Inside the world of Kenya’s enduring business moguls

If you were over 70- years- old and your lengthy curriculum vitae has chairman and chief executive among others as positions held over decades, in both the public and private sectors, few people would object if you chose to retire and enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

From a financial security point of view, such a decision would not be a tough one to make, assuming you have properly invested your earnings and your net worth is in billions of shillings.

That, in fact, is what the legendary American investor Warren Buffett, 83, is preparing to do -- bringing to an end a career that started when he was just 11- years- old and which has seen him accumulate more than Sh5.4 trillion.

The script is, however, different for a small but powerful group of Kenyan dealmakers who insist getting the foot off the acceleration pedal is simply out of the question.

Age for this resilient team of enduring corporate management practitioners is just but a number. Instead, these individuals, some aged more than 90 years, have chosen to spend their golden years holed up in boardrooms brokering multi-billion- shilling deals, closing them and swiftly moving on to the next one.

The list of ageless dealmakers includes New KCC chairman Matu Wamae (75), billionaire businessmen Baloobhai Patel (76), businessmen Jeremiah Kiereini (83), Chris Kirubi (71) as well as billionaire Manu Chandaria (85) of Comcraft Group.

Analysts say making money is unlikely to be the main driver of their endurance.

“It is the excitement that comes with involvement in something whose results they can see either immediately or in the near term that is the driver,” said investment adviser Robert Bunyi.

They are not alone. Recent research has shown that more Americans are electing to continue working past the age of 70 years.

That is contrary to common practice in Kenya where the majority of working people retire at 60 to spend more time with family or oversee less-strenuous personal business.

Kenya’s wealthy deal makers are the contrarians who wake up early in the morning and report to work despite the billions of shillings worth of savings and investments tied to their names.

Investment advisers believe some of these individuals strongly feel they still have something to contribute to society in their area of specialty like deal making.

“Over the years, they have developed many connections and gained experience in deal-making hence the urge to continue,” said Mr Bunyi.

“When you couple this with the fact that this is what they ultimately love to do, it is easy to see why they are still working hard.”

Mr Wamae last week led a consortium into securing a 25-year partnership deal with German multinational Deutsche Lufthansa to establish Kenya’s second in-flight catering firm at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

Mr Wamae and his partners convinced Lufthansa that they are the best-suited to partner with in the construction of the Sh430 million facility.

Mr Wamae could not be in this for money – having over the years built a large business empire that includes interests in Mount Kenya Coca-Coca factory, investment firm Olympia Capital in the hospitality industry.

“You do not want to retire and become completely inactive because, if you do, you will go down very fast,” said Mr Wamae in a phone interview with Business Daily.

“It is true that I do not work for a living but that does not mean I should stop working,” he said. 

Other wealthy businessmen like Mr Chandaria have dedicated their continued service to philanthropy. The Octogenarian, who leads a $2.5 billion industrial behemoth that produces steel, plastics, and aluminum products in 45 countries has defied all predictions that he would leave the public scene and continues to be one of the most active personalities in the world of social investment.

In the past couple of years, he has directed most of his energy into the establishment of incubation centers hoping to enable young Kenyans become successful entrepreneurs.

Mr Patel has major interests in Pan Africa InsuranceBarclaysBamburiDTBMumias Sugar, and Safaricom currently valued at over Sh2.4 billion.

Mr Kirubi, a flamboyant billionaire businessman, who joined the over 70 years bracket recently, says he sees no problem working past ‘normal’ retirement age.

In fact, he is quick to add that youthful Kenyans should emulate him and his age mates who have made the choice to strengthen their portfolios well into their sunset years.

“You do not just make money and immediately go off to enjoy it unless you are a thief,” said Mr Kirubi.

“If you are making your money through legitimate means, it is well within your right to go on.” 

Such views have, however, not stopped their peers from exiting the energy-draining world of active investment or corporate management. In 2012, Family Bank founder, Titus Muya, retired after serving as managing director and chief executive for 22 years and chairman for six years.