Life & Work

Chris Kirubi: Tycoon who easily juggled business and pleasure

Chris Kirubi

Businessman Chris Kirubi died on June 14, 2021, at the age of 80. PHOTO | NMG

Chris Kirubi, a billionaire businessman with interests in diverse sectors, including media, manufacturing and technology, has died aged 80.

His family announced the death on Monday at 1pm, about three hours after the entrepreneur— who in January 2020 confessed not knowing “how to lie in my bed and be sick”— tweeted one last time about work and self-improvement.

“Each day, remember to involve yourself in tasks that add value to your life. Spare some time working on improving your future. Your future is created by what you do now, not tomorrow,” Mr Kirubi tweeted at 10.01am Monday.

The family said Kirubi succumbed to cancer at home. The statement added that he had fought cancer with fortitude, grace and courage and died surrounded by his family. 

In November 2017, the tycoon flew to the US for specialised treatment after being diagnosed with colon cancer.  At the time, he said the disease had been detected early enough to allow successful treatment.

In an interview with the Business Daily in January last year, he said it had taken him many months of lying in bed sick to believe that God is the most powerful and that he was no longer afraid of death.

“Death is rest. A rest from daily hustles. This is something that is irreversible. You’re born, you grow, you die. In the end, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter the age or what you do to try and elongate your life. But at the same time, nobody wants to die,” said Kirubi in the interview. 

In public, Kirubi cut the image of a serious businessman, philanthropist, a flamboyant straight talker who never shied away from taking a stand on any public discourse — even when it was about him.

For instance, the businessman always fought off allegations that part of his wealth came from plundering State firms such as Kenya National Transport Company (Kenatco) and Uchumi Supermarkets, where he served in senior positions.

“The Uchumi case was fabricated. It was weak but because it was instigated by powerful people in the (President Mwai) Kibaki government, it was somehow allowed to continue,” he said in 2014.

He was among a select group of billionaires from Central Kenya who made money in the early decades of  Kenya’s Independence, setting themselves up as pioneer industrialists, bankers and stock market barons.

At the time of his death, Kirubi was most visibly linked to Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed investment firm Centum #ticker:CTUM, where he was the top owner with a 30.9 percent stake valued at more than Sh3.3 billion.

He was still adding to his stake in the firm to the end, having announced on March 23 last year that he would build his Centum stake to 49.99 percent. By end of December, he had added 5.75 million shares.

Kirubi, who, through his Twitter platform, has passionately taught his followers about setting and executing personal goals, also had investments in other companies such as Haco Industries, International House, Bayer East Africa and Capital FM.

Despite his busy schedule, Kirubi loved music and for a long time served as one of the deejays at Capital FM. He was known to his fans for his opening line: This is DJ CK on the fuse.

“At first, my own staff thought I had gone mad,” he narrated about initial thoughts of his staff about a radio owner and chairman becoming a deejay.

An alumnus of the Harvard Business School, Kirubi has built his wealth over time by buying stakes in different companies while exiting others at a gain.

Kirubi in December 2018, sold his BIC stationery, lighters and shavers franchise to French multinational Société BIC, getting an initial Sh703 million.

He later got an additional Sh348 million as part of his staggered payment following the sale.

Cumulative payouts to Kirubi on the BIC transaction stood at Sh1.3 billion at the end of June last year, and was on course to receive the balance of Sh610 million by the end of this year.

He has also done some of the largest corporate deals in the Kenyan economy including sales at Two Rivers, UAP and Kenya Wine Agencies Limited.

But some deals were not for money. The billionaire investor in September 2015 bought 2.1 million shares of Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ shortly after the airline announced what was then a record loss of Sh25.7 billion.

“There are no returns. I am just showing my support for Kenya Airways,” he said, imploring more Kenyans to buy the stock for patriotism.