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The Iron Lady Of Beer



Tabitha Karanja is in a svelte black dress and seated in the boardroom of her well-appointed Nairobi office. She has a disarming smile and a gentleness that makes it hard to imagine that, in this very boardroom, this soft-spoken mother of four has struck many a business deal and battled feisty competitors. Those who work with her know that beneath the pleasant exterior is a hard-nosed businesswoman with a strong mind and a stronger resolve.

This is evident every morning she revs up her Range Rover to 120kph, driving an hour and 91 kilometers to her Naivasha brewery from her home in Nairobi. This is a woman with a drive few can match. She is the face of corporate Kenya.

Karanja is CEO of Keroche Breweries, Kenya’s second largest brewer (East African Breweries Limited is leader). In all of Africa, she is perhaps the only woman to have founded a beer company. It is an industry for the big boys, but an industry she says she has never felt out of place in. Her heart is in beer-making, and this is where she says she will continue to be, brewing up more action in the years to come.

In August, Karanja celebrated her 50th birthday in Nairobi with close friends and business associates. In many ways, it was a tribute to the milestones she reached in the industry.

“I don’t feel old,” says Karanja. Where most women would have contemplated slowing down after 50, Karanja does not see retirement anywhere on the radar. If anything, the game has only begun.

In January, her brewery in Naivasha will increase capacity by 10 times in a $100 million expansion plan. Where currently it manufactures 60,000 bottles a day, the upgraded facility will produce 600,000 bottles, as Karanja stridently looks to widen her reach in the rest of East Africa and increase her market share to 20%.

Her top-sellers are Summit Lager and Summit Malt, which started production in 2008 as “naturally-brewed, sugar-free, and hygienic alternatives” targeting consumers in the low-end alcohol market that could not afford elite brands or were more dependent on illicit brews.

Today, it is clear Kenya’s social climbers want more. Business is anything but flat.

“We are launching another beer brand in the next six months. I want the Summit brand to be all over Africa. The brand should live beyond my time,” says Karanja.

Beer or paint?

Karanja’s story is one of resilience and determination. Her first job was with the Ministry of Tourism in Kenya. Thereafter, her maiden business venture, with husband Joseph Karanja, was a hardware store, which she ran for 10 years. She wanted to diversify, and began searching the market for ideas, which is when she saw a gap in the beer market. Her other option was to sell paint, but she thought: “How often will a man paint his house? I have to go in for fast-moving consumer goods.”

With a paltry KSh200,000 ($2,200) from her savings and the 30 acres of land in Naivasha that she owned, in 1998, she started manufacturing fortified wines from a one-room facility. After 10 years in the wine and spirit business, she entered the beer market with the Summit brand.

“People were left to drinking anything that was available in the villages. I came up with a product that was affordable, hygienic and met international standards,” says Karanja.

The challenges were many, as it took a whole year – and several desperate trips to the financing banks – before the brand finally gained traction.

“We didn’t have anyone’s support. People did not understand there could be another brewery in this country. We had to fight and break that monopoly by not giving up, and believing that if multinationals can do it, so can we, as it’s good for the country, and good for Africa, so we can create jobs. There was no looking back.”

Over the years, Karanja has taken on the might of the competitors and the many “smear campaigns” against her, but did she face any setbacks for being a woman?

“I guess I am one of the few lucky women in business. I have never had to face discrimination. People don’t see me as a woman, they see me as an entrepreneur. I believe in myself, and believe in whatever I am doing.”

This belief is an attribute she intends imparting to the next generation of Kenyan business leaders. In May this year, her company launched the Keroche Foundation to train and mentor upcoming entrepreneurs and small business owners. Her company employs over 300 people and gives back to the community through youth education.

The young ones in her own family are taking her cue. Karanja’s 26-year-old daughter Anerlisa Muigai is following in her mother’s footsteps. After a marketing degree in London, Muigai returned to Nairobi last year to launch Executive, a line of still bottled water for a niche market.

“I have always looked up to my mother. She has been my biggest inspiration, she gives me hope in so many ways,” says the young entrepreneur. “She is a successful businesswoman because she never gives up. She conquers every goal, is a go-getter and very smart. I like that she comes home and does not make the house an office.”

Karanja agrees that for a woman juggling work and family, there are immeasurable sacrifices to be made every day.

“Being at the top, you have to balance it all. When you sleep, you are so tired, because you have made sure everything has gone right, that you have fed your family, and you have given time for your business. It’s difficult as there are sacrifices you make, like giving up on your sleep. I sleep after midnight, and wake at six.

“Every day after work, I take a Summit Malt. It does not give you a hangover, it’s good for the body,” she says. Even at home, Karanja cannot stay without endorsing the brand she is so passionate about.


How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires



One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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The Sun King Bows Out: Legendary Hotelier Sol Kerzner Has Died



Solomon (Sol) Kerzner, one of the world’s most innovative hoteliers, founder of the Southern Sun hotel group, Sun International and Kerzner International, has died of cancer surrounded by his family at the Kerzner family home, Leeukoppie Estate, in Cape Town, South Africa. Always a maverick, Kerzner was a titan of the hotel and resort industry who redefined the scale and scope of integrated destination resorts worldwide. He was 84.

The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1935. The youngest of four and the only son, Sol was a working class boy from a rough neighbourhood but he would grow up to become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in South Africa. Having founded the country’s two largest hotel groups — Southern Sun and Sun International — Kerzner would go on to achieve international prominence with groundbreaking resorts that helped transform the tourism industries not only of his home country but of Mauritius, The Maldives, The Bahamas, Dubai and other important international destinations.

Kerzner’s career in hospitality began in 1962 when he decided to leave the accounting profession and purchased The Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa. Kerzner quickly transformed this rundown establishment into one of the most popular hotels in the area, a success that whetted Sol’s insatiable appetite for innovation and demonstrated a trademark ingenuity that would define his 60-year career.

Kerzner’s most monumental and controversial achievement was the creation of Sun City.  Here, in an area north of Johannesburg where there were no roads and no infrastructure, Sol imagined and delivered the most ambitious resort project in all of Africa. Commencing work in 1975, over the next ten years, Kerzner built four hotels, a man-made lake, two Gary Player golf courses, and an entertainment center with an indoor 6,000-seat arena, which played host to a world-class roster of artists including Queen, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Shirley Bassey, as well as huge world title fights, and many other spectacular events. Once again, Kerzner defied the naysayers to train a best of breed workforce and to operate Sun City on a totally non-racial basis. Even the most cynical of visiting overseas journalists had to concede defeat in trying to find racism behind the operation of the vast resort.

Sol is survived by his children Andrea, Beverley, Brandon and Chantal and ten grandchildren. His eldest son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner died in 2006.

Sol Kerzner will be buried at a small, private funeral with only immediate family in attendance.

Back in 2014, the Sun King was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa for the 3rd Anniversary Issue of the magazine.

In 2018 he was honored with the Life Time Achievement award at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLAs).

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The French Silhouette In Africa: How This Designer Started Her Own Business Despite A Shortage Of Funds



From glamorous Paris to gritty Johannesburg, Zazi Nyandeni arrived with $2,700 and updated sartorial skills to showcase haute couture on South Africa’s racks and runways.

With just $2,700 in her bank, transferred from her savings account in France, Zazi Nyandeni returned home to the South African fashion industry with her freshly-minted talent. But if Paris was school, Johannesburg proved to be university. Qualifying was never easy.

About 53kms from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is Constantia Kloof, a scenic, upmarket suburb in the West Rand, where we meet Nyandeni, the up-and-coming 25-year-old fashion entrepreneur whose brand, Zazi Luxury, has showcased in Paris, the fashion capital of the world.

“I wasn’t really introduced to fashion, but more so to art,” recalls Nyandeni of her early days. “Ever since primary school, I was exposed to paintings, drawings and music by my father when he would come back with artworks from his travels.”

She thought she was going to become a doctor growing up because of her choice of subjects in high school but still pursued design to stay close to art. Thankfully, her parents picked up that she was artistically-inclined and gave her their unstinted support.

In 2013, after high school, Nyandeni took the plane out of South Africa and went on to study fashion at ESMOD, an international fashion design and business school in Paris. She wanted to express herself without saying a word, and found her way. She spent close to six years there, studying full-time for the first three years and partially for the last two, whilst freelancing and interning for various companies in the glitzy city.

“I love to draw and not really to sew. For my first freelance job, I went for a company that would help me work on my weaknesses; I went to Loon Paris boutique and worked on my sewing techniques. They were very strict and meticulous when it came to sewing and I learned a lot about technique,” she says.

The intense training meant that even the inside of a garment had to be as exquisite as the outside and if the hand stitch was incorrect, she had to undo and redo it all over again.

READ MORE: Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’

“When I asked ‘aren’t we wasting material’, they would say ‘I’m wasting their time’,” she laughs.

The eager fashionista was juggling two jobs; the other was at a PR agency named DLX Paris, which was sourcing brands for international celebrities like American singer-songwriter Kelly Rowland.

She soon came to a realization that in fashion, there is nothing new, which is when she moved to fabric store Boutique Malhia Kent, a French manufacturer of haute couture.

Nyandeni has a soft spot for weaving. She clearly adores fabrics, and this is apparent in the weaving machine she has at her Constantia Kloof studio, placed in a corner of one of the work rooms.

She says her weaving differentiates her from the other designers, as she compares herself to South Africa’s Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa Africa and Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou.

“You can make a silhouette similar to somebody else but the real interesting part is the fabric, so Malhia Kent deals with fabric customization, and this is where I learned that in the world of fabric, you are two years ahead of the industry; like Chanel orders their fabric from Malhia Kent,” she says.

That was the space she wanted to be in.

So in between jobs, Nyandeni co-founded Garbage, a business that looked into environment-friendly garments.

“We wanted to speak on the notations of how do we pick up the fashion industry and say that there are other ways to look glamorous and chic and it doesn’t have to be wasteful and terrible to the environment.”

The business ran for a year and sold a few garments, but sadly, collapsed. That inspired the birth of an idea, one that would solely work for her, a business that would include all that she had learned from fashion school and the stylish streets of Paris. She had also personally worked with Katrantzou, building a portfolio and a first collection. She was ready and had under $2,700 in savings.

READ MORE: Owning The African Narrative

Nyandeni returned home to South Africa and registered her company in 2018.

“In my heart, I thought I was going to be able to buy sewing machines and a small car to travel back and forth for business, be able to get staple fabrics that people would love,” she says.

It was not the case, but she started the business despite a shortage of funds.

“I called it Zazi Luxury because it speaks to more of the inside and outside of a garment and the technique used which is the core of the business. The inside is about matching the outside; I should literally be able to wear it inside out, and if not, it’s not [a Zazi Luxury product].”

Her first client was South African comedienne Tumi Morake referred by a mutual friend, and later actress Zenande Mfenyana, but currently, her clients are also doctors, lawyers and drawn from the corporate world.

“In the beginning, the business was focused on couture and it developed a bit more into business such as television, dressing anchors, and we also have ready-to-wear garments. We are broadening the business to other boutiques too.”

Zazi Luxury recently showcased at South Africa Fashion Week. This year, she will be working on a fourth collection that will be both couture and basic women’s workwear garments but featuring the Zazi aesthetic.

Zazi Luxury currently employs seven young enthusiastic fashionistas; one of who is Lebohang Ketlele, who has worked with Nyandeni for two years.

“I am a dressmaker and stylist. I don’t think I would know the things I know now if I wasn’t working here, we have dressed celebrities and that is a great experience,” attests Ketlele.

Inspired in Paris, but made in Africa, Zazi seems to have made the cut.

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