Lifestyle

Kenyan billionaires with five suits, one pair of shoes, no M-Pesa!

The poor show off clothes, middle-class parade cars, and upper-class brag about houses…the billionaire is different

Less is more, more or less: Billionaire industrialist Manu Chandaria’s family business rakes in Sh200 billion in annual revenues. But he only has five suits and has worn one watch for 68 years. The Uber-rich have no need for showing off the latest fashion. They sneer at designer labels flaunted by bottom drawer hustlers attempting to stand out from a crowd of fellow hustlers, according to psychologists.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

The rich are rich because, most times, they’re different: You will rarely find them on social media. They are faceless, modest, pretty understated and nowhere does this become apparent than in their dressing. While the average, pandemic-ravaged Kenyan up to the neck with Fuliza loans will dress to the nines, the billionaire in real coin does the exact opposite.

Take steel tycoon Narendra Raval. Forbes magazine pegged his wealth in 2015 at an eye-watering $500 million (Sh50 billion) from cement, barbed wire, aluminum, reinforcement bars and steel all under the Devki Group.   

But for all his billions, the ‘Guru’ owns just four suits, six neck ties and one pair of office shoes-that cost Sh6000. The suits reached number ffour only at the insistence of his wife of 35 years. The Guru owns a simple cellphone without M-Pesa!

This workaholic carries no wallet, no credit or debit cards

Oozing machismo: It is not just Asian billionaires who have a penchant for ‘capsule wardrobe.’ Charles Njonjo, Kenya’s former Attorney General, is a certified billionaire, a Croesus in real coin. He has no Twitter or other social media accounts.
His business empire sweeps across banking, insurance, hospitality, ranching, large-scale agriculture, real estate, lottery, security printing, equities and private land holdings.
When asked about his net worth he said “I am a poor man. I am worth nothing” but listed his 20 imported suits as part of his wealth portfolio. Never mind he co-owns Nairobi’s Sankara Hotel and even at over 100 years old, he is constructing  a Sh1 billion shopping centre and a hotel on seven acres in Nairobi’s Runda estate.

On what brings true happiness, he told Jackson Biko in an interview for the Business Daily “not money in the bank or a good house or a big TV or nice clothes. Material things do not give you happiness. The only happiness you can control is here (pointing at his 58 year old chest).”

This workaholic carries no wallet, no credit or debit cards. Until his family insisted and he bought a Mercedes, he was okay driving his old Toyota and hoping into boda bodas for Sh200 during traffic.

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Besides the Guru, count in too billionaire industrialist Manu Chandaria of the Comcraft Group which operates in over 45 countries on five continents. It deals in steel, plastics, aluminum and manufacturing with a Sh200 billion annual turnover from companies such as Kalu Works and Mabati Rolling Mills. But Manu has worn only one watch for 68 years, has five suits. His haircuts cost Sh500. He relaxes by working.

Fashion experts call it ‘capsule wardrobe’ of having very few items to pick from

Have shoes, will travel: Billionaires are also a contradiction. While Narendra Naval has one pair of shoes, he owns three choppers and told Biko: “I like flying helicopters. I’m a pilot. I will fly over the game parks, I will go to the factories in my chopper sometimes. I enjoy it.”

Why are some very loaded people so modest while hustles are obsessed with their looks and wardrobe? Most are men though. And their suits are usually of the same dull colour. Think retired President Mwai Kibaki, another silent billionaire from forays in property and real estate, large-scale agriculture and equities. He had less than 10 suits in stripped grey and navy blue colours and black laced Oxford shoes! Fashion experts call it ‘capsule wardrobe’ of having very few items to pick from to avert ‘decision fatigue.’

US President Barrack Obama was also into ‘capsule wardrobes’: “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits,” he once explained. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

The middle-class, on the other hand, don’t show off their wardrobe, but display what they drive

Cemented image: Raval owns Simba Cement and this factory in Nakuru County cost Sh6 billion. He has donated over Sh100 million worth of oxygen to hospitals. But he wears one pair of shoes worth Sh6000, a pair he buys every four years!

The late Apple founder, Steve Jobs had the least wardrobe decisions to make. He only wore his trademark black turtlenecks, blue jeans- without belt-and oversize sneakers with elongated laces. And though few judge billionaires by their dressing, consider Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his grey T-shirts, psychologists have a different explanation.

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They inform us on good authority that the very rich think different, spend differently. They go for efficiency; does the cloth fit? Not immediate gratification on how dressing makes them feel. To them, “fashion is discreet individualism,” notes Newsweek correspondent Barbie Nadeau.

She adds: “They are not after designer insignia since true luxury doesn’t need a logo to prove its high-class credentials. They wear designs that don’t shout, they whisper.” And the ultrarich have enough confidence without the compensating need for showing off.  

The billionaires with five suits show off by what they do

Stoned immortality: Billionaires are beyond showing off clothes, cars and houses like lesser mortals in other classes. Their show-off is in what they do, and what that which they do, can do to humanity long after they’re gone. They thus blow millions to have their names on buildings like the Chandaria School of Business at USIU in Nairobi (above).

People interested in dressing are mostly the bottom drawers for they have little else to show outwardly. The middle-class, on the other hand, don’t show off their wardrobe, but display what they drive. So, cars racing motorbikes, and brand of drinks is big for the middle-class. The upper- class is beyond cars and show off residences instead. The more it resembles an embassy, the better.

The billionaires with five suits show off by what they do: Raval and Chandaria are industrialists. They employ thousands. They are big on philanthropy. When they show off, it’s their name on common good projects that will guarantee their  immortality. Raval has the Devki Primary schools while Chandaria has his name on three universities in Kenya including the Manu Chandaria Centre at the University of Nairobi, Chandaria Business and Innovation Centre at Kenyatta University and a cancer centre named after him at the Moi Teaching & Referral Hospital.

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