Frenchman beats MKU founder to top enterprise trophy

Mount Kenya University founder Simon Gicharu has lost the 2015 Ernst & Young (EY) World Entrepreneur of the Year award to Mohed Altrad, a construction magnate from France.

The competition, which was held on Sunday in Monaco, recognises entrepreneurs for resilience, integrity and impact in the society while encouraging leadership skills.

Mr Gicharu topped the regional category of the competition and travelled to Monaco hoping to bag the title that Equity Bank’s CEO received in 2012.

Mr Altrad, who was born in Syria but moved to France at 17 has worked himself up the corporate ladder to head Altrad Group, a conglomerate that last year generated sales of nearly $1 billion (Sh100 billion).

“Mohed is an inspirational entrepreneur who demonstrates that determination and perseverance can overcome adversity,” said Maria Pinelli, EY’s global vice-chair for Strategic Growth Markets.


“He has grown his businesses consistently over a long period of time and is now a beacon for other entrepreneurs in France and beyond to follow.”

The grand prize had 65 entrepreneurs from 53 countries competing for the gem.

Mr Altrad and a business partner bought a nearly bankrupt scaffolding maker in 1985 to form the basis of what is now called Altrad Group. The company, which is now the world leader in cement mixers and a European leader in scaffolding and wheelbarrows, expects to hit $1.13 billion (Sh113 billion) in revenues by 2016.

“He was forbidden from going to school as a child, moved to France to set up a new life and is now one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs,” said Rebecca MacDonald, chair of the World Entrepreneur of the Year judging panel.

“The judges were impressed by his ability to build and sustain growth over 30 years and by his humility and character.”

Mr Gicharu was the overall winner during the regional competition while Alex Nyaga of Parapet Group won the emerging entrepreneur category. Mary Okelo of Makini schools won the Lifetime Achievement

Mr Gicharu holds several chairmanship positions, to which he was either appointed or serves as a volunteer. He chairs the National Private Universities Association of Kenya and the Rural Electrification Authority.