To those who grew up with him, John Mbugua is the Class Seven dropout who went into the business of trading in fresh meat after leaving school and never turned back.
But unknown to many, the ever fresh-faced man is not the ordinary butcher down the corner, but one of the quintessential entrepreneurs with a list of high-flying clients to boot.
The list of Mr Mbugua’s clients includes State House where his relationship has spanned three regimes – starting with former presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Mbugua supplies his clients from Jojen Butchery, a business he started in Dagoretti township outside Nairobi and has operated for more than 20 years.
Though in a business that requires him to regularly interact with a large number of clients, Mr Mbugua remains a very private man with a phobia for the media.
“I have seen people become poorer after sharing their stories with the media,” when the Business Daily approached him for an interview.
Mr Mbugua’s passion for entrepreneurship dates back to 1979 when he wrote a business proposal and failed miserably, having found no financier for the idea. He was hired by a manufacturing company where he worked for three years before quitting with two colleagues. One of the two people he left with bought a cab and employed him as a driver, but he was forced to resign shortly thereafter to venture into own business.
“The job was not fulfilling because my mind was in self-employment,” he said of his plight in 1984. Teaming up with his brother, Mr Mbugua bought an old car that he turned into a taxi. Life in the taxi business was not well paying, forcing him to abandon it and venture into the business of loading meat from a neighbouring slaughterhouse.
This where Mr Mbugua learnt the intricacies of the meat trade before later resigning to open his own butchery. “Most of the distributors operated on credit. What I badly needed was someone to recommend me to the right people who would take orders from me and I would do the rest.’’
Armed with only Sh6,000, Mr Mbugua opened a makeshift premise along Dagoretti Road from where he started making soup even as he sought meat orders from local schools.
Soon, Mr Mbugua fell in love with his new found venture, but most of his colleagues laughed him off. “My wife was the cleaner and cook while I took charge of marketing, going to weddings and visiting homes and schools looking for orders that were initially not forthcoming,” he said.
Within two years, the business had made significant gains, enabling him to relocate to a more decent place.
Emboldened by his success, Mr Mbugua took a Sh350,000 loan from Co-operative Bank that enabled him to set up his expanding enterprise at a commercial building owned by late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai’ former husband, Mwangi Mathai.
“I approached Mr Mathai with my idea, explaining to him how I would get the meat from Dagoretti Market on credit, sell it and make enough money to settle my bills and pay him,” he said.
That is how Jojen Butchery — an acronym for John and Jennifer, his wife, was born.
“We progressively acquired very valuable clients starting with Lenana School, Parliament, Kenya Railways and later extended to Jacaranda Hotels, Safari Club among many other private and public organisations,” he said.
That list has since expanded to include State House, the Department of Defence, Co-operative College and Utalii College.
Of his experience with the presidents, past and present, Mr Mbugua describes Mr Moi as a good person to do business with.
He says business with State House dipped slightly during Mr Kibaki’s tenure, a development he attributes to the little appetite the president had for meat.
“President Kenyatta is a real gentleman with a human touch and understands issues. I have so far enjoyed working with him,” he says of the current State House occupant.
Mr Mbugua describes the journey of entrepreneurship as a long and tortuous one requiring a lot of patience.
“Winning a tender basically depends on the quotation you present to the client and the quality service offered,” he says of his experience in the business.
Like many entrepreneurs, Mr Mbugua is guarded about his earnings insisting that the business is doing well and growing progressively despite cut-throat competition.
Initially, Jojen Butchery had three employees but the number has since grown to 15, including those working in the restaurant that is located within the butchery.
Dagoretti residents say the simple setting is often patronised by prominent figures, including renowned politicians and senior government officials.