As he briskly steps into Biashara Centre mall in the heart of Nakuru Town, he may pass as one of the hundreds of shoppers who flock this busy establishment. But John Kimemia Gitau’s mission is entirely different here.
He runs a business institute that he says has stood the test of time even as its peers continue to close shop due to the dwindling number of students and stiff competition.
The institute on Mburu Gichua Road is a beehive of activity as the number of students rises steadily.
From one student when he was setting shop to more than 1,400 students, the proprietor says he operates on four floors of the mall.
Eight years ago, Mr Gitau was involved in training the staff of Unilever in Kericho where he was the operations manager and developed the love of teaching.
“At the very early stages of my career, the urge to turn to teaching started pushing my inner soul that I should convert my IT skills into a fully fledged teaching career,” said Mr Gitau.
Initially, he wanted to become a secondary school teacher but along the way changed and opted to start a middle level college.
“The idea of starting a college with a difference in town started disturbing me,” Mr Gitau told Business Daily.
He set up his first college in Kericho in 2007 and just as it was picking up, the post-election violence that engulfed the country disrupted his plans, forcing him to close down the college.
He moved to Nakuru town and started afresh on finding his new bearing after the disruptions of the political duel that left more than 1,000 people dead in a contested presidential poll.
But setting up Rift Valley Institute of Business Studies was not a walk in the park, he offers. Mr Gitau says he had no seed capital and had to rely on his “meagre” savings to make his dream come true. He had Sh140,000.
Today, it has grown to be worth “millions of shillings”, along the way resorting to bank loans to operate.
Among the courses are hair dressing, business studies, food and beverage, human resource, sales and marketing, fashion and design, tourism, electronics, Early Childhood Development (ECD), IT and deejaying.
“We have a fully-fledged restaurant where our students take practical lessons and are mentored for one year.” Hairdressing students are challenged to look for their own clients and us the money they make for their upkeep or pay school fees, the proprietor said.
The business is now sustainable, he says, explaining that “I am able to pay my teaching and non-teaching staff and my monthly rent and other overhead costs, including numerous taxes and fees comfortably.” He started with one student but now he has more than 1,400 students and 40 permanent workers.
Thanks to public support endeavours like the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), now run by the national government, the institute is able to get a string of students, boosting its revenue streams. What is the secret of his success?
Humility towards students and employees and listening to them is the foundation of success, the entrepreneur explains.
“The secret is, ‘Be good to your employees and students, listen to them and above all don’t be flexible in payment of school fees’”. Mr Gitau, 53, an alumnus of Starehe Boys Centre, says “if you treat them well they will be your ambassadors and will refer more students to the institute.”
Among the challenges to his business is lack of trained technical teachers.
“It takes long before you get qualified technical teachers.”
Employers have been complaining that graduates have good academic papers whose strength does not reflect in practical work.
Student numbers and limited facilities have been blamed for the “half-baking” at public universities, offering an opportunity for private trainers to compete with the giants.