Somali Millionaires: Growing up in the rough and dry terrains of the remote village of Girissa Rhamu in Mandera County, Saeed Abdirahman’s life appeared set against all odds.
The fifth born in a family of eight could hardly imagine that he would one day walk away from the ravaging poverty to become a multi-millionaire businessman.
Today, at the age of 34, Saeed is the owner of the Mtwapa Coast Breeze Hotel and the founder and chief executive officer of Mombasa-based logistics company Sidoman Limited.
Although his sleek Range Rover may not betray the hardships Saeed has overcome to be where he is today, the road to success in business and personal life has been anything but a stroll in the park.
- As Mr Saeed told Money, it has taken hard and smart work, and a firm determination to succeed.
“We were not wealthy. My mother owned a few cattle which she traded in to see us through school,” says Saeed, a father of three boys.
After sitting for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 2000 at Sheikh Ali High School and attaining a mean grade of C (minus), Mr Saeed enrolled for a diploma at the Kenya Technical Teachers training College.
“I graduated in 2006 with a diploma in IT,” he says. During this time, only a mere 5 per cent of children made it to college in the Northern Kenya.
“Graduating was a milestone for me, my family and village. It gave me the assurance and confidence that I could break the ceiling and achieve much more,” he says.
His heart was in business and he knew that’s what he would eventually do.
“I could have opted to look for an IT-related job, but my eyes were trained on becoming a top businessman, and to achieve this goal, I had to move from my mother’s nest,” he notes.
Walking to work
He travelled to Mombasa and got a job as a driver. “I rented a single room a few kilometres from my place of work. In order to save, I preferred walking to work instead of using matatus,” he says.
In mid-2007, Mr Saeed quit his job as a driver and started working for shipping and logistics firms at the Port of Mombasa.
“I was first paid in commissions before getting a job as a regular worker,” he says.
However what stood him in good stead for success in business was that he saved almost religiously.
“I saved consistently for three years. Every month, I would set aside between Sh8,000 and Sh10,000. By the end of 2009, I had Sh300,000 in savings,” says Mr Saeed.
However, saving faithfully every month for 36 months was not an easy task. “I had to sacrifice a lot. I couldn’t afford the same luxuries that my working age mates could since I had to pay rent for a single room and cater for all my daily bills.”
His business dream began to take shape when he registered his own logistics business, Sidoman, offering a wide of range of services such as clearing and forwarding, sea and land freight, warehousing and cargo handling.
“I was convinced that there was enough space for me to thrive in the shipping and logistics business,” he says.
Interestingly, although the Sh300,000 he had saved was not enough to put his new start-up on a solid foundation, he did not take a bank loan to boost his business.
“I had problems getting adequate capital when I started, but taking a bank loan was not an option. Neither has it ever been for me,” he says.
Mr Saeed’s Islamic faith prohibits him from taking bank loans that attract interest. He therefore opted for small debts from his fellow Muslim friends which he would pay without interest.
“These (loans) enabled me to stay afloat and continue looking for business,” he says.
In the early months after starting his company, the entrepreneur operated from his briefcase and mobile phone.
“I had no office or car with which to run my business. Sometimes I would get a good deal and due to my limited resources, I would refer it to established logistics businesses in exchange for commission,” he says.
However, in 2010, Mr Saeed set up his offices in Mombasa town as his business started looking up. And Since then, the sky has been the limit for him.
In 2014, six years after starting his logistics business, the businessman decided to diversify into the hotel and catering industry. He bought the Mtwapa Coast Breeze Hotel in Kilifi County at Sh75 million and renovated it to be the sparkling facility it is today. The two-star hotel has 34 furnished apartments.
Mr Saeed has employed 30 people at his logistics firm on a full-time basis, and another 20 workers at the hotel.
He says to get the best from employees, you have to motivate them and impart in them virtues such as hard work.
“My former employers taught me virtues of instilling work discipline and motivation in employees, and these are the ideals I strive to pass on to my workers so that tomorrow, they can walk in my shoes,” he says.
Interestingly, at a time when many people are avoiding from the tough road of painstakingly building wealth in favour of get-rich-quick schemes or corrupt dealings, Mr Saeed says that he has had zero scandals or court cases on his path to business success.
“Above all, I am happy to be a clean book so far,” he says with a smile. Somali Millionaires. Somali Millionaires. Somali Millionaires.