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From rags to riches: Two business moguls who clawed their way to the top

Monica Musungu of Scenery Adventures at her office on 25th June 2014. It is difficult to tell that all through her childhood and early adulthood, Monica lived from hand to mouth and struggled to get food and shelter in Nairobi’s Kariobangi slums.

Monica Musungu of Scenery Adventures at her office on 25th June 2014. It is difficult to tell that all through her childhood and early adulthood, Monica lived from hand to mouth and struggled to get food and shelter in Nairobi’s Kariobangi slums.

Monica Musungu, owner, Scenery Adventures, a tours and travels company

It is difficult to tell that all through her childhood and early adulthood, Monica lived from hand to mouth and struggled to get food and shelter in Nairobi’s Kariobangi slums. Her mother, Margaret Musungu, could hardly afford to pay her school fees or fend for her 11 siblings. “She sold illicit brews to take care of us,” she says.

Monica’s walk from rags to riches began after completing her secondary education with a grade C+. She enrolled for a food and beverages course at the SOS Technical Institute in Buru Buru. “I wanted to get some skills that would enable me to live a better life and also help my siblings get out of the slums.”

She raised some money from her friends and began her course. After graduating in 2003, Monica got a job as a casual labourer at the Bounty Hotel in South B. “I worked hard and was promoted from a casual to a contract employee.” After working and saving for four years, in late 2007, she began to contemplate starting a tours and travel company. “To many of those I shared my idea with, that would be the beginning of my end.” But there was no holding Monica back.

A few months later, in April 2008, she registered her own company, Scenery Adventures, together with one of her close friends. “We did not have much. After paying rent for a small office at Bidco Towers, we were left with Sh5, 000 as operating capital.”

GOING DOWN

To keep her business running, Monica would hire cars and rent them out whenever she had a client. Almost immediately, one of her clients was involved in a road accident in one of the cars she’d rented. “The client escaped. The car was towed to the police station and the police started looking for me.” They traced her office where she was working with her partner. “My partner took off immediately the police came in.” Monica was arrested and detained at Central Police Station for a week. “I was released after the insurance company intervened.”

Soon after, a lady client hired their other car to attend a function in Thika town, only to end up stealing it. Unknown to Monica, this client was the ring-leader of a city car-theft cartel. She informed the car owner who promptly called the police, accusing Monica of masterminding the theft. Once again, Monica was arrested and detained at Central Police Station for two weeks. Fortunately, the car was recovered and the woman nabbed. But with accumulating debts and zero operating capital to keep her business running, Monica made the painful decision to shut down. “I had nothing; I couldn’t even afford a decent meal. I was taken in by a friend in Kariobangi.”

While struggling to get back on her feet again, one of her friends proposed that they restart the business. “We borrowed Sh40, 000 with the aim of restarting the fallen business, reopened the office at Bidco Towers in September 2008, and hired two cars.”

Yet again, there were problems; her partner would use the cars they’d hired to run personal errands during business hours. “I’d strike a good deal only to realise that the cars were with him upcountry or at a friend’s party.” Her operating capital dwindled as the cost of operations spiraled upwards. Four months later, she closed down again. “I had thrown all my money into the business hoping that I’d finally pull myself out of poverty. But now, I couldn’t even pay house rent. I began to wonder if I would ever make it.”

Again, she was kicked out of the house she’d rented and taken in by a friend in Mwiki, Kasarani. But Monica was not about to give up. In early 2009, she pooled money, borrowing from her friends and doing casual jobs, to reopen her business again! “I saved Sh70, 000 and in April, I rented an office at Afya House and reopened my business alone.” Monica says she was wiser and knew the entrepreneurial booby-traps she needed to avoid.

BIG BREAK

Her big break came in August 2009 when she secured a contract to provide transport for ambassadors accompanying former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, for the AGOA forum. “I made sure I secured useful contacts while providing my services.” Since then, the sky has been the limit for her. She has secured contracts with Akon and MTV MAMA, the Korean embassy and the Uganda government. She has opened a branch in Norway as she seeks to tap into the Scandinavian market.

Currently, she has four permanent employees and eight top-of-the range vehicles. Monica reckons that her success in business has been transformed by her ability to take risks, push things up, and belief in herself. “Without self-belief and risk-taking, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I learn from the mistakes I make and this makes my investments and business strategies more fruitful,” she says.

Recently, during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit, Monica was charged with the task of hosting and transporting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s entourage.

Deborah Mbula rose from a humble background and is now the owner of Liberty Group, a civil engineering and logistics company in Nairobi, 26th june 2014.

Deborah Mbula rose from a humble background and is now the owner of Liberty Group, a civil engineering and logistics company in Nairobi, 26th june 2014.

 Deborah Mbula, owner, Liberty Group, a civil engineering and logistics company

In 1995, Deborah left her parents’ home in Mulango village, Kitui Central, to look for a job. She didn’t know what kind of job she wanted but was determined to change her life and that of her family. “Life in the village was hard. I knew I had to work and overcome a life of hand to mouth and help my mother and siblings.” However, never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined that today, she would be the successful owner of a company that offers four different services under one roof.

In 1995, her family’s livelihood suffered following the death of her father. “I had just completed my KCSE at Zombe Girls’ Secondary School where I attained a grade C+. It was below the required pass mark for university admission.”

Deborah approached the Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute in Eastleigh. “I told them that I wanted to enroll for a certificate course in computer science but I didn’t have any money to fund my course.” Deborah offered to work as a casual labourer at the school while learning part time to meet her fees. She would work for four hours and study for four hours. “My whole salary would be deducted to pay my fees.” After graduating with a certificate in 1996, Deborah approached her late father’s workplace in Nairobi asking to be employed.

“I walked straight to the manager’s office and told him that my dad had been working for the company and I’d like to build on his work legacy by working there.” After securing a job as a customer service assistant at the company, Deborah enrolled for a diploma in business administration and joined a savings cooperative society. “I earned a Sh16,000 per month and for 12 years, I faithfully saved Sh2,000 every month,” says the wife and mother of two.

STARTING OUT

In 2008, Deborah quit her former job and withdrew her Sh288,900 savings. “I used the money to buy a Toyota 100 and started a taxi business. The business did not disappoint and every month, I would take home between Sh60, 000 and Sh90, 000 net income.”

After six months, she began to approach corporate clients offering to lend them her vehicles. Chase Bank was my first client and my biggest break with a Sh2.5 million turnover per month.” Two years into the taxi business, she invited her friends to the business. “I thought that entering into a partnership with my friends would speed the growth of the taxi business.” However, the partnership was short-lived as Deborah quit after two years. “Business slowed down once my friends came in and I began to feel as though my goals were being restrained.” By the time she left the partnership, Deborah and her friends had a fleet of 30 hired cars.

In 2012, she quit the partnership and took a loan of Sh3 million to start Liberty Group. “I didn’t have difficulty accessing the loan because of my good credit report. The bank had also seen me build the taxi business and was willing to work with me,” she says. Her company deals in construction and repair of roads, corporate events, tours and travel, and government supplies.” I started with tours and travel and expanded to the other businesses. I have contracted engineers who handle engineering works.”

Deborah says that her vision to uplift her family’s welfare has been her fuel in her journey to the top. “I had a desire and a vision to improve my family’s welfare and I am glad that none of my siblings is suffering. I was able to pay for their college education and have employed some of them at my company,” she says. “I have made a resilient person out of myself. I believe that if someone else has achieved it, then it is also possible for me to do it.”

Deborah, is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international relations. “There are so many opportunities for women but we are always coiling back when it gets hard. I don’t,” she says. Deborah’s company was the logistics partner for the CECAFA 2013 tournament.

-Nation

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