Thursday, 11 August 2011

African businesses: Not a child's place


This post has been updated from the original post with additional content and verifications. Updated content is in blue. 

Vishal Patel, Executive Director , Copy Cat
limited used to spend his holidays working
at the business from the age of 12
The other day, no, the other month, I was lucky enough to attend Pivot 25. I remember that before the award ceremony at Pivot 25, I was chatting with John Waibochi,  Isis Nyongo and Moses Kemibaro. The event was taking place at the Ole Sereni Hotel which is along Mombasa road. It was here that I learned that Parkside Towers, one of Mombasa road's imposing structures and probably Victoria Furnitures (according to rumours) which is opposite Parkside Towers , all belong to the family that owns Tile & Carpet Centre. In addition , the Indian brothers own other real estate. This are rumoured to include an upcoming structure behind Victoria Furnitures.

Well, the Tile & Carpet Centre brothers are Kenyans, but of Indian decent, commonly refered to in Kenya as Wahindi. Waibochi said that he went to college with the brothers, and wonders what differentiated them from him such that they are that successful. If you know Waibochi, he is a seasoned entrepreneur by himself .



A  child hangs around it's mother's Grocery shop at Mukuru
kwa Njenga
Waibochi then ahead to explain what probably distinguished the Wahindi from himself. The Tile & Carpet brothers parents had operated a dukawalla  -  These are were small-medium sized shops that Indian families ran in the front of their homesteads.  Most of them have eventually grown into large enterprises at the moment.


What is striking about the dukawallas  is that the amongst the shop owners, you would find the owners young children, The children usually hang around the shop  and often took over manning and selling either as roles or to cover when their parents were absent. By the time they were growing up, Waibochi says that they knew how the business ran like the back of their palms.

With capital accumulated over the years from the family business, their business acumen and business school tips, the young wahindis were ready to take the businesses to a new level. Couple with the young ages that made them more willing to take risks, it only meant one thing. Great businesses empires arose from such beginnings.

Another similar tale is that of Copy Cat, a major ICT equipment supplier and solutions supplier in the region. Vishal Patel , the firms executive director says that at the age of 11 years , he normally spend his holidays working in the firms offices. When it got more boring, the young Vishal would accompany sales and supply teams as they traversed across the region in the firms vehicles , helping him understand the supply chain.

After attaining his university degree at Florida Institute of Tech, Vishal had a passion to run the business joining the firms operations in Tanzania which he led for 11 years. He then joined the fims directorship in Kenya where he has been for the last 7 years.

That is the wahindi  story. Now for the native Kenyan stories.

You may have heard the story of the Gerishon Kirima and how his family could not wait for the guy to die, to begin the fight on his massive real estate portfolio. Kirima, a former member of parliament and assistant minister had over time come to own several structure and parcels of land within Nairobi. His extended family started fighting over the property in his last days, as he lay on his hospital bed.

Kirima's saga is a common tale in Kenya when a rich individual dies, leaving his family fighting for the spoils.


When the children grow up, they have to wait for their parents - mostly their father - to pass away, or get very ill, and it is from here that they attempt to take over the business empire. Most of the time, the take over is usually a hostile take over rather than an inheritance. By the time they are taking over the business, the kids are usually in the late 40s , or well into their 50s . At this age, they are past the risk taker age, and are at an age that they themselves should probably be in the process of handing over to their children. Most of the time, they will run down and scavenge the business empire rather than built it. 


A once giant empire is divided amongst kids who will not talk to each other, who in turn sell parts of it to earn the golden retirement handshake.


Strangely, the wahindis  are rarely  mentioned in such cases.

When native Kenyan children are growing up, they are brought up to respect fear their parents, and other grown ups. They are often chased away to go and play with the saying , hapa si mahali pa watoto - translated to mean "this is not a child's place".

When it comes to family run businesses and shops, they are kept away , due to the suspicion that they will steal , or that they cannot be trusted enough to undertake such enterprises.

Lately, their holidays are occupied with holiday tuition. Holiday tuition is meant to make the learners brighter so that they can pass exams more and be in much better position to be employed.

Figure it out for yourself.


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