Meet Humphrey Kariuki, the Kenyan billionaire protecting endangered species (2023)

Author's Note: As of February 10, 2019, Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa has been under investigation by Kenyan authorities for tax evasion and manufacturing substandard alcohol.

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa is one of Kenya's most famous and elusive entrepreneurs. Over the past three decades, Ndegwa, 60, has quietly built his businessJanus Continental Group, in one of the largest conglomerates in East Africa, are not in the limelight.

Humble in his personal life, quiet in his demeanor but bold in his business, Ndegwa has built a business conglomerate that includes the followingThe center- a premier shopping mall in the beautiful leafy Karen suburbs of Nairobi;Spirits of Africa, Kenya's leading producer of alcoholic beverages;Dalbit Beer, one of the largest oil distributors in eastern and southern Africa, andGreat Lakes Africa Energie, a UK-based company that develops and operates energy projects in Southern Africa. These companies collectively employ over 3,000 Kenyans and expatriates. Ndegwa is also the owner of the 5 star hotelFairmont Mount Kenia Safari Club, and the neighborMount Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Animal Waisenhaus. Since acquiring the animal orphanage from its American owners years ago, Ndegwa has spent a fortune professionally housing and caring for orphaned, injured, neglected, abused or frightened wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into the wild wherever they belong.

I recently had breakfast with the business tycoon at his beautiful ranch on his Mount Kenya Conservancy, alongside the migrating bongos, an endangered mountain antelope he helps protect. He spent over an hour sharing his success story, educating me about his conservation work and reflecting on his African heritage.

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa
(Video) Humphrey Kariuki: Saving the Mountain Bongo

How was your childhood?

I was born in Nyeri County in the central highlands of Kenya. I come from a family with ten siblings. My father had six sons and four daughters; I am the last of your children. We grew up in a typically rural environment. In the morning we got up early to milk the cattle, cut the napier grass and feed the animals before going to school. The school was about 3 kilometers away, so we walked to and from school early. My father believed in the power of education and therefore insisted that we all - men and women - get an education. I did my high school diploma at Nairobi School and then went to Kagumo High School for my high school diploma. After my high school I had a break of 8 months then I went to Central Bank of Kenya. I actually went to the Fed at the time because I had cousins ​​and people who worked there before and they managed to recruit me. I was about 19 at the time and had been working there for some time as an office assistant. I was at the bottom of the stairs. I always tell people that in life you have to start at the bottom; The only place you start at the top is when you dig a well. I started as a clerk and then worked in various other departments in the bank. I have worked in export department, exchange department and import department. It was a decent job and I earned a decent income that allowed me to live comfortably. But after going through several departments at the central bank, I decided I wasn't right for this job. Also, I realized very early in my life that I hated being submissive to people. And that was one of the things that made me realize early on that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Tell me about your first entrepreneurial ventures

After working at the Central Bank for a while, I decided to take some time off to visit my older sister in the UK. She lived in Norwich with her husband and had a car which she had been trying to sell for some time but was unable to get the price she wanted. I convinced them to allow me to return to Kenya with the car so I could sell it. She agreed and I sent the car to Nairobi. I remember the car had a sticker that said 'City Of Norwich' and I was driving the car around Nairobi. One day an Englishman saw the car parked on the street and left a note in the car asking me to call him. When I called him he said he was also from Norwich and thought the car belonged to a British colleague. I told him my sister lives there and I am selling the car on her behalf. It turned out he wanted to buy a car and I managed to sell it for twice what my sister was asking. I gave the money to my sister and kept the rest for myself. I was amazed and asked myself, 'Is it that easy to make money like that?

After making a significant amount of money from auto trading, I started looking for my next business opportunity. I came across this amazing space in a building in Nairobi's Central Business District. By this point I had traveled the world and seen some interesting quick service restaurants and cafes and I was intrigued by the idea of ​​mixing these ideas I had seen outside of Kenya and replicating them in a modern restaurant for urban and trendy professionals. from Nairobi. So I started the famous Green Corner restaurant that Barack Obama mentioned in his memoirs. We have prepared the best burgers, steaks and samosas, among other things. For years, Green Corner was the place where professionals working in Nairobi met for lunch and business meetings. It was a very profitable business. I remember taking out a loan from the Commercial Bank of Kenya for Ksh 300,000 which was $15,000. We pay off the loan in 8 months.

Then I started importing wines and other alcoholic beverages. At that time in Kenya only the government had the exclusive license to import alcohol, but over time we were able to challenge this monopoly. I started a business, Wines of the World, which is now sold asWOW drinks. We have acquired exclusive distribution in Kenya for many of Europe's and North America's leading wines, premium whiskeys and cognacs.

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa

And so you at Wines of the World decided to create African spirits. What inspired it?

I've always been a lover of the alcohol industry. In my early 20's I became a distributor for Bacardi, Edrington Group, Jack Daniels and other major liquor companies. But I realized that one day these brand owners might just come to Kenya and decide to take over exclusive distribution from me. Maybe these guys just want to use me as a guinea pig. That's when I said to myself, I could really set up my own beverage business here. What's the magic about it? We've got cane molasses here and everything else we need. So we started with our flagship product, Blue Moon Vodka, which is now the best-selling native alcoholic brand in Kenya. Africa Spirits Limited was born. So we made Legend, which is now the best-selling cognac in Kenya, and we sold a lot of cases. That was 15 years ago. I am proud to say that Africa Spirits Limited is now the most successful indigenous spirits company in Kenya.

What's the story of your foray into the oil business? His company, Dalbit Petroleum, is one of the largest downstream oil companies in Kenya. What did you discover and how was Dalbit Petroleum able to expand into other markets in East Africa so quickly?

With the success of my restaurant and liquor marketing business, I decided to venture into oil distribution. I became an agent for the National Oil Company of Kenya (NOCK). The government has allowed us to purchase fuel products from NOCK and distribute domestically to other regions of Kenya. Profit margins were slim, but it was good to be in the oil business. That was in the eighties. I had some friends - the Horsey brothers who owned a construction company called Civicon and they had a contract with the World Food Program to distribute water in South Sudan and build some roads in the country. So I teamed up with Civicon and set up a small depot on the Kaboko border between Ibanga and South Sudan. This was the first place we set up a small camp; It was an 80,000 cubic meter oil storage facility. So we got the Horseys from Kaboko with their 8 by 8 trucks to transport the oil to Juba and other places in South Sudan. The margins were astronomical. There weren't many volumes, but the margins were absurd. We supplied oil to the World Food Program and then there was a drought in the country and WFP used helicopters to deliver food to South Sudan. We also supplied oil to WFP at its airfields in South Sudan and that's when we started making big margins. After eight years, the roads were finished and the banks began to erode. We are still active in Sudan; We have a depot of 6 million liters there. When our margins in our oil trading business in Sudan started to shrink, we expanded into Dar es Salaam and went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to supply oil to mines. We now have very active operations in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

His company, Great Lakes Africa Energy, was unprecedented, and in February there was onemessages splashthat the Great Lakes company had won a lucrative $400 million power tender in Mozambique. What are the origins of GL Africa Energy and how does a Kenyan company win such a lucrative tender in Mozambique?

Before we registered Great Lakes Africa Energy in 2008, Dalbit Petroleum was already supplying products to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Normally you have to go through Zambia before reaching Lumumbashi. Zambia is one of the few countries in Africa with an inland refinery. They pump their oil from Dar es Salaam to Ndola in Zambia, around 2,000 kilometers away. In crude oil refining, you will find that the distillation of gasoline and distilled heating oils leaves heavy fuel oil (HFO) as a residue. We have found that Zambia has traditionally relied on hydroelectric power for its energy needs. So I made a proposal to the government and asked permission to set up a heavy oil plant in Ndola near the inland refinery. At first they failed to conceptualize it. How do you generate electricity from heavy oil? Zambia had been using Hydro all along and they were used to that; Keep in mind that they border the Congo and the rains are heavy. They generated 1,800MW of hydroelectric power, so I had a little trouble convincing them to build a plant. In the end they gave in. They gave me an acre of land and permission to build a 50 MW heavy oil plant. Two and a half years later it worked. A year later, Zambia was hit by a drought and the 1,800 MW generated by Hydro in Zambia dropped to just over 900 MW. So the government came to me and asked me to build another 55 MW which we completed in 9 months. So we already had a track record in Zambia. When we were approached by the Mozambique government to submit a proposal for a gas-fired power plant in north-eastern Mozambique, we submitted our proposal and were selected based on our background. It is actually quite simple. We are still analyzing how we will place the gas and we are still discussing with the government to clarify some technical details.

A few years ago you bought this farm where the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Animal Waisenhaus. What was the idea behind the acquisition?

I came to this game ranch as a young man in my twenties. I've always had a soft spot for animals and wildlife. Iris and Don Hunt were the American couple who previously owned this property. Once a prominent television personality in the United States, Don used to be a big game hunter in Kenya and exported the animals, but later in life he had a moment on the road to Damascus. He decided not to hunt animals, so he and Iris bought 1,216 acres of marginal grassland around Mount Kenya Safari Club and established the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage to create a successful method of wildlife rehabilitation and release. In 2006, Don and Iris put Prince Alwaleed's investment company, Ranch Kingdom Holdings, up for sale, but the 2007/2008 economic crisis hit him and he withdrew from the business. Iris had cancer and Don was getting older. So they started looking for a buyer and I bought the hunting ranch. These guys did a great job taking care of injured animals, rehabilitating them and releasing them into their natural habitat. When Iris and Don asked me if I would be interested in a conservation program for these endangered mountain bongos, I was excited. It got very personal for me. Our greatest asset is the wildlife we ​​have and we must conserve it. I feel privileged to have this opportunity. 10,000 children come to this ranch every year to see the animals and we teach them the importance of taking care of our wildlife. We have several animal species that are almost extinct and we are trying to get them to mate and recreate. We have the only 2 little rhinos in the whole country.

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa

How do you care for it?

Currently, our companies contribute more than 85% to the operating costs of conservation. This is where we invest our profits. The Kenyan government has been kind to us. Any profit from our business that we generate here is not taxable.

In 2015 they bought Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. How did this happen?

It was destiny. Kingdom Holdings, owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, has decided to sell its stake in Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. It made a lot of sense to buy it as the property is right in the center of the game ranch and animal orphanage. The hotel was a bit pricey in my opinion but we were working on our numbers and thought we could make it work. We are still working on it and trying to integrate conservation into the hotel.

What would you like to be remembered for in the future?

I want to be remembered for doing my own part in preserving Kenya's wildlife.

Don't twitter me@MfonobongNsehe. Email me at mfon.nsee @Gmail .com

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Pres. Lawanda Wiegand

Last Updated: 13/07/2023

Views: 5799

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Pres. Lawanda Wiegand

Birthday: 1993-01-10

Address: Suite 391 6963 Ullrich Shore, Bellefort, WI 01350-7893

Phone: +6806610432415

Job: Dynamic Manufacturing Assistant

Hobby: amateur radio, Taekwondo, Wood carving, Parkour, Skateboarding, Running, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Pres. Lawanda Wiegand, I am a inquisitive, helpful, glamorous, cheerful, open, clever, innocent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.