How Karanja broke an 80-year monopoly

Kampala

Ms Tabitha Karanja’s entrepreneurial journey is akin to the biblical tale of David and Goliath – with Karanja as David and her competition, East African Breweries Limited (EABL), as Goliath. In 1997 when Karanja’s Keroche Breweries Limited opened its doors to the public, first as a small family business, the liquor brewing business had been a one-man show for more than 80 years. The market was jealously ruled by EABL.

Consequently, Karanja got a lot of stick from peers when she set out on a voyage that pitted her against a multi–national. She was labeled crazy. But she ignored the scorn as much as it was poured. She believed in herself and her vision.

This vision was formed while working with her husband in their hardware business.
“As we sold hardware materials to customers, I consistently developed belief that we could also manufacture something just like the manufacturers of the products we were selling,” she told K24, a Kenyan television station in an interview.

“Thus we surveyed the market and found a gap in the alcohol manufacturing business. Our research revealed that the low end consumers were not catered for and the high end consumers had a limited choice,” she says.
An important aspect that her research did not reveal, were the lurking challenges. In the early years, her products were appreciated by her target market. Whereas this put a smile on her face, on the flip side of the coin, her success rubbed some people the wrong way. This gave birth to relentless efforts to get her out of business.

“In 2003, a motion was moved in Parliament suggesting that Keroche products were killing people. I later learnt this was the work of our competition to paint us in bad light,” she further says in the same interview.

Besides the smear campaign, the company suffered a challenge of a tax case against the Kenya Revenue Authority over a claim of a billion Kenya Shillings. Her business was at one time temporarily closed. The tough times suggested that Keroche was headed down the path of SABMiller whose attempt at breaking the monopoly saw it exit the market in the 2000s. “I was determined to fight. To fight and prove to Kenyans it was possible to make it,” says Kenya’s pioneer female brewer.

Her determination paid off. The company that started off with a few employees currently employs more than 300 Kenyans. In 2012, Keroche breweries launched a Shs75 billion (Ksh2.5 billion) expansion plan that aimed at increasing its market share to 20 per cent.

Karanja reveals that she is driven by the dream of seeing her company’s products sold internationally.
“And I have absolutely no tinge of doubt that we’ll get there,” she concludes.

Some of her memorable quotes
“For an entrepreneur, it is not about money. You must have the vision and the zeal to ensure that you achieve this vision. When the market receives your product, then it is easier to access the finance.”
“You have to first believe in yourself. Then know what you want to achieve. You should never succumb to the challenges. Because the challenge you are giving in to could have been the last challenge on the pathway to success.”

“Money should never be your sole driver in anything you are doing. Because what happens when you get your money’s worth? When you set out to achieve more than the money, only the sky will be the limit.”

Who is Tabitha Karanja?

Karanja, a first born in a family of 11, was born in Kijabe, North West of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. She is married to Joseph Karanja, the chairman of Koreche Breweries. They both have four children – two boys and two girls.
Before dreaming of a life in business, she envisioned being a doctor because in school, she excelled in science subjects.
At the end of her A-Level education, she had a short stint as an untrained teacher.
She thereafter served as a Library Administrator with the Ministry of Tourism.
Karanja has a degree in Business Administration.

Awards
2013. She was voted Business Woman of the Year during the East African round of CNBC Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA) held last September in Nairobi.
2010. She was awarded the Moran of Burning Spear (MBS) award by Former President Mwai Kibaki for her efforts towards liberalising the Kenya liqour industry.

atumusiime@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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