From “makanga” to Millionaire – AGAINST ALL ODDS

It is said that we don’t get to choose where and how we are born, and we certainly don’t choose how we die, but we choose how we live. Peter Maina undoubtedly knew how he wanted to live his life. He is a living example of the conviction that the first step towards success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself. This inspired him to beat all odds to succeed. He narrates his life’s journey to MWAURA MUIGANA.

Peter successfully graduated with a diploma in Tours and Travel at Universal College in Nairobi in 1998. But a job wasn’t forthcoming. The last thing Peter envisaged was returning to his rural home in Kangema, Murang’a County, to rely on his parents.

His cousin, Patrick Kabiro, also a fresh hotel management graduate from Utalii College suggested they set up a hotel at Chwere in the heart of Bungoma County and Peter seized the opportunity. For six months, they did rolling business. The surrounding hotels and kiosks lost many customers to the duo. The owners, mainly locals, didn’t take it well.

“Our competitors incited the locals against supporting ‘foreigners .’ When it was obvious the business faced imminent collapse, we turned it over to our landlord, a local. My cousin then started supplying firewood and charcoal to the hotel and surrounding establishments. I opted to become a maize trader, buying from surrounding shambas and selling at the shopping centre,” says Peter.

He admits that it was initially difficult but the profit of Ksh 300 per bag inspired him to go on. The business gradually picked. His initial capital of Ksh 6,000 rose to Ksh 30,000. He started buying in bulk and supplying orders to different clients at reasonable profits. He ventured further afield to Kitale, the grain basket of Kenya, and supplied directly to the Bungoma Cereals and Produce Board stores. He also transported the commodity to millers in Bondo, Siaya, Rusinga Islands and Asembo Bay.

“I refrained from luxuries and lived moderately to save as much money as I could. My resolve was to invest back in our rural home and uplift my family’s standards,” Peter recounts.

One day in 1999, he returned home from a lucrative business trip and stashed his entire profit and capital under the mattress. When he briefly went to the shop, a thief sneaked in and stole the money. There was only one person with a spare key to his house and since the person was living with two other young men, it was difficult to pinpoint the thief. It dealt him a devastating personal and business blow. He never recovered the stolen money. The prospect of going back to his rural home empty-handed was unimaginable. He was so depressed that he contemplated suicide. A friend encouraged him to read Job’s tribulations in the Bible.

Peter reveals that he bought a Bible and read about Job’s tribulations. Encouraging as this Biblical narrative was, he couldn’t fully connect with Job’s experience but he is glad that the suicidal thoughts cleared. With business capital gone, he didn’t know how to pick up again.

“The first thing was to get away from the environment. I took a bus as a standing passenger to Nairobi since I could not afford the full fare to secure a seat. Once in Nairobi, I put up with my twin brother, John Macharia, in Nairobi’s Huruma Estate,” narrates Peter.

His brother, who was a tout, wasn’t convinced about the predicament but half-heartedly hosted him. Peter often went without meals. He happily took up an attendant’s job in a nearby kiosk for a meagre Ksh 30 per day. At least the job offered him an opportunity to have free meals if nothing else. Depression hit him hard on realising how low he had sunk.

“I worked for two months then secured a cleaner’s job at Kengeles in Lavington, Nairobi through one of my brothers, then a chef at the restaurant. The monthly salary of Ksh 4,500 was a much better deal not to mention the free meals,” says Peter.

However, Peter still felt he had a higher calling to regain what he had lost in Bungoma. He often turned aggressive towards other staff particularly when they expressed dissatisfaction at his services. He eventually lost the job in 2001 and desperation set in again.

Peter the tout

A relative secured him a job as a tout, arguing that was where his aggressiveness fit. He was assigned touting and loading duties for a major bus company at the Machakos Country Bus stop in Nairobi and earned Ksh 200 per day. He was determined to prove that touting was a job like any other. The only drawback was working with mainly characters whose morality was wanting. He was expected to behave like them, often forcing customers to board his bus. Such instances ate into his conscience. He shunned their anti-social and criminal activities and they loathed him for it. All these challenges, however, never distracted him from his goal.

He patiently waited for a way out to a more decent business and worked very hard in a job that disregards professionalism. This commitment earned him promotions and within a short period he was earning Ksh 500 per day. His main duty was to secure luggage handled by the bus company. He was assigned luggage mainly to Western Kenya route. He saved as much as he could and through installments, purchased three small plots in Ruai, Nairobi over a period of one year.

In 2003, Peter met Grace Waithera in the course of his duties at the Machakos Country Bus terminus. Many of her friends discouraged her from a relationship with a tout. She ignored them and after courting for one year, they moved in together in a single semi-permanent room in Nairobi’s Dagoretti Corner.
For a long time, Grace kept her family in the dark as to what Peter did for a living. She used to buy him T-shirts and shoes to make him look decent. Often, he could only bring home Ksh 150 but they clung to the hope that things would change for the better in the future.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Peter established good relations with businessmen from different parts of the country who bought items in Nairobi in bulk and transported them in his buses. He eventually earned their trust and acted as their middleman on commission, so the businessmen didn’t have to come to Nairobi. They appreciated this service and introduced him to other businessmen hence expanding his portfolio. Eventually, they entrusted him with their money to go out shopping for them and this earned him higher commissions by securing the goods from the cheapest outlets. He often made Ksh 2,000 as commission from each customer.

“I got into trouble with my seniors who became jealous of my efforts. At one point, I was sacked but convincingly argued my way back into the job. This heightened my resolve to concentrate more on the middleman role. The returns were incomparable to the touting job,” Peter explains.

By 2008, he was handling business worth millions of shillings, often hiring lorries and taking up cargo space in several buses for transportation of the goods. On average, he earned Ksh 10,000 a day. To facilitate efficiency, he opened an M pesa shop to be managed by his wife. In addition to regular business, Peter transacted business between him, his clients and their suppliers. He often transacted business worth one million shillings in a day. On good days, he made Kshs 30,000 commission. He also borrowed loans from banks and ventured into importing fast moving goods from China and selling them in bulk.

A millionaire is born

The money came in and he decided to venture into real estate. In 2009, he sold his three plots in Ruai that had appreciated by over 100 per cent. He purchased a prime plot in Mwiki, Nairobi where he put up a three-storey rental apartment at a cost of Ksh 9 million. It gave him a monthly return of Ksh 130,000.

Two years later, he sold the apartment for Ksh 13 million. This encouraged him to go a notch higher in the business. He purchased a dilapidated and incomplete house and spent Ksh 5 million to make it a modern three-storey rental apartment block. On completion it earned him Ksh 150,000 per month in rent. After one year, he disposed it for Ksh 15 million. From there, the rest, as they say is history. He is deeply entrenched in his middleman role for businessmen throughout the country and in real estate, buying dilapidated structures and turning them into rental apartments for sale.

Empowering his wife

One day, his wife bought two pairs of the then famous Safari Boot shoes from Bata Shoe Company for her husband at Ksh 1400 per pair. She hung them in the M pesa shop for lack of space. A male customer assumed they were on display for sale. Grace offered to sell them at Ksh 1,800. The second pair also went a few minutes later for a similar amount making a profit of Ksh 800 within an hour. This was an eye opener. She embarked on selling different types of shoes. She soon diversified into supplying bulk orders to shoe shops after sourcing them from cheaper outlets.

“I assisted my wife with capital to conduct this business and ensured she paid back. The objective was to make her independent and initiate her into business. We sourced for orders and soon we were supplying industrial and safety boots, aprons, and dustcoats. She sourced for tailoring services for orders on that line. However, it became obvious we needed to establish a sewing workshop for more efficiency and timely deliveries,” says Peter.

They purchased small electric sewing machines, employed two tailors and started a workshop in town. At her request, Peter enrolled Grace for a Sales and Marketing course at the Nairobi Institute of Business Studies. Consequently, she worked in a more professional manner in sourcing for clients and business opportunities. It boosted her business so much that they bought two industrial sewing machines and employed more tailors while she went out marketing.

They later relocated the workshop to more spacious premises in Githurai near their home. Currently, the workshop has 12 industrial sewing machines, nine tailors, two sales girls and a secretary. They handle large orders for major security, agricultural and other companies for sprayer suits, security attire and uniforms. They also supply personal protective equipment like helmets, respirators, boots and security equipment. Their newest line includes school and company staff uniforms.

Today, the couple looks back and thank God for everything. They are blessed with three children: 10-year-old twins, Olive Waithera and Brian Muhia currently in class three, and one-and-a-half-year-old Precious Njeri.
“I could not have done this without God. As a sign of gratitude, we educate needy children among other charitable deeds,” concludes Peter.

PUBLISHED APRIL 2015