The business community pay tribute to the late tycoon’s success story, ranked by Forbes as one of the richest Kenyans with a net worth of about US$300 million
Dr Kirubi  who passed away on 14 June 2021 after a long battle with cancer, was buried today at his Bendor Farm in Murang’a County, about 50km outside the capital Nairobi
NAIROBI, Kenya: Top business executives from companies associated with the late Kenya’s tycoon Dr Chris Kirubi, have paid a glowing tribute to the man they fondly referred to as their Chairman, saying that his demise is a great loss to the Kenyan and wider East Africa business community.
The executives who spoke yesterday during a memorial service at Faith Evangelistic Ministry (FEM) Church in Karen Nairobi, and attended by the late Dr Kirubi’s family, relatives, and friends, echoed same sentiments saying that he has left behind a powerful legacy, hence it is their duty to follow his footsteps and vision for the growth and prosperity of the business and the country Kenya and beyond.
Here are excerpts from their tributes:
Xavier Selga, MD, Nairobi Bottlers /Coca Cola Africa
As Chairman of the Board, we will dearly remember him as a man of vision, great intellect and purpose. We deeply treasured his wise counsel and deep business expertise which he shared unreservedly with us. We achieved many milestones, including the significant investment Hotfill Juice Line at Nairobi Bottlers in 2018, which came to fruition with the strong support of Dr. Kirubi.
I came to Kenya two years ago to take leadership of CCBA Kenya. And I am grateful for the time that I interacted with the Chairman, at the Board and on a personal level. I valued those moments, with the Chairman, discussing matters concerning the business and other topics of great interest.
He was a visionary who foresaw trends and had the ability to understand the issues. His knowledge, candor and judgement proved invaluable. He was committed to ensuring that matters that came before the Board were resolved in a fair and equitable manner. He was a true leader.
The Chairman’s passing is also a great loss to the Kenyan and wider East Africa business community. With his indomitable spirit and passion, he touched and mentored many people across diverse communities in Kenya and beyond. Chairman, as we all knew him, has truly left behind a powerful legacy; it is our duty to follow his footsteps and vision for the growth and prosperity of the business and the country Kenya.
Joyce Macharia, CEO, Almasi Beverages
For over 28 years interacting with him in the business, he made me realize what greatness God has bestowed upon each one of us. Though very strict and forthright in his approach to business, Dr. Chris had a special and God given way of mentoring those who chanced to get to his business circles.
Dr Chris was gifted in seeing the big picture of a process where many of us could not see. A good example is when he asked our board to get me the best vehicle that there was to facilitate my movements across our market that spread in 27 Counties. At this moment I had no idea how huge a task was entrusted to me.
It gives me comfort and confidence that chairman has not died as his immense works and great deeds shall continue to impact those he influenced and touched forever. One thing is clear though, that as an organization and friends of Dr. Chris, we will forever miss his kindness, love, wisdom, generosity, humility and gratitude. In our hearts we remain grateful to God for a life well lived and the legacy left behind. Our challenge remains to sustain his great legacy in our areas of influence, to continue living the values he stood for.
Robert Bunyi, Chairman, Nabo Capital
Some are lucky to live long accomplished lives and in that life journey demonstrate to us what is the true limit of our possibilities through sheer determination and grit. Chris Kirubi, was more like a marathon runner than a sprinter. He kept his eye on the prize having visualised it long before it was clear to many around him.
He was generous in many ways not obvious to the public, particularly to the next generation in which he invested so much and opened opportunity for. Out of this desire to draw inspiration from and to inspire the youth I came to know Chris and for a time to work closely with him.
A true believer in dreaming big and to never allow your current circumstance to hold you back, Chris inspired many to just give it a shot, a real honest e ort in return for a handsome well deserved reward and the satisfaction of living a full life. Chris has shone as a bright light up ahead illuminating a path for many, that light may have now dimmed but the path is lit is firmly etched in our collective minds in celebration of the man he was and what he meant to us all.
Rita Kavache, MD, Isuzu
Chris participated in significant moments of our company such as during the visit by former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete in October 2015. In a memorable and spontaneous gesture of generosity, Dr Kirubi donated a locally assembled mobile clinic to President Kikwete to support the medical requirements of rural Tanzanians. This went a long way to strengthen the company’s relations with the Tanzanian government.
Chris was an active participant during our transition from General Motors to Isuzu East Africa, attending the change of shareholding announcement in February 2017.
He alsomore at our Plant in June 2019 during a visit by then Cabinet Secretary for Industry, Trade and Cooperatives Hon Peter Munya. Despite his declining health, Chris surprised many when he accompanied the Cabinet Secretary around the Plant explaining the company’s role in growing the country’s manufacturing sector through local assembly.
His energy and zest for life was an inspiration for many Kenyans right to the end of his illustrious business career. As Chairman of Capital FM, he endeared himself to many of us when he occasionally hosted radio shows as the popular “DJ CK”. Chris was truly an exceptional business leader who will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
Chege Thumbi, MD, Sidian Bank
Dr. Kirubi has been a part of Sidian Bank for a long time not only as a long-serving Director of Centum Investment Company, which has been the majority shareholder of Sidian Bank Limited since 2014, but also as an invaluable customer of the Bank. As a bank, we have shared a cordial relationship and have received immense support from Dr. Kirubi individually and through his various businesses over the years.
We have all known and admired Dr. Kirubi for his impeccable business acumen, as a seasoned entrepreneur who has over the years been at the fore front in the establishment of some of Kenya’s large companies, contributing greatly to the economic development of this country and consequently creating employment opportunities for thousands of Kenyans.
Many of us will attest to Dr. Kirubi’s distinct passion for entrepreneurship and selfless mentorship that he has provided either individually through personal interactions as well as through various platforms. We will remember Dr. Kirubi as an iconic Kenyan business figure, an advocate for entrepreneurship, with a zeal that has undeniably inspired many entrepreneurs and businesses over the years, including Sidian Bank, a bank whose core mission has been to support entrepreneurs in Kenya.
Kennedy Mbae, MD, Vipingo
Chairman was a pace setter in the business world, while it is the right time to mourn, I choose to celebrate a business giant who brought out the best of his employees, colleagues, and Kenya. Chris was never short of nuggets of wisdom, we learnt so much from him and several generations will continue to learn from his rich and admirable legacy.
Chairman taught us many things about life and business. As I reflect, I believe we can implement lessons from Chairman’s life and apply them to sustainably grow his legacy of transforming lives and inspiring millions through business.
Chairman had a way of simplifying the most complex business ideas, then explaining them in the most basic form that would be understood by all. A classic example is the simplification of the complex desalination solution to simply find a water technology to extract salt from sea water and pipe that water to homes in Vipingo and the community, Now, we have the largest plant in region providing 3 million litres.
He created and shared value with his team and communities where he did business. We now have 250 kids on scholarship who would otherwise not have joined high school. In ten years’, time we will have over 1,000 Dr. Kirubi Scholars. Most of us joined the organization walking, now we drive, own homes and businesses. Hopefully in future we will have several versions of Chris, creating enterprises and transforming lives.
Chairman inspired confidence to us all, extended opportunities and listened to our ideas which inspired you to push the limits. “If a billionaire has confidence in you and time to listen to you, why doubt your capabilities”.
Pius Muchiri, MD, Nabo Capital
If I could describe who Dr. Kirubi was to us in 3 words it would be Father, Mentor & Friend. Dr. CK was a brand to behold. I remember taking pictures with my younger sister in the 1980s at theentrance of International House besides the gigantic concrete flower vessels and my mother, in awe,was explaining to usin Kikuyu “Guku ni kwa Kirubi” meaning this iconic building belongs to Kirubi. That was my introduction to the CK brand that has transcended all generations: from our parents’ oldguards generation to the now youthful tweeter generation. He always used to tell me “you people do not appreciate how big my brand is.”
In the world of business, Dr. CK was the giant on whose shoulders we stood on. He saw the potentialin us, he believed in us, he mentored us and proceeded to open doors and platforms that we couldonly dream about. He had a knack for seeing opportunities where none seemed to exist and whenconvicted of an idea, he moved into execution mode with obsession. He lived true to the statement“do not do tomorrow what you can do today.” If he caught an idea, and its execution would involveyou, he’d call you instantly, even at mid- night. If you worked with CK, you had to be available 24/7/365days in a year. As he often said “My work is my Holiday,” work gave him a kick.
What we will probably miss most about him is his problem-solving nature. If you ran into a storm,business or personal, one phone call to Dr. Ck is all you needed to calm your nerves down knowingthat a solution was certainly imminent. I remember many times meeting him two on his cell phones, one on hislandline, one with his PA standing by his desk and one with me sitting on the visitor’s chair. And he would tell me “Pius, keep talking, I am listening.” He would say “Pius, I have only 24 hours” and is not enough.
Fred Murimi, MD, CCAP
one of the things that struck me back then in 2013 and continued to strike me in every interaction with him since, was just how incredibly intelligent and smart the man was. As he was Chairman of my investment committee, often times we would take to him investment ideas and proposals that we had analyzed for days and had put the entire team to work on. On presenting to him, in an instant, he would point out one or two areas that we had not considered and this would force us back to the drawing board. We have learnt a lot from him in the many years that we got to work together. He left me with the distinct conviction that while one may come across billions of shillings in their life time, it takes brains to remain a billionaire. Secondly, I was struck by his resilience. The investment world is a business of buying the future. There are “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”.
The world of investing is fraught with challenges. When things were not going according to plan, as they often would not, Chairman was always there to nudge us on and open doors for us, where necessary. One of the many successes we had was in the privatization of KWAL. To date, KWAL is the only company that has been privatized by the Government of Kenya outside of an IPO. This was largely due to Chairman’s push. Another instance was when we were looking to close an acquisition and required Competition Authority of Kenya approval, one December. It was critical to get the approval that December as our exclusivity period with the seller was going to expire. As fate would have it, the Authority’s board meeting got rescheduled to February of the next year. Rather than give up, Chairman placed one call to someone he had never interacted with before. We go our approval that December.Even at a personal level, his valiant 5 year fight against the cancer in his body would not have lasted that long had it not been for his resilience. He fought and fought hard.
Third, was his hunger. With all his fame and success, one would have thought he would sit back, relax and enjoy life, and go at a slower pace. Not Chairman. He must have read The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). Chairman looked for opportunities everywhere and did not want to miss a single opportunity. I remember one Saturday afternoon, him frantically placing calls to people at Haco because a salon in town had not received a delivery of some haircare products. That delivery was probably a few hundred shillings in profit, which shouldn’t have disrupted a billionaire’s weekend. But not Chairman. No shilling was to be lost. Even when we closed billion shilling worth of exits of our portfolio companies, the celebration with Chairman lasted a minute or two before we quickly moved on to what was next. Almost every conversation he and I had begun with the question “So, what’s happening?”
Samuel Kariuki, MD, Centum Real Estate
In many ways, CK Square and indeed the entire development immortalises Dr Kirubi. Not just because he renders his name to the Square and the Eye of Kenya but because it is a physical manifestation of who CK was – a bold visionary who saw what was not there and wondered ‘why not?’ And from this, what was not there became. Notably, this is the story of CK Square – on an inspection visit to the construction site, he wondered why there shouldn’t be a square above what was then an open round-about. And so CK square came to exist. I knew Chairman as a gentleman of great fortitude who saw obstacles to his bold dreams as simple hurdles to jump over, side-step, or crawl under but no matter what, to keep pushing on towards their realisation.
This square and the towers surrounding it speak to the other Kirubi we in Real Estate knew – Kirubi the Architect. His passion for design and eye for detail have ensured that all our projects bear his mark – from the detail of interior designs to the exterior look & feel and landscape designs. In his last visit to Pearl Marina, he gave us a lengthy and educative discourse on the Benjamina Ficus trees that were dotting the site and why we should uproot them. He had his own recommendations on how we could green the site better or what colours we could adopt for the Mirabella Villas. Such was CK-not the smallest detail could escape him. A good number of us have spent many hours in his house going through the detail of our designs – I used to advise my colleagues to cancel all other plans when planning such visits. The afternoon would definitely turn into an evening. The evening would turn into dinner.
A lot will be said about this Titan in years to come. But behind the larger-than-life persona lay a most humble man who e ortlessly mingled with all, regardless of seniority. He was a man genuinely interested in people. Walking him around this mall was an onerous task of sneaking him away from the crowds that tended to gather around him. Most of us have spent many evenings and weekends in his home and farm – and all you needed was just to turn up, without any formalities. For some of us, his sta had come to know how you like your tea done, testament to a home that had become ‘ours’ in a way and where we were always welcome.
John Ngumi, Board Chairman, ICDC
Chris Kirubi has been eulogised in laudatory terms these last few days. That is as it should be. He was an exceptionally successful businessman, a larger than life presence on Nairobi’s social scene, a bon vivant possessed of exquisite and enviable taste in all things, an erudite conversationalist on a wide range of subjects, an ever present mentor, a generous benefactor to and patron of many. That is the Chris Kirubi eulogised by many.
A smart businessman, yes, But also a nationalist and Pan Africanist. A strategic thinker, much as he tried to hide this side of himself by emphasising and playing up his colourful public persona. A man consumed and driven by his pride in and passion for his people, his unwavering belief that Africans could do it. A man who refused to let the tough cards life had dealt him at birth dominate or determine how his life would unfold.
A Pied Piper, in the best sense of that phrase, who showed us possibilities, and gave aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs the confidence to break out and do their thing. Was he a saint? No. Chris in full business flight was awesome to behold. He took no prisoners, was famously unsentimental about investments, practiced caveat emptor with relish. He enjoyed winning, did not have time for losers. And woe betide anyone who thought he was a soft touch for a donation. He was hard nosed, but hard nosed for the greater good.
So fare the well Christopher John Kirubi. You lived hard and well. You built enterprises employing thousands and adding real value to the economy, lasting reminders of your phenomenal business skills. You had your fair share of errors and missteps along the way. But you stayed the course, guided by your own North Star. When the scales are weighed of all you have done, I am confident you will be judged to have lived honourably, to have lived for a greater purpose, and to have left the world a better place. You were, truly, one of a kind.
James Mworia, Group CEO, Centum
“ One felt that you were in the presence of greatness when you met Christopher John Kirubi po. I have had the blessing and privilege of working with him for 20 years. In that period our relationship transitioned from a boss relationship to that of a mentor, a dear friend and a leader.
Chris was a great man and the words John F Kennedy used in describing Daniel Webster the great mid 19th Century American statesman are extremely accurate in describing Chris. When you met Chris there was no mistaking, he was a great man-he looked like one, talked like one, was treated like one and insisted he was one. Chris had taken the unusual route of business to ascend to the hallowed levels of an elder African statesman. A man who was consulted by the great and humble alike ranging from Presidents, owners of business, moguls, CEO’s, managers and even the youth. I recall on his visit to Ghana he received a reception equivalent to that of a visiting head of state. The same treatment was accorded in his business trips to Mauritius where he served as their Honorary Counsel and many other countries.
For those who knew Chris well he was a force of nature who bent reality to his will. A man who looked as if he had never been born and never could be extinguished. His passing was therefore shocking to many of us who despite being with him for a long period as he battled ill health still clung to hope that he would bend reality once again. Any lesser man would have given in four years ago. But not Chris who to end fought valiantly
The story of Chris is one of resilience, hope, positivity, hard work, big dreams, possibilities and impact. This is a man who rose from a very underprivileged background to achieve the highest pinnacle of success and achievement.
We thank God for the long and wonderful life that Chris had and for the opportunity he granted him to be of service. We are also grateful for the opportunity God gave us to work alongside Chris. While he will be solely missed his impact will be felt for many many generations.
Fare thee well Christopher John Kirubi, fare thee well Chairman. A leader, a friend a mentor to many ”
Last year, Forbes estimated Kirubi’s net worth at $300 million, placing him at number 31 on Forbes’ inaugural list of Africa’s 40 Richest.
The Harvard Business School alumni, was named the second richest Kenyan by Forbes in 2011 in a list topped by the family of the country’s founding leader, the late President Jomo Kenyatta.
Dr Kirubi was the Chairman of Capital Media Group Limited, Haco Industries Limited, Kiruma International Limited, International House Limited, Nairobi [Coca Cola] Bottlers Limited, Sandvik East Africa Limited and DHL Kenya.
The industrialist was also the largest shareholder at Centum Investment, East Africa’s leading investment company listed on the Nairobi and Uganda Securities Exchange.
For more tributes, visit: https://www.chriskirubi.com/
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