For many, it is difficult to mention Nakumatt without talking or thinking about its long-serving managing director Atul Shah, who is set to leave the retailer’s management throne should a proposed takeover get the regulator’s nod.
During a meeting between Nakumatt and its creditors on October 13, the retailer’s lawyer James Kamau, while giving an update on the proposed Tuskys takeover deal, dropped a bombshell.
“The other thing that has happened is obviously people have come up and said we trusted you Nakumatt with your management and you have let us down and what has happened this preliminary arrangement once it receives the nod of the regulator will entail, the Tuskys group taking over the management of Nakumatt so that effectively you have good management,” Mr Kamau said.
The lawyer went ahead to confirm that Tuskys will appoint a new chief executive officer and chief finance officer to occupy Nakumatt’s driver’s seat, and attempt to steer it out of trouble to the profit making road.
He added that Nakumatt and Tuskys expect to complete the takeover deal within 60 days, after which its rival turned knight in shining armour will own a 51 per cent stake in the struggling retail chain.
Since Nakumatt was registered as a business in 1987, the retail chain has undergone several changes both in management and operation style but one factor has remained constant. Its managing director and CEO has always been Atul Shah.
In 1978, Atul Shah and his brother Vimal laid the ground for what decades later became the largest retail chain in East and Central Africa when they set up a clothes store which they named Furmatts.
Their father Maganlal, who had recently been declared bankruptcy following a Sh1.2 million debt load, was then working for his brother Hasmukh at another clothes store—Nakuru Mattresses.
Maganlal would a few years later join hands with his sons Atul and Vimal to buy Nakuru Mattresses from Hasmukh.
Thirty years later, it had opened more than 60 branches in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda while boasting an annual turnover in the region of Sh50 billion per year.
From good times that saw his family’s company rake in billions of shillings in profit to the unfortunate terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in 2013, to the controversial 2009 Nakumatt Downtown fire and now the potential collapse of the retail titan under a debt load of between Sh30-Sh40 billion.
While Mr Shah has managed to keep the Nakumatt brand on just about everyone’s lips, he has somehow succeeded to set up a private, low-key life for himself and his family.
A quick online search on him reveals media interviews with the running theme of how he, his father and brother set up Nakumatt.
The picture painted is that of a man who knows how what he releases to the media, even in a world when the most private of high profile individuals struggle to stay out of the limelight.
Unlike some of his wealthy peers, you will not see stories on the web focusing on which car Atul Shah drives, where he stays, what clubs his children and relatives pay patronage to or even what sandy beaches he retires to when on vacation.
Shah, 56, is married with two children, Neel and Ankoor, who are now both actively involved in Nakumatt’s management.
Known to talk fast, Mr Shah is a long distance driving and volleyball enthusiast.
He is known to test new retail ideas, especially insights borrowed from other countries.
Mr Shah, as Nakumatt MD, has weathered several storms, but the threat of Nakumatt’s collapse could be the fiercest tide he has faced as currently the only rescue plan on the table will see him step down from the helm of a firm he has built from the ground up.
In the wake of Nakumatt’s troubles that have so far seen several of its branches shut in Kenya and neighbouring countries, an apologetic Shah was quoted by a local daily as being ready to ensure that the retailer does not fade into history books as just another failed business venture.
“Allow me this opportunity to once again express my sincere apologies to all the stakeholders we have let down. I can’t say it enough, but I am sorry and sincerely committed to facilitating the turnaround of Nakumatt, whatever it takes,” Mr Shah told the local daily.