Cars, cake and hotels – a family business grabbing opportunities

When Hasnain Noorani returned to Kenya in 2006 after studying in the UK, he found his family’s business struggling. Noorani decided to join his father’s car hire and driving school company where he has steered expansion over the last eight years.

Hasnain Noorani, CEO of PrideGROUP

Hasnain Noorani, CEO of PrideGROUP

The engineering graduate is now the CEO of PrideGROUP, which operates multiple ventures in hospitality, retail, conferencing and transport. PrideGROUP is also planning to open two IT-focused companies this year.

“I worked in the UK for a year but I felt engineering was not my cup of tea. I love designing but after working in the industry, talking to machines all day, I realised I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. I decided to come back to Kenya,” Noorani says.

Noorani tells How we made it in Africa that when he returned to Kenya he saw many opportunities that were not being fully exploited by local businesses.

“Our two businesses were not performing well at the time. I felt there was a lot of scope in the business and opportunities that had not been fully exploited. At the time, the car company had 25 cars, but after we popularised the car leasing concept we were able to expand our fleet to 180 in a span of two years.”

Noorani recalls that after the successful expansion of the car business he started looking for opportunities in other sectors.

“One day as I was travelling to Eldoret town I realised there were hardly any three-star hotels in most urban centres in Kenya. In Nairobi, for instance, there were five-star hotels and small lodges. We started working on the concept of PrideInn Hotels, targeting business travellers who don’t want to pay US$300 for a five-star hotel but want a good night’s sleep in a clean place, big breakfast, security, conferencing facilities and internet access.”

PrideGROUP currently operates a total of six properties in the budget hotel sector.

“We are building our seventh hotel, a 280-roomed beach property, at the Kenyan coast. The hotel will have a convention facility that can hold 2,000 people and we hope to attract large conferences that are now being held in Rwanda and South Africa. The hotel should open by the end of the year.”

The group is also planning to open another hotel in Kisumu city by the end of the year.

Potential in business travel

Noorani says he sees immense opportunity in hotels for business travellers, adding that operating costs are much lower compared to those of hotels targeted at leisure tourists.

“The cost of maintaining a business guest is much lower than the cost of maintaining a leisure tourist. Regardless of what happens in a country, business tends to go on. If you need to clear your car at the port of Mombasa you will just have to go there even with the terror fears, whilst a leisure tourist might opt for an alternative destination.”

Noorani says the group has been successful as it offers excellent services at affordable costs.

“We don’t believe in ripping off the customer,” he says. “I believe in pursuing excellence in terms of product offering, service delivery, how you treat your team members and even having balance in your life as a business manager or entrepreneur. You can’t say that if you work 24 hours then you will become successful. You have to give your family quality time.”

Designing solutions

Growing up, Noorani watched his father do business and developed a keen interest in operations as he helped out after school and during weekends and holidays.

“I was always very curious on how things worked. For instance, how much a car cost, how much profit we made, the expenses we incurred and so forth. I would say business was instilled in me from an early age. My engineering background also does come in handy in running this business. Engineering is all about designing and what I do here is design businesses. I use the same [engineering] mentality. For instance, I started our cake business, Cake City, because it was my daughter’s birthday and I could not find a good cake. I look at problems, design solutions and execute.”

Noorani says he would like to expand the group’s interests further but the high cost of land is a key prohibitive factor.

“Today in Nairobi if you are looking at a prime piece of land you would need to spend about KSh. 500m ($5.6m) to KSh. 600m ($6.8m). For instance, Cake City has been doing really well and today has three outlets with nine more set to open by the end of the year. We are looking at making it an East African brand in the next five years, but for me to expand I need to get the right locations which is a big challenge. I have the resources and capacity to expand but getting access to retail outlets is hard.”

However, Noorani is not one to let challenges stand in the way of his goals.

“I try to rise above my challenges. If someone tells me this is impossible… [it] pushes me to keep trying until I prove them wrong.”