Editor’s Choice Undercover On Sunday

PART I: The 20 ways Kenyans become millionaires

Majority of those who scale the financial uplands do it in the easiest ways known: Solving human problems and charging for it

Master of the Game: Esther Muchemi of Samchi Group left accounting to ‘sell airtime’ and never looked back. The knack for making money though manifests itself in various guises disguised as luck, timing, genius, ruthlessness, insight, as opportunism or stubbornness, but at the end of the day, the First Law of Millions states that “every millionaire creates wealth at somebody else’s expense.”

By GW Ngari


If you often spend sleepless nights wondering, scheming, planning, plotting, musing and dreaming how to become Mr or Miss Moneybags, you’re not alone. But just know that 20 percent of Kenya’s financial Kahunas, control 80 percent of the wealth, any given Sunday.

How did they do it? Well, in the easiest ways known: Solving human problems and charging for it.

Indeed, millionaires have been extracted from the ranks of the untalented, the uninspired and the forgettable. But, tricks and traps used never change. Besides solving human problems, millions have been made from foresight. Consider Esther Muchemi.

When Safaricom was looking for airtime agents, she dumped accounting and became gent-now Samchi Telcom and which accounts for her billions invested in real estate, hospitality and microfinance.


Tell Me Your Dreams: Others make money from  spotting a demand and satisfying it at premium cost. There was a demand for biometric identification in hospitals and workplaces and Chris Kirubi (above) filled that demand with Smart Application International, the company that supplies the software Kenyans use to tap their medical insurance cards on and for which he has little competition. “It is the best business investment I ever made” Kirubi told Salim Amin in The Scoop.

This is the first of a five part series that Undercover will run on the 20 commonest ways millions have been, is being made, and will be made in Kenya and elsewhere…enjoy the ride!

1.  Inheritance: The Kenyattas, Ndegwas gladly received it

Inherited wealth grows through the secret of time and magic of compound interest

The other side of me: Billionaire Philip Ndegwa and sons James and Andrew-both of whom owned Sh5 billion in NIC Bank before its merger with CBA to form NCBA, Kenya’s third largest bank by assets. Before the Ndegwas sold their interests in Inchcape Shipping (including a ‘garage’ for ships), the family operated Africa’s largest dry shipping dock between Cairo and Cape Town!

It is the easiest known ways of making millions is via inheritance-you gladly receive- and some have multiplied family fortunes stupendously. Think the Ndegwas; scions of former Central Bank Governor the late Philip Ndegwa-said to be the first Kenyan to bank a billion.

Ndegwa minted one of Kenya’s most secured fortunes via First Chartered Securities, an indigenous investment outfit founded in 1974 with some 20 civil servants and business moguls as shareholders.
Ndegwa’s acquisition vehicle bagged the Insurance Company of East Africa (now ICEA Lion with a 100 percent shareholding), before forays in re-insurance, banking, agriculture, logistics, and real estate-where the property portfolio was worth $100 million (Sh10 billion by 1999)- through its insurance arm alone!

They only allow the business savvy in the family, in their case, Muhoho Kenyatta, to manage inherited fortune

Bloodline: Fewer families, inheritance speaking, have been lucky in Kenya than the Kenyattas with the help of state patronage, no ess. When patriarch, founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (above) died in August 1978, Uhuru was 15 years old and Brookside Dairies, the country’s largest milk processor, was not on the cards. Or Mediamax Network Ltd which owns K24, People Daily, Kameme FM and assorted others.  Their Heritage Hotel chain was mostly at the coast and the tented camps in the Maasai Mara only came later.

Kenyatta Inc. is now one of the biggest business dynasties with interests in real estate, property, ranching, healthcare, large scale agriculture, education, hospitality, dairy farming, equities, timber, aviation, media and banking-all valued at over $1 billion (Sh100 billion) by Nigeria-based financial magazine, Ventures.

The Kenyattas have used the same trick employed elsewhere in the world: prudent use of professional managers and advisors, only allowing the business savvy in the family, in their case, Muhoho Kenyatta, to manage inherited fortune considering incompetent heirs multiply geometrically in the second generation. 

But inheritance has the disadvantage of dependency worsened by ingratitude, entitlement, laziness

The sands of time: Mama Ngina Kenyatta receives the Presidential Standard during the State funeral of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta on August 31, 1978. Women are known to have better financial heads and the role ofMama Ngina, the family matriarch in overseeing the expansion of Kenyatta Inc., cannot be gainsaid. The Kenyattas appear to have borrowed from Japan where inheritance grows under grandma’s eagle eye away from blundering male bloodlines.

The Kenyattas also held on to their inherited wealth allowing it to grow through the secret of time and magic. But inheritance has the disadvantage of ‘remittance addiction’ or dependency which is worsened by ingratitude, entitlement, laziness and succeeding heirs having thinning drive and genius of the parent who produced it. Like the Karumes, formerly billionaires but now facing auctioneers since Old Boy Njenga Karume died in 2012.


2.  Shares & stocks: Kirubi earned Sh200 million in dividends from Centum alone

The ‘multiplier effect’ of the stock market can create riches so fast it’s akin to   winning the lottery

The other side of midnight: Billionaire serial investor John Kibunga Kimani buys big, holds for the long-term. Over three decades he has built  a 31 percent stake in agricultural firm Kakuzi worth Sh2 billion. Kimani is also the largest individual shareholder in Nation Media Group and Safaricom besides significant stakes in Centum and East African Breweries.  But, on the flip side, the stock market can be a bread of sorrow when shares collapse, companies are mismanaged or when a pandemic strikes!

  The ‘multiplier effect’ of the stock market can create riches so fast it’s akin to drawing the winning card at a national lottery. And the trick is simple: buy when everybody is selling and sell when everybody is buying. Then hold for the long haul. Like business magnate Chris Kirubi. Relentless buying of Centum shares has upped his stake rise to 30 percent or Sh3 billion in over 30 years minus dividends and share splits. He bought Sh92 million additional shares this January in his bid to push his stake to 49 percent. Kirubi pocketed Sh200 million in dividends from Centum alone in 2018!

3.  CEO: Muriuki’s annual pay equals earning Sh1 million daily

The honcho can make more when his salary is tied to stupendous turnover

Best laid plans: Gideon Muriuki, CEO of Coop bank, is also it’s largest individual shareholder at 1.88 percent but which he reduced to 1.77 percent after selling shares worth Sh100 million in March 2019.  But he still pocketed Sh103 million in dividends from the stake.

Can one be really wealthy through formal employment?  Yes, if you’re the CEO of lucrative firms you can become a Croesus in real coin-and  retire wealthier than if you were running an own show.     

Amd a CEO can make even more when his salary is tied recording a stupendous turnover. Gideon Muriuki is the highest paid CEO of all the listed companies at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). This CEO of Coop bank trousered home Sh375 million in 2018 with Sh271million of that bonanza being bonuses. That dough in annual pay equals earning more than Sh1 million daily or Sh42, 000 every hour daily for 365 days.

Oigara was financially better off than all the shareholders and employees of Standard Group combined

Morning, noon and night: Some CEOs earn annual salaries equivalent to annual turnovers of other companies. Like KCB Group CEO Joshua Oigara (above). Imagine in 2018 his salary and perks stood at Sh273 million-Sh20 million more than Standard Group made in the same period! Oigara was thus financially better off than all the shareholders and employees of Standard Group combined.

The bank explained that his eye watering annual salary was because “the group has invested in a performance-driven reward structure, and the board has rewarded tremendous growth and transformation of the bank.” Muriuki has risen through the ranks since joining Coop bank in 1996 as a senior corporate manager on his way to the corner office in 2001.

4.  Business (taking it public) – like Bharat Thakrar

Going public simply because the parts can be made wondrously more than the whole

Memories of midnight: Among inherent advantages of taking a company public is that it “multiplies its value and enables the owner to grab real money but leaves him total control over the cornucopia.” But the board of the company you founded can also show you door, as was the case with Bharat Thakrar (above) and being kicked from WPP Sangroup over financial misadventures. He resigned this March.

Bharat Thakrar started an advertising company he named Scanad in 1982,  without a client, but it grew organically into an advertising giant, taking it public in 2006 as Scangroup.

Scangroup grew through mergers and acquisitions including ceding  a 50.1 percent stake to WPP in cash and share deal worth Sh8.2 billion in 2013. It became WPP Scangroup with Thakrar as CEO of Africa’s largest integrated marketing services conglomerate. Thakrar not only earned Sh78 million in annual salary before the pandemic, but he is also WPP Scangroup’s largest individual shareholders with a 13.2 percent stake worth Sh2 billion co- owned 50-50 with his wife, Sadhna Thakrar.

In Part II next Sunday: Making millions from stealing, gaps in the market, wheeler-dealing and business spin-offs…

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