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Billionaire Muguku leaves behind strong business legacy

The late Nelson Muguku.
The late Nelson Muguku, founder of Muguku Farms and at one time Equity Bank's largest individual shareholder. PHOTO | FILE   NATION MEDIA GROUP

The children of Nelson Muguku, a billionaire poultry farmer and real estate investor were introduced to entrepreneurship early in the day.

When they completed university studies, the father would give them loans — not handouts — to start businesses.

Mr Muguku, who has died aged 78, was worth an estimated Sh10 billion.

In the investment circles, he was seen as an example of starting small. What matters is discipline and consistency.

Tales are told of how he lost a contract to supply President Jomo Kenyatta’s State House with eggs thanks to the machinations of Comptroller Eliud Mathu. However, the president noticed that the new supplier was offering much smaller eggs and overruled the change.

Muguku had been supplying Governor Malcolm MacDonald with his superior product for years after impressing him with the farm at a settlement scheme in Sigona. Throughout his life, he left strong impressions on all who met him, reportedly “known for his philanthropy, not drinking more than three beers daily and never offering to buy anyone a drink”.

From the Kenya Investment Group blog, a contributor wrote: “From this unlikely business, he rose to become a 6.08 per cent shareholder of a Sh100 billion bank (Equity Bank). He put to shame those who said Kenya doesn’t have honest billionaires.”

Prof Kihumbu Thairu, a founder member of Presbyterian University of East Africa and its current vice-chancellor is Mr Muguku’s younger brother.

He said his brother’s sense of continuity ensured that any of his family members can potentially run the expansive Muguku Poultry Farm, which also hosts dairy farming and an orchard.

“His wife Leah Wanjiku left a teaching job in 1963 to manage the farm together with her husband. The couple taught their seven children, some of whom are running their own farms in other areas, all the technical and theoretical operations at the farm,” he said.

Mr Muguku was a keen investor at the Nairobi Stock Exchange, but it is at the Equity Bank’s counter where he ruled the roost, being the largest individual shareholder in one of Kenya’s most expansive banks.

He owned a prime property along Nairobi’s Mfangano Street and was the dominant property owner in Kikuyu Town.

But the man was more known for the way he revolutionised poultry farming in Kenya over the years.

At his expansive Muguku Farm, now in Kikuyu, he set up state-of-the-art hatcheries that by the time he died could hatch 500,000 chicks every day.

This is from a man who quit a teaching job in 1957 when the poultry business he started with two hens and a cock to supply eggs for breakfast in 1956 picked up. Then aged 24, he was teaching carpentry at Kabianga Teachers’ College (now Kabianga High School).

The workaholic farmer said in an interview before he died that he had waded through a lot of obstacles to achieve what he had.

“The road has not been easy. Nothing comes easy in life. I am what I am because of hard work and God’s blessing.”

Despite quitting his teaching job because he was required to go for further training in order to get a promotion, a situation he did not like, he nevertheless invested a lot in education, which was perhaps the fourth-pillar of his fame in addition to the Equity Bank investment, poultry and real estate.

His family runs two primary schools; Kikuyu Township and Kidfarmaco and a high school - the former Greenacres School - now renamed Tumaini School.

According to Prof Thairu, Mr Muguku died before his plans to establish technical training colleges in the counties across the country materialised.

“We were planning to establish productive polytechnics where we were going to teach technical education of the kind taught in Korea and Malaysia, to equip our youths with skills to manufacture and enable us compete with developed nations,” he said.

Mr Muguku was also active in multi-level marketing for health products, being one of the ‘managers’ of multi-level marketing group GNLD.

He was laid to rest on October 19.

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