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Profiles

‘Success after three bankruptcies’

Lordship Africa chairman Jonathan Jackson at his Nairobi
Lordship Africa chairman Jonathan Jackson at his Nairobi office on September 8, 2020. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

There was nothing in Jonathan Jackson's earlier life that would have indicated that he would end up in real estate. He was raised in Mosoriot, near Eldoret. His father was an AIC missionary teacher.

He schooled in St Andrew's Turi before going to the UK to study Business Management at London South Park University.

He stayed in Europe for 20 years dabbling in real estate under his company The Lordship Group. He came back home to duplicate his successes by building a portfolio of properties in Nairobi and Naivasha.

His company is behind Karen Hills, a 64-acre residential development, and currently the 88 Nairobi, a 44-floor high-end residential building. Last year, he started Jonathan Jackson Foundation then purchased a struggling football club—Nairobi City Stars —that rose to be the top of the Super League. He spoke to JACKSON BIKO.

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Did you turn out how you always hoped?

(Laughs) I was warned to expect these interesting questions from you. My mother reminds me that when I was small, I used to sit in a sandpit in our backyard and make roads and buildings.

I think I have finished doing what I was doing as a small child, obsessed with roads and buildings. Now I have a big opportunity to build more than just buildings in Nairobi but trust and faith because we have been damaged by the dishonesty of politics and business.

Describe your dream house.

I would like to have a variety of houses. I plan to have a penthouse in our current development— 88 Nairobi. I'm also looking to build a house near a beach and a house in a nature reserve and to be able to move between these three locations is my dream.

Now I live in a small apartment in Nairobi's Upperhill. People say I'm a workaholic so I'm never in the apartment much.

Do you have pets?

No, but recently I helped at a children's home and they gave me a chicken as a gift, a live chicken. I gave one of my managers to look after it for me. A few days later he sent me a picture of that chicken. It was fully cooked. (Laughs)

Good for him; we don't keep chicken as pets, we eat chicken. Is someone born with business acumen or they pick it up along the way of life?

I learnt a lot from my mother, going to the market and negotiating the price of cabbages and carrots. All around the world whenever I go shopping my most embarrassing moments involve when I haggle over price.

That's my nature, I believe you can always get a better price. You learn so much in life, especially about money. I have been bankrupt thrice but you learn never to give up, you carry on.

You are 59 years now, what have you learnt in your 50s?

That to stop for a moment and consider others' points of view is a wise thing to do instead of pushing ahead with your view all the time.

When you are young and want to change the world, you want to only listen to yourself but you are not always correct. When you grow older you learn to appreciate other voices. Unfortunately, you learn that lesson nearly at the end of your life, not the beginning. (Laughs) I was talking to my son the other day.

He is 25 and has ideas about changing the world. A great thing if you ask me, youth comes with that energy.

When you look at your son what do you envy most about him?

My parents were missionary teachers. It took me a long time to transition from the missionary teacher environment into business and to feel secure in what I was doing.

My son, on the other hand, is having a different experience, I have taken him under my wings, we share ideas on business, he sees what I'm doing and he's learning from it. He is years ahead in terms of exposure and experience at his age than I was at the same age.

Would you do the same things you did as a businessman if time was to be wound back to when you first became a father?

Wow, Jackson! (Pause) I often think about this a lot. (Pause) In one way I wish I spent more time with my children but then I also think if I had spent more time I wouldn't be where I am.

I'm helping many people with my foundation all over the world, I can't imagine that I wouldn't have started it had I spent more time at home with my children.

It's a bit of a paradox, isn't it?

Sometimes when driving and you let someone join the road, and they wave a thank you, you feel like a good human being to have helped them. Their gratitude makes you feel good about yourself. So helping, as much as it is about others, is also about you. Are you big on philanthropy? And have you found that the art of giving is also an act of giving yourself?
First, Jackson, I don't give anyone a chance to join the road. (Loud laughter) I'm told that I'm like a matatu driver. (Still chuckling) But your theory is correct in a way when you give and you see someone benefiting it gives you happiness. It's an amazing feeling. There is so much humanity going on in the slums and I think many people should venture in there to see the spirit of human generosity.

You are referred to as a millionaire or mogul. Do you sometimes read the articles and wonder who they are talking about?

(Loud laughter) All the time. (Laughing) All the time, Jackson.

You are just being modest...

Modest? I wouldn't say modest. Let's put it this way, I don't count my money or what I'm worth. (Pause) I have just Googled myself and I have a competitor, an American actor with my name. But hey, generally I'm the type who likes to keep behind. But last year my team said I needed to be more visible and talk about my foundation more, that people needed to know who I was. I only recently got on Instagram.

Which Jackson do you prefer, this new Jackson giving interviews or the old Jackson who kept away from the spotlight?

That's a great question. (Long pause) To be honest this Jackson that's doing interviews and is on Instagram, I don't know him very well. I'm learning him and these things that he does that are important. I'm not worried about him only that I have to be careful talking to people like you.

You mean the good guys.

(Laughs) Maybe.

When was the last time you bought something you regretted?

(Pause) I'm trying to think. (Long pause) Nothing comes to mind apart from maybe land. I once bought land without doing due diligence.

When do you remember being very scared?

I was in a car accident last year which I was very lucky to escape from alive. Was I scared? Accidents happen so fast there is no time to be scared. You only reflect on it after. I think relationships sometimes make you scared when you can't control their outcome when they are taking their course.

You mentioned that you are a workaholic, how do you treat or reward yourself?

I love nature. Sometimes I will drive through Nairobi National Park for a solo picnic. I will park in the middle of the part for three hours, doing nothing, windows down, looking out. Or I will go to my favourite cottage by the beach in Diani, very few people know it and I like it that way. It doesn't have air conditioning or a swimming pool, just silence.

What normally occupies your mind in that silence?
Wow! (Pause) I generally take in the colours, shapes, and sounds around me. They bring a kind of tranquility and peace and it allows me to refresh and reset. That's how I bring normalcy back in my life.

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