How Manu Chandaria Built His Empire From A Small Shop On Biashara Street

Manu Chandaria
Image Courtesy: CNBC Africa

We know him as Kenya’s most successful entrepreneur. His track record of philanthropy is beyond reproach and his love for Africa is beyond question. But did you know that Manu Chandaria was raised up in the sprawling Ngara area of Nairobi? Did you know that unlike most of us who only work for 8 hours a day he works for 16 hours a day even at the age of 86 years? You surely should take a minute or two to learn a few things about the life, investments and entrepreneurship experiences of the guru himself.

Rising From The Bottom Just Like Most Of Us

Just like most of us, Sir Manu was born in a very humble setting. His father was semi-illiterate and could not express himself fluently in English or even Swahili. Nairobi by then was a small town and they were able to rent a small stall along Biashara street where they put up a small duka.

The small duka was not anything worth writing home about. It was like one of those movie stalls you see on Tom Mboya streets but nonetheless it used to put food on the table and his father was able to pay rent in a co-shared house in the low-end Ngara area.

Choosing To Be An Entrepreneur Not A Job Robot

Despite the financial challenges that his family was evidently facing, Manu’s father knew the value of education and so he took all his kids to school. Little Manu was able to complete his education but instead of rushing to take a government job (in those days jobs were readily available to the educated), he chose the path least trodden.

He joined his father’s small business and chose to start small. Instead of opting for a quick fix 8am to 5pm job, he chose to believe in a small laughable business idea.

Working Harder and Smarter Than Everyone Else

When you choose to become an entrepreneur you know that nothing is guaranteed. You can easily go without a salary for a few months especially if the business is not doing quite well. And Manu knew this all too well. So he decided to work a bit harder than everyone else. Those days, getting a bank loan was next to impossible unless you were a white settler. But that did not put him down for he knew that the biggest share of capital one can invest in a business is passion.

Instead of working the ordinary 8 hours, he started putting in more hours. He would get in the office at 7am in the Morning and work until 11 pm and sometimes until midnight. Within the first 5 years of running the business, he was able to hire over 800 employees. And to-date, despite his old age, he still puts in an average of 16 hours of work per day. His group of companies has grown to over 30,000 employees.

Giving Back To Society and Being Humble Always

The problem with many of us is that we tend to forget where we came from once we succeed. But Manu Chandaria is not one of those people who disconnect with the reality of street life. Today, despite being at the helm of top brands like Mabati Rolling Mills, Kaluworks, Baati Limited, Aluminium Africa Limited and living in the affluent Muthaiga suburb of Nairobi, he still lives a moderate, non-extravagant lifestyle.

He loves to work with the community and is ardently involved in projects to rehabilitate street families. Above all, he is actively involved in nurturing the next breed of entrepreneurs having supported the construction of the Chandaria Incubation Hub in Kenyatta University among many others.

Get Up And Do Something

In Africa, we believe that you have to use dirty tricks in order to make it. Or you have to sell drugs or steal from the government in order to build a strong company. But Chandaria’s philosophy is evidently unique.

“Zero multiplied by zero is always zero. You stay home, you don’t do anything, it is always zero the next morning. You work a little bit and it becomes one, but one multiplied by one is also one again. Until you reach two, four, eight…then the multiplication of resources starts” goes one of Manu Chandaria’s famous quotes.

Final Word

That Manu Chandaria is a successful man is not in doubt. But there is one unique thing about him. He is a genuine believer that everybody deserves an equal chance in life. His story teaches us that it doesn’t matter where you are today; there is nothing that can stop you from achieving greatness provided you are ready to do what it takes. It doesn’t matter whether you were born in Mathare, Langas or Garissa—there is a Chandaria dream waiting to be realized in each one of us.

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