1 million plus suits are handmade by Brioni, the same suit makers for American Presidents Donald Trump, George W. Bush and Prince Albert of Monaco.

By GW Ngari

Editor-at-Large

@Undercover KE

Billionaire businessman Chris Kirubi, Kenya’s homespun industrialist, returned from the USA last year after undergoing cancer treatment in Boston, USA, home to the best oncologists in the world.  But even when he was away since November 2017, Kenyans were making him more dough morning, noon and night.
That was not surprising as he once said people have different talents and his singular one “is making money…. I don’t know how to do anything else better!”

Even while the business mogul, now shrugging into his late 70s, is convalescing from Stage Two Cancer which he explained “was discovered by mistake,” he still makes money in the truck loads. Never mind it’s three years since he faded from boardrooms and public limelight.

Just this March, Kirubi tendered intentions of buying 20 percent mores shares in Centum Investments. The stake worth Sh2.7 billion will push his ownership to 49.99 percent.

 The talent for making money showed early, selling gas and cylinders for Shell, rising to Sales Manager. Then manna fell from financial heaven through peddling insurance policies. That dough, spurred him to forays in undervalued real estate in Nairobi and which was the bedrock of Kirubi’s Sh30 billion secured fortune, according to Forbes Africa.

That sure bread, baked over five decades in business since his free time was spent working, makes the divorced father of two, one of the wealthiest in Kenya-where he controls the lives of citizens in more ways than most can imagine.

The broom of Kirubi’s investments sweeps across manufacturing consumer products and beverages, financial services, engineering, technology, insurance, equities, construction, logistics, real estate and property management, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, media and the 600-acre Bendo Farm in Thika where ‘Lake Kirubi’ sits pretty surrounded by coffee.

That is quite something for the once bright, but homeless orphaned first born in a family of four. One who was born in the Rift Valley to parents who were farm hands. One who schooled on missionary scholarships in Western Kenya where students partied overnight when school closed but Kirubi sobbed. He had no home to go to. His wealth is a far cry from the penurious days he earned Sh5 dusting files at Kenya Railways headquarters in Nairobi. Kirubi could not even bank the Sh5, but in the fullness of time ended up as the largest shareholder at KCB and Barclays banks before cashing out.

That soap, laundry softener, breakfast cereal, toilet cleaner could be Kirubi’s products

In sickness and health: If you get sick and use a biometric medical card for payment, then just know that is Kirubi’s favourite business ever!

Here is how Kirubi makes money from the time a Kenyan wakes up until bedtime:

If you take a shower, the soap could be one of Kirubi’s consumer brands as is the waft of that laundry softener on the towel. Pee and flush- that toilet cleaner could be another of his products as is the lotion and hair gel your children and wife are using for that smooth skin and healthy looking hair.

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 In fact, that breakfast cereal you prefer every morning, could be a brand manufactured by Haco Industries in Kasarani, Nairobi.

Some of Kirubi’s tenants were in manufacturing and they enticed him in trying his hand in a lucrative area then as now, dominated by Asians and foreigners. At the time, Haco-founded in 1974, was a struggling subsidiary of Hagemeyer NV, a Dutch multinational holding concern. Haco was manufacturing cosmetics which accounted for only a fourth of profits. Hagemeyer hived off Haco for disposal. Kirubi bid and bought it in 1980. He changed its business from cosmetics to stationery before entering into lucrative partnerships with global brands like French conglomerate Societe BIC whose franchise, allowed Haco to manufacture and distribute Bic products including ball pens, lighters and disposable shavers.

Kirubi ceded 51 percent to Tiger Brands of South Africa in 2008 for Sh380 million and rebranded to Tiger Haco Brands. But he later bought back the stake in 2017 on the back of Tiger Brands’ inability to enter the local market where its consumer products would be in a cannibalized competition with Haco, whose products are distributed in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Kirubi didn’t regret his failed marriage, only not studying accounts

Then there was the financial scandal where managers cooked books via pre-invoicing future sales as actual sales thus creating artificial profits to the tune of Sh 870 million!

Indeed, when he was once asked about stuff he regrets, Kirubi didn’t mention his failed marriage, allegations that he precipitated the fall of Kenatco and troubled chain Uchumi Supermarkets, and which he has strongly disassociated himself. His only regret is that “I never studied accounting and have to rely on others to explain numbers.”

Another reorganization at Haco came in 2018 when Societe BIC reacquired its franchise for Sh714 million and a further Sh1.1 billion payable in three year installments, to offset the capital commitments Haco had already made in the BIC business by the time the transaction was completed on December 31, 2018.

While the bonanza lasted, Kenyans made Kirubi rich via purchasing Bic ball pens, lighters and shavers.

But Kirubi noticed that Haco was burning so much cash in advertising, he decided to leverage the expenses through owning his own media outlet and advertising his products there. In 2008, Kirubi bought 98.4 Capital FM from Linda Holt for an undisclosed figure. Holt went to found Yellow, an advertising agency which folded and morphed into RedSky, another ad firm now under WPP Scangroup. The last we heard about her, she had been hauled to court over possession of cocaine.  

Capital, which targets the middle-class listener, was until its recent management woes which saw the exit of key presenters and other creative managers, the most profitable radio stations in Kenya. It was also at Capital FM that Kirubi earned the nickname DJ CK from spinning discs during the ‘Hits Not Homework’ evening drive programme and he often clarified that “when I move from the studio to a business meeting you can’t recognize me.”

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The huge youth following he mustered from being DJ CK, his technical appearance in Nairobi’s A-List parties and with it, society pages beside cameo roles as himself in films such as Formula X saw him slide into mentoring the youth interested in entrepreneurship. That he did through publishing the QZ magazine and his social media platforms like #AskKirubi on Twitter and his YouTube channel.

His other child is a son, Robert Kirubi who works for DHL in Belgium

Lake Kirubi: This mass of water is inside his 600-acre Bendo Farm in Thika.

If you decide to take an Uber, but the month is “at a corner” and you settle on Uber Chap Chap, chances are; the financing of its purchase of that Suzuki Alto was facilitated by Sidian Bank where his daughter, the better known of his two children, Mary Ann-Musangi is a director, besides sitting on the boards of Haco, UAP and International House Ltd.

His other child is a son, Robert Kirubi who works for DHL in Belgium as the Vice President of Operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

 The last we heard of Robert, he had visited his ailing father last year. He attended Hillcrest School, Nairobi alongside Salim Amin, son of famous photojournalist Mohammed Amin before jetting off to Canada’s Northeastern University for his undergraduate in science.

Being content working in Belgium, Kirubi roped in his daughter into his business orbit.

Before Mary Anne joined Sidian it was previously K-Rep Bank. Centum Investments acquired a 78 percent control stake in the tier two bank in 2014. Its name changed to Sidian, fleshed from the Obsidian rock.

That is 200 million shares which at Sh34 a throw, translates to Sh6.4 billion

At Centum, Kirubi is a Non-Executive Director and the largest individual shareholder of the Nairobi Securities Exchange listed firm. Through Centum, Kirubi has interests in real estate and property, energy, education, fund management, auto motives, business solutions, manufacturing, publishing, export agriculture and healthcare.

The above translates to well-known businesses including; Two Rivers, Kenya’s largest shopping mall, Almasi Beverages, bottlers of Coca-Cola products including Dasani and which has cornered a 30 percent market share and Sabis International Schools in Runda Nairobi with expansion plans to Uganda, Tanzania and Egypt.

Indeed, if you use a locally assembled Isuzu vehicle, Pick-Up, truck or bus, then Centum controls 17 percent of Isuzu East Africa and has a 34 percent market share of new vehicles in Kenya.

If you are a tenant or client at Two Rivers or a home buyer of Vipingo Ridges at the coast then you are still in the cusp in the hydra of Kirubi’s business tentacles-making him even wealthier.

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Consider this.

Kirubi holds a 30.51 percent stake at Centum. That is 200 million shares which at Sh 34 a throw, translates to Sh6.4 billion, give or take. Centum had total sales of Sh 10 billion in 2018 and with a Sh 1.2 dividend a share, meant Kirubi trousered home a Sh 240 million check for 2018 alone. The shares have, however, been eroded by the ongoing pandemic ravaging stock markets around the globe. And just the reason why he’s pumping Sh2.7 billion in acquiring 133 million additional shares, which at Sh 22 a piece, is a 75 percent discount. Kirubi will be the largest individual shareholder at 49.99 percent under his name. And the overall majority shareholder as he holds Centum stock through other vehicles.

We are not done yet!

If you decide to send a parcel or ship, freight or rail any goods from anywhere in the world and use DHL, Kirubi holds the local franchise. If you buy aspirin then it’s manufactured by Bayer East Africa where Kirubi has a 45 percent stake.

Come to think of it…

If you get sick and go to a medical facility with a medical insurance card, you will most likely be asked to press your finger on a biometric machine to allow for registration and payment of consultation fee and dispensing of medicine. That biometric identification management service in the majority of facilities in Kenya, is offered by Smart Applications International.

It is owned by Kirubi for which he once said “is my favourite, best investment decision ever.”

Your cover could probably be under UAP Insurance. Almost forgot, Kirubi once held a 9.6 percent stake which he offloaded to Old Mutual in 2015 for Sh3.8 billion!

The biometric recognitions have been invaluable not only in medical services but also insurance and security companies, financial service providers and governments.

But another of its ubiquitous use is in companies for distinguishing between employees and visitors, but more importantly for labour and expense management.

Put simply, if you have a job access card, which with a touch on a tracker allows you to access company premises, then your company is a client of Kirubi. And all those workplaces with thumb print at the cafeteria where employees access subsidized meals then that is Kirubi controlling your feeding!

Its portfolio now has Shanzu Gardens in Kyuna comprising 20 town houses with a club house

Concrete wealth: Chris Kirubi fashioned the Two Rivers Mall after South Africa’s Sandton City in Jo’burg, South Africa. It is part of Centum Investments where Kirubi has a controlling stake.

Smart Applications International Ltd, with footprints in Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, is located at International House along Mama Ngina Street. It is Kenya’s most expensive rental per square foot. 

Kirubi has a controlling stake in International House Ltd, through which he bought International House from Canada’s Queensway Development Corporation in 1985.

International House Ltd expanded into a property management firm including residential and commercial premises. Its portfolio now has Shanzu Gardens in Kyuna comprising 20 town houses with a club house and entertainment area, swimming pool and children’s playground. The nine Avocado Villas just off Brookside Grove and 17 others at Riverside Court on Riverside Drive have similar facilities.

We can’t forget the one or two bedroom fully-serviced Penthouse on the rooftop of the fully air conditioned International House- Kenya’s most expensive rental property per square foot and counts among its tenants; embassies, international organizations, banks and NGOs. 

The irony of it all is that with enough billions to last several lifetimes he once said “I now work harder than when I was starting out…I never learnt how to stop working.”

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