Jimnah Mbaru Biography: Investment banker Jimnah Mbaruis currently in the news after making some Sh. 900 million from a share sale deal. Interestingly, Mr. Mbaru made double the profit that any ordinary investor would have made after selling his Britam shares. He sold the shares at Sh. 17 while ordinary shares are currently trading at around Sh. 8 apiece. This is the latest astute move by the billionaire. But how did Mr. Mbaru get to the top?
While he remains largely away from the public eye, he has previously given interviews on his journey to the top. One such interview was with the Business Daily. According to this interview, Mr. Mbaru chooses to define himself as a true entrepreneur who invests in opportunities that he sees in the financial sector.
His time is split between serving on corporate boards in various capacities, and while some might consider his a rather full plate, the business magnate is still able to work as chairman and chief executive at the Dyer and Blair investment bank, where he owns a majority stake.
Jimnah Mbaru Biography: Maximise
“A person who is always busy has time to do things. Twenty-four hours is a lot of time, you just have to maximise on opportunities and try to create time for everything, including family,” he says of his busy schedule, adding that he takes a proactive approach to all his appointments and deals with matters as they arise.
While the last 40 plus years of his working life have made him the man he is today, Mbaru’s journey has not been an easy one. Born of peasant parents in Murang’a in the late 1940s, he endeavoured to excel in education which he considered as his only way out of poverty.
Even as a young boy, he began sharpening his entrepreneurial skills. While in primary school, he used to deal with scrap metal to make a little money. When he joined Kirogo Secondary in 1963, he turned to a more lucrative venture of fast moving goods popular among his peers.
“In high school, I traded in scones buying 15 for a shilling then selling each for ten cents. I would make 50 per cent profit. As a student at the university, I used to trade in the Nairobi Securities Exchange and also lend students money,” he says, adding that he dabbled in metal trading while pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration, selling mainly gold and silver.
Jimnah Mbaru Biography: Civil servant
After finishing his BCom degree at the University of Nairobi in 1971, Mbaru served as a civil servant in various capacities before leaving for the private sector nine years later.
“I left the government when I already had an MBA from Switzerland in 1978. At that time, the fashionable thing to do after that was either to go into consulting or investment banking. A few people went into manufacturing but I opted to go into investment banking because there were only a few stock brokers and no real investment banking taking place,” he says.
Starting out, he set up several banks – Jimba Credit Corporation Limited, Union Bank Of Kenya Limited and the Kenya Savings & Mortgages Limited, all of which were taken over by former president Daniel arap Moi’s regime as a way to regulate the banking industry.
“Moi’s era was anti-business. It was filled with hostility towards African entrepreneurship. It was a difficult and retrogressive environment where politics interfered with business, unlike Kibaki’s era which was pro-private sector. There was political stability, low interest rates and no political interference with businesses,” he explains.
Stripped of all his ventures, Mbaru found solace in Dyer and Blair Stockbrokers Limited, which he had acquired from the Kenya Commercial Bank for Sh400,000 after the original owner defaulted on a loan and turned it into the leading investment bank that it is today.
“I ventured into investment banking because there was an opportunity in the sector. While there was a lot of stock brokerage, investment banking did not exist. The sector is tied up with economic development and at that time there was no privatisation and neither were companies looking to raise funds.”
Mbaru has also had short stints in politics and after flopping two times, he is reluctant to try again. He says his main reason for taking a stab at politics was to help the country articulate policies which could help it move forward through an institutional framework, though he is quick to note that most people did not seem to like him as a politician.
While running for governor of Nairobi in 2013, his 37-page curriculum vitae found its way around social media circles, drawing critics and admirers in equal measure.
“The CV was structured to suit the academic world. I actually got down to writing it when I was applying for the position of associate professor in South Africa. I don’t know who leaked it, perhaps it was intended to portray me as an elitist,” he speculates.
Jimnah Mbaru Biography: Books
The investment banker’s sense of adventure does not stop with business. He enjoys travelling though he admits that his youthful days of frequent drifting are long gone.
His favourite destination is the Orient mainly because of the fascination he draws from efforts by countries like Malaysia and Singapore in their approaches to economic development, social issues and how they deal with financial crises.
“I make a point of travelling abroad once every year just to reflect on what new thing I have done for that year and to evaluate myself so that I can have a bird’s eye view of the country vis-a-vis the challenges and opportunities that have emerged with new ventures,” he explains.
The ardent reader has never missed an edition of the weekly magazine The Economist since 1975, often going the extra mile to get a copy of an edition he accidentally misses in order to “keep up with the rest of the world”.
In addition to his first book, “Transforming Africa: New Pathways to Development” which he says captures the evolutionary process of who he is in business, he is set to write three more books on economics.
The investment banker is quick to note that the manuscript for his second book is almost ready, adding that one of his new volumes must contain what Africa should do to overcome some of her challenges from his own point of view.
What many people don’t know is that Mbaru also studied law and graduated at the top of his law class at the University of Nairobi and had a brief stint in journalism school.
Jimnah Mbaru Biography: Law school
“I went to law school when I was in my fifties. It was purely for knowledge, to enable me to understand my transactions in investment banking and to understand how the lawyers engage their legal due diligence. I have benefited greatly from approaching the loopholes, risks and opportunities in transactions from a legal point of view.”
“I only did journalism for two semesters because I wanted to learn how to simplify writing about very complicated issues like economics and investment banking in order to communicate with the average investor,” he says.
He was also an associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, in addition to giving occasional talks to students in Nairobi, Daystar, Strathmore and USIU. He says he is debating whether to go back to lecturing especially about public policy which he is passionate about.
Mbaru says he values honesty and integrity and holds a high opinion of the role God and family play in one’s success. With his parents and siblings all deceased, he spends every moment he can with his family.
“I cannot tell if my son and daughter have got into my world by default or not because I am a strong believer that someone should be doing what he loves. My son works for JP Morgan in South Africa and my daughter who is here is also doing some business around investment banking.”
While he is seldom seen smiling in the media, he is a strong believer that laughter is the best medicine and spares time once in a while to attend evening comedy shows.
Of all his achievements, his proudest moment is when he became the chairman of the Nairobi Stock Exchange in 1992. At that time, he recalls, there were only six stock brokers and turnover was very low with most of the trading, though done in a structured manner, carried out in an informal way at the New Stanley Hotel.
Jimnah Mbaru Biography: NSE
“When I became chairman, we started restructuring the NSE so that it could compare with other modern stock exchanges in the world. We went about modernising it with technology, computerising trading, connecting brokers and finally creating a trading floor which eventually moved to their own office,” he says.
His success was highlighted with the dematerialisation of stocks and the creation of a central depository and settlement system which led to a reduction of transaction time from 60 days to a maximum of three days.
“I took the responsibility of bringing the stock exchange up-to-date so that it could be used to mobilise savings, attract foreign investment and enhance local ownership of companies in the country.”
If he is not listening to classical music in his free time, you are likely to find him playing golf. So passionate is he about the sport that he is registered as a member in several clubs around the city, including Muthaiga, Railways, Karen and Limuru. He even has clubs and a set of balls in his office where he plays mini-golf.
“Sometimes when I get a call and I need to discuss ideas, I play golf because it really helps me to focus,” he explains.
On most weekends, you might find him at the Hood in Kilimani, a joint that was patronised by Kenya’s founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, meeting with his peers, having a haircut or just enjoying nyama choma. The business mogul says with his agility and keen desire to help others, he is not about to hang up his boots.
“As an entrepreneur and venture capitalists, I try to invest in many new ventures. I enjoy setting up new companies as a hobby. To me, the hustle, the struggle and the risks – that’s what gives me a kick. You don’t retry, you have to keep going and now the next investment phase is in private equity.”
In order to tackle youth unemployment, the investment banker says the government should invest in agriculture and manufacturing sectors as well as consciously promote policies that enhance the private sector which has the capacity to absorb more people into employment.
Having found the financial sector more profitable than most of his other investments, he urges people to invest in the stock market which is more fluid and allows you to put in small quantities and has larger returns over a long-term period.
“If you have to go into real estate, start investing in stocks as a stop-gap measure so that when you have enough [money], you can move into real estate.”