At 32 years, John Njau Kibe who once roamed the streets of Eldoret after his parents broke up can now dine with the who is who in the farming town having literally worked his way up the ladder from grass to grace.
While still a university student six years ago, Kibe started business with only Sh18,000 but today he runs a chain of schools, real estate developments and entertainment joints in Eldoret town valued at millions of shillings.
He had to drop out of primary school between 1991 and 1992 to hustle as a street boy after his parents separated causing him to live a troubled life of destitution. Fortunately for Kibe, he later rose from this life through help from well wishers and the struggles of his late mother that eventually saw him complete high School at Maseno.
“It has been a long journey for me. I look back and see the hand of God in my life. I put in determination and courage and God lifted me up. God brought me the luck I needed to propel myself to success,” says Kibe during at an interview with the Star.
Kibe is the proprietor of Hillside Group of Schools in Eldoret which have more than 1,200 students and where he employs over 100 teachers and other support staff. The schools are just some of his many investments that have propelled him to success.
After Maseno School he qualified to join Moi University but could not do so immediately due to lack of money. He teamed up with a friend with whom they engaged in the business of selling computer accessories and also went into part time teaching at a private school in Eldoret.
He later applied for help from the Higher Education Loans Board to fund his university education. However, the business bug had already bit him and he ended up using the Sh 18,000 he got from HELB to hire premises at Kingongo in Eldoret to start off a private primary school.
“My employer at the school where I was doing part time teaching refused to pay me my salary for some months and yet he was getting money. I told myself that there was nothing strange she was doing to succeed and which I could not do,” recalls Kibe.
Having secured premises for his business plans, he started the Hillside Plateau Academy at Kingongo. The school which was his first quickly expanded enrolling many students and he was one of the first three teachers at the school.
After setting the foundation for his business, Kibe rejoined Moi University for a course in management in 2004.
“I would teach and manage my school throughout the day and then go for evening classes at the Moi University KPA campus,” says Kibe.
The school grew very fast and Kibe was able to pay fees to complete his university education up to post graduate level. The young entrepreneur now has his eyes set on a PHD.
With the first school being successful he soon thought of expanding it and leased land at Khaoya Estate in Eldoret where he set up a subsidiary – Hillside Annex School which comprises a primary wing and a Secondary School for girls.
The Hillside Annex School also became successful asserting KIbe’s determination to succeed in this social enterprise. Last year he got land near the Moi University Law School where he is currently developing the Hillside Preparatory School as the third in his chain of schools. The school is already operating.
“All the schools have been very successful and my aim now to start the Hillside College which will offer education at a higher level,” says Kibe. The Hillside Schools have been performing well in national examinations with the primary section rating among the top five in Uasin Gishu County.
The young entrepreneur says he was motivated to start the schools because he was a teacher at a private school where he coined the idea. “Though my first employer was not paying me my salary, I thought I could do the same business and pay myself apart from helping other children come up in life,” said Kibe.
He had also gone through difficult time to complete his education and he had a vision to help unfortunate but bright children access education.
“Through the school we help very needy children whose parents cannot pay fees and that is the way I also give back to society and thank God for helping me make it in life,” explains Kibe.
His life as a street boy in Eldoret also motivated him to work for success because he never wanted to face a life full of hardships.
“I used to pick up polythene papers and sell them to make some money for my survival and it was a bitter life. I fear such a life for anyone and that is why I work so hard to achieve my desires in business,” the former street boy turned businessman recalls.
As a young businessman Kibe says he has been alert and very disciplined in managing his finances to avoid sliding into pitfalls of getting carried away by the huge amount of money he handles.
“Yes I handle a lot of money from the schools but that is not usually my focus. I focus on my vision and the future. If I focus on the money my work will be how to spend it and now how to make more,” says Kibe.
The self-made entrepreneur says he rarely keeps money in his banks accounts except for running the schools. “Any extra money I get I immediately look for ways of investing in projects which appreciate in value so that can in a few years time make more,” he said.
That’s why he ventured into real estate business and now owns residential buildings in parts of Eldoret. Kibe has also ventured into the entertainment industry in Eldoret where he also hopes to do well.
His normal working day begins before 6 am every day. Kibe believes in making ample time to keep abreast with his businesses even though he has employed managers to help him run the various entities. “The people who work with me may not have in mind the vision I have and my style is hands on so that I personally drive my vision,” he says.
Kibe advises youth not to focus on white color jobs which have limited income and somehow stagnates one’s mind. “With my own business I determine how I work and what I earn every month. The more hard I work and the more I make.”
Even though financial hurdles hinder many youth from venturing into self employment, Kibe says that that should not be viewed as a major limitation because he started with only Sh18,000 and with it, has managed to beat poverty.
“I have come to believe that we all have the potential to succeed but all we need as youth is to put in some effort and focus on a goal or objective. Many young people have made it and there is no reason for anyone to fear taking up challenges in life,” he said.
Kibe derives inspiration from great business entrepreneurs like American billionaire Donald Trump. Locally he wants to emulate the late Njenga Karume who rose from a charcoal seller to a tycoon. “I have their books and I often read them to get the motivation I need,” he says.
Other than being happy with his financial status, the Eldoret based businessman feels good when he meets parents whose children perform well at the Hillside Schools. “When they congratulate me I know that I have in a way impacted positively in the lives of other people and that is the greatest happiness of my success,” says Kibe.
His aim is to become a top business magnate and he also aspires to play a role in leadership including in politics.