Man about town

Corporate chief Wanjui eases work in retirement

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Billionaire businessman Joe Wanjui. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

Years back, retired corporate chief and entrepreneur Joe Wanjui would be in his office very early in the morning to catch up with the newspapers before getting busy with work.

He still goes through the newspapers but unlike before, he reads them on his bed before freshening up and taking his breakfast. He would then head to ‘work’, depending on whether he had an appointment.

Today, the work involves visiting tea farms, friends or family or even attending functions. One thing he enjoys about his work now is that he has no pressure. “You continue working but I don’t have to run around like I did many years ago. Things are a bit slow now,” says the 85-year-old Dr Wanjui.

He is happy with his achievements and his advice for the young people is that there is so much to do. “This country hasn’t reached the place it should be. It is the young people who will propel the country there. We are doing well,” he says with assuring tone.

Does he consider writing another book, now that he has so much free time? “I have no plans yet but it is a possibility,” he said.

The billionaire businessman was in the news recently after filing a lawsuit seeking to block his former employer- Unilever from selling its 52 percent stake in Limuru Tea to a private equity fund as part of a Sh596.7 billion ($5.1 billion) global deal.

The tycoon, who owns a 25.48 percent stake in the Nairobi bourse-listed firm, wants the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) to block the Kenyan element of the global deal, arguing that minority shareholders were not offered a chance to participate.

Dr Wanjui alongside another minority investor -- Wainaina Kenyanjui — accuse the British multinational of rejecting their offer to buy the 52 percent stake and instead sold the shares to private equity fund CVC Capital Partners.

He worked at Unilever for close to two decades having joined the company as technical director in 1968 when it was known as East African Industries (EAI). He rose through the ranks to become the managing director and eventually executive chairman before retiring in April 1996.

The now-retired Wanjui has been a board member of many organisations, where he has mentored corporate leaders.

He has published three books and says he is happy to donate the proceeds to his Joe Wanjui Foundation, which supports the girl child.

Why the girl child? “Well, I am a proud father of beautiful girls who have excelled in life. I want the best for other girls too,” he said, adding that women drive the society.

“We must encourage the girl child to prosper,” he said. The man who worked for the late President Mwai Kibaki as an advisor says he was pleased when ODM leader Raila Odinga picked Martha Karua as his running mate.

“She is a solid woman. I congratulate her and I am sure she will deliver [on the promises],” he said.

In his book, the Native Son: Experiences of a Kenyan Entrepreneur, Dr Wanjui narrates his life in the corporate world, as a family man as well as the economic path since independence.

The book also highlights the transformative power of President Kibaki’s 10 years in office, noting about the new Constitution, economic progress, big infrastructure projects, freedoms, regional integration, free primary education, and improved tax collection.

His other books are My Native Roots: A Family Story (University of Nairobi Press, 2009) and From Where I Sit (East African Publishing House, 1986).

Born in Cura village near Kahuho in Kikuyu, Dr Wanjui started making money trading food coupons near Nairobi’s Khoja Mosque in the 1940s when he was 11 years.

From his humble background, Dr Wanjui says he loves eating chapati. “You know when we were growing up, the meal was always ugali. It was a privilege eating chapati.

He started his basic education in Kahuho in 1946 and later Kabaa Mission School and Mang’u High School between 1951-1957.

After completing his secondary education at Mang’u High School in 1958, he proceeded to America for a scholarship to Ohio Wesleyan University for BSc in industrial engineering and management and later master’s degree at Columbia University in 1962.

In previous interviews, Dr Wanjui credited his success to receiving an American education and a successful career that saw him rise to executive positions at Unilever and Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC).

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