Matatus Business in Kenya: This is a story of resilience, determination and sheer will to succeed despite starting off with a low pay. This feature on Alex Munyi was first published by PD:
To make it in business, Alex Munyi believes you must have a restless soul. However, it is a lesson he has learnt over the 10 years he has been in business and does not mind sharing when he is asked how he rose from a gate-man earning a measly Sh.1,800 as a gate man to being the owner of over 20 matatus who is worth Sh.10 million.
“I will say, I learnt to fend for myself from a young age and I also knew that a white colour job was not for me,” says the 40-year-old. He lost his mother when he was five and had to learn to survive in a polygamous setup.
“In such a family, you don’t get the attention your mother gives. In addition, the father is also preoccupied with other children. Consequently, you become a hard nut,” he says. When life became unbearable at his father’s home in Nthambo, Embu, Munyi went to stay with his grandfather.
While there, one of his duties was to herd cows and goats after school, a job he did well until he completed his primary school education and got an admission at Kangaru Boys in Embu. However, he could not join the school because his grandfather could not afford the school fee.
Instead, he joined a nearby school and did his O levels in 1990. He was lucky this time around since he was recruited to join National Youth Service and started training at Gilgil, Nakuru county. However, he did not complete the course because he could not keep up with the regimented life and the demands of his relatives.
“I decided to drop out of training due to pressure and many demands I was getting from home. They thought being at NYS meant I was getting a big pay. Everybody was asking for financial assistance which I could not offer,” he says.
When he left the camp, he went to Naivasha town and after sleeping in the cold for two days he got a job at a hotel as gatekeeper earning his first salary of Sh1,800. “I was excited and with youthful energy I preformed my job well.
It didn’t take long before the management noticed me and offered to train me as a waiter after working at the gate for six months,” he says. For the next two years he worked as waiter in the hotel with his salary rising marginally to Sh2,500.
However, in September 1994 together with several of his colleagues, he was retrenched. Munyi did not waste time lamenting and travelled back to Kirinyaga to set up a tomato selling business at Kagio Market. However, he struggled to establish himself as a businessman and gave up to look employment.
He was employed as a waiter between 1995 and 1998. He also enrolled for a front office certificate at Utalii College. At around the same time, he bought an old car at Sh80,000, which he used as a taxi cab in Kerugoya town.
In 1999, he resigned from the hotel and ventured into taxi business. However, things didn’t work out as he anticipated because his car was old and stalled from time to time while ferrying clients.
“I knew I had to do something drastic to stay afloat. By this time I was married with a child and I knew I had to provide for my family,” he says. He sold the car and hit the road in search of a job. That job took him to Isiolo town where he was employed as a front office person at Lewa Conservancy in the year 2000.
Lady Luck came knocking after few months of tarmacking and I was informed that there was a new hotel opening in Isiolo and I applied for a job and in March 2000, I was recruited as front office manager at Lewa Conservancy says Munyi who worked at the internationally acclaimed conservancy for two years and quit.
The father of three says he had saved enough money to give business another go. Armed with Sh270, 000 he bid for a matatu that was selling at Sh370,000. He was lucky to get the deal after promising to pay the remaining amount in five months.
To start, he employed his brother as the driver and Munyi took the conductor’s apparel. “It was tough in the beginning, but I did not know any other thing than to succeed,” he says. This time, Lady Luck smiled at him and in six months, he had made enough money to be accepted as member of the Kukena Sacco.