Tribute: Chris Kirubi, ‘the man the myth the legend’
This afternoon the country and indeed the entire East Africa region is in shock following the death of Dr. Chris Kirubi, 90; billionaire entrepreneur and media owner.
His passing was announced by Capital FM, one of the businesses he owned, citing family sources. According to the family, he passed away at home “after a long battle with cancer.”
Several Kenyan leaders, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have eulogized the industrialist as an astute businessman.
But who was this man Chris Kirubi?
Chris Kirubi or DJ CK as he was at times known, was the Chairman of Capital Group, which owns Capital FM. This was however just one of his numerous investments. Others were Centum Investment Bank and Haco Industries. He was also said to have significant interests in Two Rivers Mall, Nairobi Bottlers, International Life House and DHL Worldwide Express Limited being part of the 24 companies he owns.
He was an employer to some 1,603 people and held a portfolio valued at KES 500 million, according to his website.
I grew up poor. So I always dreamt from very early on that one day I’d make it. I believed in myself. I was disciplined.Dr Chris Kirubi
While these are the sort of achievements that would make one think they have made it in life, DJ CK did not think of himself as successful. Even in his ‘death bed’, he was still dreaming.
During a 2020 interview with Business Daily writer Jackson Biko (Biko Zulu), he said he was not done working, he was even doing more in his frail health.
“I’m not yet successful. I have a dream. I still have more hills to climb. I work more now in my home than I worked in the office. I have five to six meetings in a day. Many people come to see me because I’m sick. My people want to come and consult with me. I still run my companies. I’ve never switched off,” he said.
Chris Kirubi was born in a poor family. Both of his parents died when he was young. He began work while still in school, working during school holidays to support himself and his siblings. In previous interviews, he has narrated how he went to school barefoot.
His humble beginnings did not however come between him and academic excellence. He was an alumnus of the INSEAD Institute in France, Handles University in Sweden and Harvard Business School, USA.
Upon graduation, his first job was as a salesman, selling and repairing gas cylinders for Shell, the petroleum conglomerate.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, DJ CK worked as an Administrator at Kenatco, a government-owned transportation company. Starting around 1971, he began buying run-down buildings in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, renovating them and either selling the renovated structures or renting them out.
He also began acquiring prime land in and around Nairobi and proceeded to erect rental and other commercial properties, using loans from Kenyan financial institutions.
Job satisfaction does not come from doing easy work but from the achievement of a difficult task that required our best.Dr Chris Kirubi
In acknowledgement of his contributions to the field of entrepreneurship, he was conferred with an Honorary Philosophical Doctorate in Entrepreneurship by the SMA University, Switzerland.
According to the 2011 Forbes annual rankings of Africa’s richest people in Kenya, Kirubi was ranked the second richest man in Kenya and 31st richest in Africa with a net worth of USD 300 million in the inaugural ranking of Africa’s 40 richest people. He ranked behind only the Kenyatta family, who were ranked richest in Kenya in 2011 with a net worth of USD 500 million.
Still he did not consider himself as someone who had made it. “I’m still trying to make it. I’m building my dream house. I built this house we’re sitting in 30 years ago. I bought this land when this area had only white settlers. Roger Whittaker’s (who sang “My Land is Kenya”) parents lived across the bottom of my plot. ” he told Biko.
Marriage is an enslavement. It is a permanent affair where you are jailed for life.Dr Chris Kirubi
Whittaker, Cliff Richard and US President Joe Biden among other international celebrities have been hosted at his Nairobi home.
DJ CK was a lover of music. It is this passion that made him buy Capital FM where he even had a stint occasionally hosting the midmorning show.
“I loved music and when the Capital opportunity came, I did not think twice about it,” he told Daniel Ndambuki during a recent interview. “While others were bargaining, I went in and paid the amount they wanted,” he says.
He bought the station from Linda Holt and immediately changed the station’s music to appeal to a much younger population.
Kirubi was passionate about mentoring young people and teaching them about business management. Among his proteges is Centum Investment Bank CEO James Mworia, who is ranked among Kenya’s top five most paid CEOs.
“Investing in young people is like harvesting young fruits which take time to ripen, that is one thing. The other thing is that they are ready to convert, to learn…my life is with young people, I employ young people,” he told Ndambuki.
Despite the billions, in his own words, he was not obsessed with money. He gave a lot of what he made doing the things he loved to charity.
If you have local medical insurance, the card you use and the system your hospital uses to access your insurance details was built by his ICT company, Smart Applications International Limited.
Be brave enough to go after what you want, because if you don’t, you’ll never have it.Dr chris Kirubi
He however says, it is not without favor from God. “Without God’s will I could not be who I am today. It took me many months lying in bed sick to believe that God is most powerful. And it’s a shame we always go to God when we need Him, but God will never turn you away because you came to Him later rather than earlier. God is merciful and forgiving,” he says in the interview.
DJ CK’s life was not without it’s share of controversy. He is accused of having a hand the collapse of Uchumi, Kenatco and Kenya Airways where he held considerable shares.
Even though after several operations and a prolonged battle with cancer, death was inevitable, the business mogul was not afraid to go.
“Death is rest. A rest from daily hustles. This is something that is irreversible. You’re born, you grow, you die. In the end, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter the age or what you do to try and elongate your life. But at the same time, nobody wants to die.”