Meet Kenya's Bill Gates

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His is so casual that on a first meeting one needs to be convinced that he is meeting Naushad Merali, perhaps Kenya’s biggest single investor with listed wealth in excess of Sh 3 billion. But an even bigger surprise is that he is not excited about it all. “Happiness and satisfaction is not in money. It is in what you do with the money,” he says.

“After all, however fat your bank account, you cannot eat more than three meals a day, put on two suits or drive in two cars at the same time”. And so Merali has decided to give back to the community through charity and creating employment. Though he owns several banks, Merali says one may not believe that his person- al bank account balance sometimes reads zero.

He discloses: “I have made a decision to give 50% of my annual earnings to charity. However, sometimes I exceed the limit and find I have given 100 per cent”, he says with a shy smile. Creating employment is the next passion for the 62- year old Kenyan-born entrepreneur. Through his listed companies, he employs over 50 000 people in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. “My vision is to create direct jobs for at least a 100 000 people.”

He says his biggest joy is when he sees people making the best out of themselves by giving them the opportunity. “Don’t just give people fish, give them the opportunity to fish for themselves.” While many a successful business person would work to cripple the competition, Merali works to promote even rivals in his game. “If I see a worthy challenger, I even help them to do even better because it can only be good if as many of us are doing well”.

He reasons: “If Merali creates 100 000 jobs, Njoroge creates 200 000 and Onyango creates 300 000 jobs, do you think the rate of crime, school drop-out and disease would be as high? The Kenyan version of America’s Bill Gates hesitates to drop names on where has put the billions in charity through a family organization, Zarnash Foundation. Zarnash is the short for Zarina, his wife, and Naushad.

However, independent sources confirm that his has so far given over half billion for expansion of facilities at the Kenyatta National Hospital. He also gives annual scholarships to over 100 students with ten per cent of the same set aside for the Starehe Boys’ Centre and School. He has also put up the multi-million Jaffery’s Sports Club and donated it to the public.

In the corporate social responsibility realm, he could be the next biggest donor after Safaricom and the East African Breweries. He has the unenviable distinction of being buddies with businessmen and personalities in all spheres of life who value his counsel and support. Yet it has been a tough climb for the man who rose from a junior accountant into one of African’s most success- ful investors.

Friends and associates say his best asset is the ability to bring out the best in those around him and in sharing his own with the needy. “I consider my mission in life not so much to have a commanding presence in the boardroom but in the ability to conceive and idea and see it come to reality”, he says.

Merali is a devout Muslim and publicity-shy. Getting a media interview with him is a challenge. He finally agreed to grant us an interview after months of persuasion that had to take intervention of his son, Sameer. He is married to Zarina, who coordinates his charity activities, and has two children Sameer and Yana. He says he is retiring from all boardroom activities to leave it to his son. “At 60 something, I have no business running around. Now it is the turn for my son Sameer to take over from where I have left”, he says with the fondness of a proud father.

- The People
 

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