Ten businessmen who have ‘made it’ in east Africa

How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi looks at ten outstanding entrepreneurs who have built large business empires in east Africa.

Naushad Merali

Naushad Merali (Kenya)
Chairman: Sameer Group

Asian-Kenyan millionaire Merali is one of east Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. He founded and has steered the Sameer Group into one of the region’s leading conglomerates. The Sameer Group has about 15 companies, with major investments in agriculture, construction, power, an export processing zone, information technology, telecommunications, finance and transport. Merali also owns a 5% stake in mobile operator Bharti Airtel Kenya. He is known for a being tactical and astute businessman as well as a philanthropist.

Said Salim Awadh Bakhresa (Tanzania)
Chairman: Bakhresa Group of Companies

Bakhresa dropped out of school at 14. He would later start his own restaurant in the 1970s before venturing into grain milling. Three decades later, his small business venture has grown into a conglomerate of various companies with operations in Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique with plans to expand to other countries.

The Bakhresa Group is the largest producer of wheat flour in east Africa. It also has interests in food and beverages, packaging, logistics and real estate. The group, which is Tanzania’s largest conglomerate, employs more than 2,000 people.

James Mwangi

James Mwangi (Kenya)
CEO: Equity Bank Group

Equity Bank Group chief executive James Mwangi is an astute businessman in his own right. Mwangi is best known for his efforts in shepherding the Equity Bank Group from a technically insolvent building society in 2004 to one of the largest and most profitable companies in the country. It is no wonder that Mwangi has won practically every award in the financial services sector.

Mwangi is also a multi-millionaire and easily makes it to the list of Kenya’s richest men. Since the end of a two year lock-in for anchor shareholders that was attached to the bank being listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) in 2006, Mwangi has been offloading part of his shares making millions in return. Mwangi is also one of the primary shareholders of the British American Investments Company (Britak), a leading financial services group that listed on the NSE last year.

Manu Chandaria

Manu Chandaria (Kenya)
Chairman: The Comcraft Group

The Kenyan-Indian businessman is the chairman of Comcraft Group, an industrial conglomerate estimated to be worth $2.5 billion. Chandaria’s father moved to Kenya in 1916 and opened a provisions store in Nairobi and later invested in an aluminium plant called KaluWorks. Chandaria, alongside other family members, later took over the running of the family business, which today has a presence in 45 countries across the world and employs 40,000 people. The Comcraft Group has interests in the manufacturing of steel, plastics and aluminium products.

The Madhvani family (Uganda)

The Madhvani family runs one of the largest companies in Uganda. The Madhvani Group is estimated to have $275 million in assets and has investments across Africa, the Middle East, India and North America. The group’s key business is sugar production with Kakira Sugar Works being one of its major companies.

According to Mayur Madhvani, the managing director of the company, and one of the sons of the group’s founder, Muljibhai Madhvani, Kakira Sugar Works last year had over 8,800 registered farmers as sugarcane outgrowers.

Bedsides sugar, the Madhvani Group also has interests in tea estates, floriculture, glass, matches, construction, insurance and tourism.

Mohammed Al Amoudi

Mohammed Al Amoudi (Ethiopia)

Saudi/Ethiopian entrepreneur Al Amoudi, estimated to be worth $12.5 billion, made news this year when he emerged top of the Forbes 2012 Black Billionaires list, beating Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote. Al Amoudi has invested more than $2 billion in Ethiopia and is currently undertaking several construction projects in the country. He recently founded a new company, Derba, which is expected to invest more than $3.4 billion in Ethiopia in agriculture, cement, steel and transport.

Al Amoudi, who is the richest man in Ethiopia, has interests in sectors such as construction, oil, mining, agriculture and hotels, to name a few. He has made his investments through several companies, including MIDROC.

Jimnah Mbaru

Jimnah Mbaru (Kenya)
Chairman: Dyer and Blair Investment Bank

Mbaru is the chairman of Dyer and Blair Investment Bank and a director in several companies. Mbaru has been influential in the capital markets sector in Africa. Some of his achievements include leading big deals such as the landmark $110 million KenGen IPO in 2006; the $60 million Celtel 2005 corporate bond; and the 1996 EADB Bond, which was the first ever corporate bond in east Africa. He has served as chairman of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) and helped establish the Rwanda Stock Exchange.

Mbaru is also one of the founding members of Trans-Century Group, a NSE-listed investment firm focused on infrastructure. In addition he is one of the primary shareholders of the British American Investments Company (Britak), a leading financial services group.

Chris Kirubi

Chris Kirubi

Chris Kirubi (Kenya)

Kirubi has varied investments in manufacturing, property, media and insurance.

He first started in business by buying decayed properties in Nairobi, renovating the buildings, and then re-selling them for a profit. He currently owns various residential and commercial buildings in Nairobi.

Kirubi controls, or has a stake in, a number of east African companies, including: consumer goods firm Haco Tiger Brands, investment company Centum, UAP Insurance, and the DHL franchise in Kenya. In addition, Kirubi also owns popular Kenyan radio station Capital FM, on which he is also a DJ.

Sudhir Ruparelia

Sudhir Ruparelia (Uganda)
Chairman: Ruparelia Group of Companies

Sudhir Ruparelia, the founder and chairman of the Ruparelia Group of Companies, reportedly owns a quarter of the buildings strategically located in the Ugandan capital Kampala’s central business district.

In 1897 Ruparelia’s family arrived in Mombasa from India. He was born in 1956 in Uganda, but at the age of 16 moved to the UK with his family. However, in 1985 he decided to return to Uganda, where he started out selling salt, and later beer. After the beer business came to a standstill, Ruparelia got involved in foreign exchange. In 1995 he opened Crane Bank. “We made profits from banking and spread out to real estate, hotels, and other investments,” said Ruparelia in a recent interview.

Today the Ruparelia Group of Companies has diverse interests in banking, insurance, hospitality, conventions and leisure centres, media, education, real estate development, property management and floriculture.

Mohamed Jaffer (Kenya)
Chairman: Grain Bulk Handlers Limited (GBHL) / MJ Group of Companies

Jaffer is the chairman of the MJ Group of Companies, which has interests in dry and liquid bulk cargo handling. One of the group’s flagship companies is Grain Bulk Handlers Limited (GBHL), a grain terminal specialising in the discharge and handling of bulk grain imports at the Port of Mombasa. GBHL is one of Africa’s largest grain handlers.

Jaffer conceived the idea for GBHL more than 30 years ago, with the vision of revolutionising the handling of bulk grain and fertiliser imports at the Port of Mombasa. He began the construction of the project in 1998 after receiving $35 million funding from the World Bank.