Reclusive oil tycoon who was a stickler of order

Thayu Kamau Kabugi
The late Thayu Kamau Kabugi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

About four years ago in 2015, a rare public apology prominently graced a page of the Daily Nation.

At the centre of this was an incident where some motorists had been sold dirty fuel at a facility owned by Astrol Petroleum Company in the Mlolongo suburb on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway.

“We are now aware that the incident is as a result of contaminated fuel dispensed from our Mlolongo gas station. Initial investigation conducted by the Energy Regulatory Commission and ourselves indicates that the contamination was accidental during loading of the product …We have since identified all the affected motorists numbering about 10; and we will attend to them,” read the public apology by Astrol Petroleum.

Unknown to many, the apology was as a result of an express order from the proprietor of the firm, Thayu Kamau Kabugi, who was known as a strict disciplinarian.

“The moment the company headquarters received the first call seeking comments about the contaminated fuel, he (Kabugi) called the line manager and ordered that the company own up and apologise while promising an honest follow- up on all affected cases with a view of offering negotiated compensation,” John Mureithi, a close member of Kabugi’s family said.

Astrol Petroleum in its business statement primes itself as a company that “is engaged in activities that deliver clean and safe fuel for motor vehicles, agriculture and power stations”

The incident defined Mr Kabugi’s long-held belief in honesty and discipline in business even as his investments in real estate, agribusiness and petroleum sectors grew by leaps and bounds over the years.

The reclusive 94-year-old business magnate also loathed legal tussles in business and always preferred settling disputes out of court whenever they arose. He always pressed for dialogue in dispute-resolution.

For a man controlling investments running into billions of shillings, his name featured prominently in property litigations and he is reported to have opted for out- of- court settlements in most of such cases.

“He never tired in reminding us that court cases were dangerous for investments since they are bad publicity. He always had experts audit all court cases that faced his businesses and where he saw limited chance of winning the cases, opted for out-of- court settlements,” added Mr Mureithi.

By the time he died last week, Kabugi had immense wealth but he did not keep it all to himself.

He enjoyed philanthropy especially in his ancestral home in Murang’a and was always handy in supporting development projects in the region. “He (Kabugi) is one of the wealthiest sons of this county who upon making it in business did not run away from his roots and did all that was in his power and ability to leave an indelible development mark in the county” Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria said.

“When I was first sworn in as Governor in 2013, he came to congratulate me and promised to partner with me in developing the Murang’a economy. He introduced himself as a ready partner in any project that required public-private partnership to implement. What struck me as very odd about him was his selfless character—a down to earth man whose interest was not to benefit himself but to build his county,” he added.

President Uhuru Kenyatta shared similar views in his condolence message to the Kabugi family.

“He was a nationalist who believed in hard work and building strong bonds of friendship. He was exceptional in his commitment to both business and community development as demonstrated by his contribution to several community projects,” he said.

Until his death, Mr Kabugi was the only surviving child of the late Kabugi Karunji and the late Grace Kabura. He was single following the death of his wife Rebecca Nyambura with whom they had 10 children.

A family dispatch breaking the news of his death termed him a patriarch, a great counsellor and the strongest pillar of its cohesion. “He stood for peace. He advocated for dialogue and was a strong crusader for settlement of disputes in an amicable manner. He loathed family conflicts and was never interested in any form of tussles. He was always willing to cede ground in order to have harmony prevail,” said Mr John Mureithi, a family member.