Interview With The Star Newspaper

The Chancellor, Dr Manu Chandaria, speaks to Ramadhan Rajab of The Star Newspaper, about wealth creation for the country, education, EAC integration and reasons for his philanthropic work.

Tell us a bit about Manu Chandaria.

I am looking after the family businesses in East Africa, but I also participate in supervising family business in 11 countries in East and Southern Coast of Africa starting from Ethiopia to South Africa. My family is made up of 65 members who operate from London, Geneva, Nairobi, Singapore to Toronto where the families live and our businesses are spread over 40 countries in the world.

What do these companies deal with?

I chair Mabati Rolling Mills Ltd, Kaluworks Ltd in Kenya, Alaf Ltd in Tanzania and Uganda Baati Ltd in Uganda. These are flagship companies of the group in East Africa.

How did you start your first business and when was this?

Ours is a family business. I came back to Mombasa after my masters degree in engineering at an USA University in 1955. My brother and two cousins, Keshav, Kantiand Kapoor, with various educational backgrounds also returned to Mombasa. Our family had two businesses, one in Nairobi providing wholesale services to many retail shops throughout Kenya. The second business was Kaluworks plant in Mombasa. It was established in 1929 and was the major supplier of aluminium pots and pans in Kenya and Tanganyika till World War Two. Over the years other younger members of the family finished their education in UK and or United States also joined the business. It was a small business with only 40 employees and five members of the family. When we came back after our education, we were of two minds, of starting our own business or work in the family business. After considering our parents who gave us the opportunity to go to the university for higher education, who had struggled after settling down in Kenya since 1915, we felt we could not disappoint them and ruin their dreams. We should join them and grow the business. Under the guidance of my two elder brothers Devchand and Ratilal we all put our effort to grow the small company and within the first five years we had five hundred people working. By 1958 Kaluworks had 800 people working. After independence we had to set up our companies in separate countries. We started with Tanganyika and subsequently got ourselves established in Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Burundi. By 1965 we became an East African group with manufacturing facility in six countries. After our success in neighbouring countries, we felt that if we can do this in this region, then why we could not venture outside the region. Some members of the family were sent to UK, and Switzerland, others were sent to Singapore and Canada and today we are in 40 countries manufacturing. Today we have the fourth generation involved in business. It took lot of efforts and planning and being a joint family it was possible.

Tell us a bit about your family, and how you met your wife?

My wife is Aruna. She is from a Kenyan family and our families were partners in business until 1947. My wife’s elder sister was already married to my elder brother. Both families had a very close relationship. She has been a strong support to me in what I do. She with other women of our family have been instrumental in our rapid progress. It is the womenfolk who keep the family together. I got married in 1955. We have two children, a daughter Priti who lives in Switzerland; and have a granddaughter Nahema who is studying at Columbia University in New York doing her MBA. While studying she works for an art gallery and has started her own little business, Art Remba. My son lives in Singapore married to Aarti and we have two granddaughters, Ayushi now 15, an excellent swimmer and she represents Kenya in international swimming championship. This year in April we were in Zambia for a swimming competition where she got a silver and a bronze medal for Kenya. Though she lives in Singapore she is proud of being a Kenyan. She has been selected to swim in Dubai in August this year at the world junior swimming championship. To us it is a great achievement. She makes us proud. Our second granddaughter is Nirali, academically bright and at her age she writes well. She writes excellent poems.

Which of your companies do you have a soft spot for?

Kaluworks and Mabati, because everyone in the East African Community uses its products sufurias and mabati roofing sheets. Both products are essential. Two out of three people’s needs in life which is food, clothes and shelter. Sufuria for cooking food and mabati for roofing.

You were among the first members of your family to go to America in early 1950s, how did it happen? How did it impact on your life?

In my family my father studied up to three standards in vernacular while my mother was illiterate. The family was poor. They only spoke vernacular Gujarati, while my mother started reading and writing in vernacular at the age of 55. They strongly felt that the future of their children would not be any better than theirs, unless they got educated. To them it was the only way to get the family out of the poverty. To me education plays an important role in the life of a person on his own evolution and because of education we are where we are today.

When you left Kenya in 1951 and now how has the country changed?

There were very few industries at that time. We were amongst the pioneers because of our partnership in the field of industries. It was the rule by the Colonial Government. It was difficult to operate, but we had a vision and we put in hard work. Today things are much better in terms of possible growth but yet all the governments in the last 50 years have put very little to support growth of the industrial sector. With the new Constitution, the new government and the young President and his deputy, who have shown willingness that they would make sure that all efforts are put to achieve Vision 2030, it seems a reality. I was one of the architects of Vision 2030. We hope that it happens. I have the good feeling that it will happen.

You have been an industrialist all your life. What are your observations on the recent complaints from employers and other sector players that universities and other institutions of higher learning are churning out graduates with irrelevant skills or skills that do not match the market demands ?

That is a correct observation and should be a concern to everyone who cares about the future of this country. I am Chancellor of two universities –Technical University of Kenya and the United States International University (USIU). I have also been sitting on University of Nairobi Council for the last 20years as a representative of Gandhi Memorial Academy Society, who were the pioneers in building the first institution of higher learning in Kenya. I have tried to explain to the universities that there is huge gap in understanding of what market wants and what the universities are supplying. Now it is dawning on everyone that this needs to be put right.

This is not a good situation and we must move away from this model. Industries and other sectors are now pushing very hard to build a relationship with universities. It takes two hands to clap. On one hand it takes the willingness of employers to allow university students to get on the job training. Similarly universities have to align their curriculum to market demands. Otherwise we will continue to have many graduates pacing our streets, as they have no useful role to play. Unless we shift and focus on providing the practical training on the job, we will not be able to attain our Vision 2030 which requires us to be a middle income earning country.

What should universities adopt especially in the curriculum to bring this meeting of minds? And are there models you will propose for Kenya to emulate?

The schools should know where the jobs are and what the jobs demand and train their students towards that direction, so as when they are out they can fit in easily. Those mandated with preparing the curriculum as well as those in charge of quality assurance should ensure that the set standards are followed. Today we have over six million youths; secondary school leavers, skill trained, university graduates pacing streets of Kenya. Neither government nor the private sector can employ such a large number of people.There are more chances of properly trained manpower to get the place in the growing economy. Government must create an environment where the people will have space, finance to start on their own and be employers rather than being employed. This would need the rightly trained people to set up their own business.

In South East Asia many countries have built huge infrastructure in laying small and medium size manufacturing and processing areas, with all the infrastructures like roads, power, water and buildings so that the graduating students can borrow money, to buy equipment from institutions and be in business without losing time. They would have gone through the training in industries and businesses, would have a lot more chances of survival. Many rights of an individual are enshrined in our new Constitution. Similarly, right to earn a living should be one of them. Today we do not have an enabling environment to support any business set up, however small it can be. If this can be changed then we will have a much faster growth of our economy. If employment is not available then self-employment should be a route for them. There could be a huge rise in production and processing. Many countries have done it and surely it can be repeated successfully in Kenya.

You have been spending millions in putting up state-of-art buildings in our universities, stocking libraries and other projects. Why are you doing this?

Some may argue that instead of spending such money on independent universities why can’t you just start up your own universities that should serve as a model for what you envisage as a centre of excellence?

We have a job as industrialists to run our industries well, and our mandate is to do good for the community. We have some excellent institutions with lot of capabilities. By inciting them with clear vision, by adding new thinking and changing their mindset, we can go a long way in achieving our goals. We do not have knowledge of running an educational institution of higher learning. But we can support them to put in some essential inputs, which can make a major shift in the growth and the quality of the institution. Ours is to add value to their work. The Chandaria Foundation felt that the best thing is to extend help. With that thought in mind, we have endowed Chandaria School of Business at USIU, Chandaria Business Innovation, and Incubation Centre at Kenyatta University. We are now working on another project with the University of Nairobi. Our flagship company has built The Mabati Technical Institute at Mariakani where we have 100 students graduating yearly after a two-year course in technical training with the government of Kenya Certificate. This has been a very successful project.

We cannot do everything but we can help as much as we can. If we decide to go the route of building our own University, we won’t be able to reach as many people as we are doing now. Our help is also an example that we want others to follow. Kenya has many multimillionaires. We have a large diaspora some doing very well in many parts of the world. We have many international companies headquartered in Nairobi and involved in major local operations. If as many of them can be a part of this model, we will bring lot of change in our educational institutions. Each group will bring their experience and make a lasting change. We need new vigor, new thinking and practical and pragmatic ways to meet our aspirations. The family established The Chandaria Foundation back in 1956 with a clear vision, that as the family expands in new ventures and creates wealth, it would make a part of the wealth available for the community where they operate. That is what we call corporate social responsibility. But we have done more than just that. We thought of helping institutions by taking interest in them, build their capacities that can help others.

What would you say are your other triumphs?

For the last 30 years the foundation has supported hundreds of secondary school children especially the girl child through their bursary programme. The foundation is also very active in the field of health. We have helped the Nairobi Hospital one of the best hospitals in the Eastern Africa by helping them to build the Chandaria Accident and Emergency Centre and day theatres and a similar facility at Pandya Hospital in Mombasa. We have recently supported to set up at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital a Chandaria Medical Centre. It houses the outpatient department with many specialised clinics, facilities for Radiology, CT scan and MRI. It has the most modern ICU –Intensive Care Unit and the HDU- High Dependency Unit. We like the model of Gertrude’s Hospital,who have built ten clinics around Nairobi where children are attended to and if they need specialised investigations and hospital stay then they are brought to the hospital, making it truly the children’s referral hospital.

We have helped build medical clinics like Chandaria MIHV Health Centre in Dagoreti and Mjiwa Haruma Health Centre in Runda. We also helped build a clinic in the Industrial Area.We have helped to build more than a dozen rural clinics in the country. Our flagship company Mabati has built a Mabati Medical Centre at Mariakani. It has a curative wing and we are now thinking of extending the services by putting up Pre Natal, Anti Natal and planned parenthood clinics. Plans are also on hand to put up a diagnostic center. We have with the collaboration of Bomu set up a HIV and Aids clinic. Mariakani is the second biggest centre in Kenya for transmission of HIV and Aids. The family philosophy is that, we are not the owners of the wealth we make,but we are the trustees of that wealth and must use some of it to better the life of others.

How would you like to be remembered?

We would like to be remembered as a family who made a difference in people’s lives and the example should be emulated by others. I have been chairman of Rotary Club of Nairobi, founding chairman of of East African Business Council (EABC), founding chairman of Kenya Private Sector Alliance(KEPSA) and many others. Leaders in business should take a cue from my family. It is the deeds, which will be remembered, not the wealth.

You spoke about Vision 2030, and 17 years to the dateline are we on track to reach there?

Clear and strong economic agenda will get us there. We should not only be thinking about six per cent economic growth. The President and his deputy should drop the political rhetoric and attend to building the economy. They are new but their focus should be on ways of creating wealth, and leave the politics on one side, put their energies in creating new environment which can create employers and not mere employees. A better incentive for investments and hustle-free life for people to work and earn a leaving. All Kenyans should as well join in this endeavour, as to leave it only to the government alone is not the answer.

What do you consider as the key sectors of the economy that will enable Kenya meet the targets in the 17 years left?

The key sectors are agriculture, tourism, industries, and the service industry which encompasses education, health and infrastructure.

We have seen so many protocols ratified to enhance East African integration, but even though the decisions are made by the heads of state, back in their countries the individual heads of state are unable to implement the agreements. Why do you think this is?

There are a lot of challenges and unless the five heads of state decide both in talking and walking the talk, we will not be able to grow the way we want to. This needs strong political leadership. The East African Community integration is very delicate and difficult to achieve unless some of the leaders take a strong lead, use of diplomacy and meetings as often as need be. Bilateral, trilateral discussions are going to be the key to drive the full integration. EAC requires a driver who we don’t have at present and we wish that our President would take the lead to drive the EAC agenda.

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