Dreaming big is how Kenyan doctor built her own private hospital

The hospital has also finished repaying its long-term debt and the supply credit which totalled more than KSh.700m (US$8m).

“We are now loan free. We have been able to get rid of that big load that was on our back. That is something we are very happy about. It is significant for us because debt is something that can keep you awake at night, although over time you learn that this is how all businesses run anyway.”

Looking ahead

Gikonyo says the hospital has embarked on its next five-year plan which includes expanding its education programme beyond nursing to include training doctors.

“From the very onset we thought about having a chain of hospitals but at the beginning it looked like a far-fetched dream. In the next five years we see ourselves operating five secondary level hospitals that will be scattered in different parts of Kenya and increase the number of satellite clinics from six to 30. Our goal from the beginning has been to take quality services at affordable prices to the people.”

Once again, the couple and their shareholders will be seeking financing, but they expect a different experience this time around.

“We are like a young girl who has several suitors. We have the luxury of choosing. It sounds arrogant but when you have five investors interested in coming in that is how it feels.” She says that until you have proved yourself, raising funds will always be difficult, “but once you have proved yourself then you get a lot of investors interested”.

Gikonyo pursued an executive MBA to get a better “understanding of the business world”, and as CEO has steered The Karen Hospital to new heights.

“Whatever it is you don’t know there is always somebody who knows it, or it is in a book or these days it is on the internet. Go there, find it, learn it,” she says, adding that she applies certain aspects of medical practice in her job as CEO.

“Medicine is a profession of discipline where one has to have attention to detail, consistency and tenacity. I approach life in that same, systematic way.”

Dreaming big

Last year Gikonyo released her autobiography, The Girl who Dared to Dream, which chronicles her life growing up in rural Kenya, losing her mother to cancer, going to medical school and realising her dream.

“I wanted to encourage boys and girls in the village to dream big because for me dreaming to become a doctor was a big deal.”

Gikonyo says she finds “greater gratification” in her charity, Heart to Heart Foundation, which organises the annual Heart to Heart Run to raise funds to help children with heart problems get treatment.

“As part of my work in the 1990s I would come across a lot of these children. I wanted to get community involved. Through the Heart Run about 500 children have had open-heart surgery and heart treatment.”

Gikonyo also uses the charity to create awareness about the prevention of heart diseases through workshops in schools and training of health workers.

She advises other entrepreneurs to have a never-say die attitude, especially during difficult times.

She explains that most people can become successful entrepreneurs but the “staying power is what lacks” in many because they listen to, and believe the naysayers.

“You must have the spirit of persistence. You must believe that one day your dream will become possible no matter how long it takes.”