Dr. Manu Chandaria is a year short of celebrating his 80th birthday. If we are to work with stereotypical behaviour, we would expect that by now he would have taken a back seat from his vast business and philanthropy interests. Yet, his pace has yet to slacken, and he puts in as much time he did in the mid 50’s when he came back from USA after studying a Masters in Engineering and taking up the family business mantle.
He is the Chairman of the Chandaria Group of Companies, a family concern that is also a huge empire operating in over 43 countries worldwide. He is also the Chairman of The Chandaria Foundation started in 1952 by his family which focuses on helping the less fortunate in the community.
His early years were spent at his father’s provisional store along Nairobi’s famous Biashara Street, he lived briefly in Mombasa and then in a one-roomed house in Ngara during pre-independence Kenya. In those days Muthaiga, an affluent Nairobi suburb, was still an exclusively European affair flagged by a huge forbidding signpost that read “Trespassers will be Prosecuted.” Lolling around on the beaches of Nyali was also reserved for the Europeans only. If Asians or Africans wanted to take a dip they had to take a boat into the sea and get off at the reef and swim in the open seas of the Indian Ocean. Therefore, it was ironic sitting in his lounge in his home in the Muthaiga suburb where less than half a century ago none of us would have been allowed into the area at all, or worse still allowed to fraternize.
The Muthaiga sign came down after 1955 when he had already married his wife Aruna Chandaria mother of his three children and his best friend. This is by far one of the most obvious fruits of independence that Kenya reaped, our ability to thrive on diversity.
But what is Dr. Chandaria’s key to success?
“At an early age I realized I would never be great at sports, so I made up for it in my studies,” he said.
His father had moved to Kenya in 1916 as a merchant with a provisions store along Biashara Street. They also delved into the manufacturing business by buying into an aluminium plant called KaluWorks. His parents made a lot of sacrifices to educate them well and Dr Manu, with some of his family members took over the running of Kalu Works once they finished their education. At first they were overwhelmed at the level of work required to run a successful business enterprise. However, they also felt a strong sense of responsibility and recognized the struggles that had to be endured first by their parents to acquire the plant and then by the children to make it a success.
Strapped with this determination, they woke early everyday and opened the doors for the plant workers by 7.30am. As management, they put in 16 to18-hour days and within 5 years the business grew from 40 employees to over 800 employees. In time they amassed a collection of other plants around the world; and by 1980 the business expanded to almost all continents.
Even today, nearly 30 years later, Manu still puts in 16-hour days at work.
He attributes much of their success to the exposure that he acquired while studying abroad which opened his mind to new ideas. He is also influenced by his strong religious upbringing in the Jain doctrines that are principled on a pious and moderate lifestyle. He has never had the need for ostentation or excesses.
Another side of Dr. Chandaria is his work in the community. He has always seen the need to give opportunity to Kenyan youth so that they can have the chance to live to their full potential. He is involved with several charity organizations and works with them to raise the quality of life; a feat that he feels all Kenyans with means should be involved in. Dr. Chandaria was on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s honour list in 2003 and in 2006 he was granted Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition for his work in the community and his promotion of Kenyan – British economic interest in Kenya.
He also feels that the corporate world has a duty for giving back to the community.
“We need to realize, as the private sector, that we have the responsibility to accept making money and looking after ourselves but in addition we need to also care for the community and our country Kenya at large.”
With this in mind, it is not surprisingly to see him busy involved with projects ranging from rehabilitation of street families, to educational trusts that expand opportunities for the less fortunate in Kenya.
“The real key to success for the youth in Kenya is to open their minds to good ideas that can have a multiplier effect,” he explains
“Zero multiplied by zero will always be zero. You can’t get something out of nothing. We need to expand our ideas – two multiplied by two is four and four multiplied by four is sixteen and so on. That is the true secret to success!” says Dr. Chandaria.
According to him, the government, the corporate world and individuals need to learn to harness the potential of the youth in Kenya by equipping them with skills that will help build them as strong capable citizens, and allowing them to use these tools to help secure the future of our beloved nation.
His message to the youth of Kenya is to learn to set themselves free from the web of dependency. Grants or aid is only provided to sow the seed of our ambitions then we need to begin to think of ways to attain financial independence with hard work and winning ideas.
And his vision for Kenya?
“Among all our neighbours in East and Central Africa, Kenya is still a notch higher even without any real natural wealth. Our main asset is human resources, intelligence and goodness of heart. We Kenyans are the true source of wealth in this region. We just need to realize this and then we can make it.”