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Bar Owner’s Sober Life Lessons

Andrew Solomon
Andrew Solomon, Radar Security Group founder and MD. PHOTO/ DIANA NGILA 

In 1983, Andrew Solomon was shipped off to study in India. Somehow in the infamous period of legendary melee of drinking, circuitous partying and riding of motorbikes, he attained his Master’s degree in finance, came back home, worked for Kenindia Assurance then Ears Group security company.

With Sh300,000 savings, he quit in 1997 and set up Radar Security and he was joined by his best friend and brother-in-law. He had one guard. Then he had 4,000 guards all over the country.

Andrew is really not a security man, he’s a fun-loving guy, so he set up Under The Radar Restaurant (and bar) which has fulfilled his frolicsome spirit and balanced out his business chi.

He turns 55 years in October and when that happens, he tells JACKSON BIKO, he plans to walk away from it all after 20 years. Pack up and travel, visit famous museums, golf, get on a boat, lie under a palm tree, have a cocktail, stare at a sunset in Peru … anything but work another single day. Because Andrew says, he’s made his bones.

You will just walk away and not be tempted to look back?

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Yeah. You know, when you get to 55, you have no important dreams left. Ideally, by that time you should have stopped paying fees for your children and got a home. Those are the two most important things that we work hard for. Don’t let anyone kid you, it all boils down to those two things. After that what are chasing? I can’t think of anything. Probably the only thing you’re doing is trying to secure what you have achieved over the years. After 55, unless it’s an act of God, you’ll never make any substantial money.

That’s going to be discouraging for people who are 55 years and have not done that.

Honestly, we all have between 25 years to 55 years, that’s 30 years to make it work. If you didn’t make money in 30 years you’ve only got 15 more years in your productive life to make something work, then you will be 70! But in most cases you will be productive up to 65, so you have 10 years. What makes you think you will make money in 10 years if you didn’t make it in 30 years? It’s a wrap, my friend.

So what if you are the kind that decided to marry at 45 and have a child at 49?

Oh! Now, your picture is different because now you have to work until you are 75 years old. But trust me you will tire at 55. As a man, you start slowing down. These guys who say they are still working at 70, are just doing it to pass time so that they just don’t sit in the house. You know, at 60, I don’t want to be going to an office, I want to wake up late and meet my friends, not think about work; who am I hiring or firing today, why are we making losses? Let the children handle things like that, if they want to. But sometimes your children will not want to plug into your dream, because they also have their own dreams, so …(shrugs).

I interviewed a successful gentleman who told me he isn’t leaving nothing for his children. That the best he can give his children is love, support and a good education. After that they work for their wealth. What’s your opinion on leaving wealth for children?

I think you have to give them a head start. We never had a head start. You know, if they are 10 steps ahead and they are smart, they can triple that business because they are well -educated, they went to far much better schools than we did. If they have fire, they can make it work.

But that burning fire comes from a place of disadvantage. You worked much harder because you knew you had nothing …

Totally. I think you will be lucky if your children share your dream and have the discipline for it. I’ve been lucky. My daughter is a pharmacist. My son is now slowly getting into the business and he is starting to like it. I think he looks at his other friends and thinks, “You know what? I’m lucky. I’ve got this and this to continue with. I don’t have to get employed.”

You are a mix of something and something ….

My dad was half Indian, half Taita, my mom was half Greek and half Chagga. Her parents met in sisal estates in Tanzania. My dad met my mom when they were doing the railway. It’s a rich history. My grandfather, the Indian, worked with the British Army and died in Mogadishu. I hear his grave is in Mogadishu. My wife is Kamba. I always say that I’m glad that I don’t have a tribe, which makes my life less complicated because nobody can box me.

As the curtain falls on your working life, what have you learnt about business and life?

As it all ends, you start realising that it was all vanity, that most of the things you were chasing were not important. I realise that what is important is family. (Pause)

You know, time flies so fast. You never think you will get to 55, that you still have time, then boom you are there. Plan for 55 when you are 28. Nobody told us that. Nobody told us to put money aside. Because life begins at 55. But at this age, you also realise how little you need. You don’t need a big car. I have top-of-the-range cars, but I’m always in a branded Probox. Do you need three big cars in the driveway? Do you need to stay in a Sh35,000 a night hotel when you can get a fantastic Sh4,000 a night Airbnb? You can’t finish a two-kilogramme meat today, Biko, so why get a whole cow?

Why do they say life starts at 40? When did your life start?

Mine is different, it’s not a yardstick. I’ve always been a party guy, done it my whole life. But that life starting at 40 is a construct of men. Because at 40 is when really you start handling some money enough to get you some fun. In your 30s, you are running around, man, trying to set that firm foundation. Your most productive time should be your 30s.

Is there enough money?

There is never going to be enough. It’s human nature. But it’s a state of mind. If I know that at 55 I’ll be earning a pension of say, Sh300,000 a month, why would I work? How much more do I want when I’m not paying rent or fees? You can’t possibly have such great needs that you finish Sh300,000 a month! So do the things you love. Let that fill your time. Help people who have nothing. There is immense joy in helping. I’m embarking on educating children from the slums, those are the things that I find joy in now. I mean, spending Sh25,000 per term on someone who needs it is a far much better and fulfilling thing to do than throwing rounds in a bar for your friends. Hands down.

What are you going to do for your 55th birthday?

I have no plans. I know I will not do those major parties that cost Sh3 million. Not me.

What kind of party is that for Sh 3 million?

Oh yeah. I went for a party of a guy turning 50, and they spent Sh 8 million. I would rather give it to charity. If I have to spend, it will be a maximum Sh 100,000 and it would be here at my bar. You know, the reason why we started this bar was that we would spend a lot of money at other people’s bars so we thought, why not start our own bar? So if there is a party, it will be here.

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