BORN WITH BUSINESS GENES?

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Gibson Mwangi’s knack for business gives him a bearing

By Caroline Mwendwa

A celebrated billionaire addressing a crowd recently talked of not having genes for being wealthyand this got me thinking, are there genes for being wealthy? Well, that is still in the scientific oven but meeting this young and enterprising graduate from Mount Kenya University, I couldn’t help wondering whether he has genes for entrepreneurship. His knack for doing business is not something he learnt in college. He seems to have had it even as a young boy. “When I was at the age of 10, in primary school I used to sell fruits and use the money I got from my small sales to buy sweets,” recalls the 29 year old Gibson Mwangi.
Later in Campus he would return to his childhood habits but this time he went for snacks such as chapatis, boiled eggs and sausages, these he could sell to his college mates on sales target bases. “Sometimes I was forced to temporarily hire someone to be doing the sales when I had lectures.”
Gibson made a fitting choice of a life partner; one who propelled his enthusiasm in business. “My campus girlfriend was very supportive of my entrepreneurial ideas. She even started a typing, printing and typesetting business in the small room we had rented just outside the campus,” he enthuses. With the proceeds from these ventures, Gibson and his girlfriend who later became his wife would pay rent, buy the trendy clothes and even spare some for trips while in school. When the profits became consistent, the duo started making some savings and it is from these savings that they used to settle down on clearing campus.
Like most graduates, Gibson set out for employment first. His degree in Hospitality Management landedhim a job in one of the bigwigs in the industry where he worked his way up the ladder to become the general manager. However his quest for entrepreneurship was still raging and he quit employment and took the risk of abandoning a handsome amount to start a fast food joint at Thika and named it Gibsons grill.

Evolving in business
A business minded person is always weighing gains against losses and it did not take him long to sight a more lucrative venture. He sold the Gibsons Grill to venture into events and catering services. The idea to focus on one was guided by the desire to offer world class services that meet the highest standards of quality. Prospects in the events and food industry were promising and Gibson decided to incorporate the business to a private limited company. Today the company goes by the name Gibsons Africa and offers services ranging from event management, outside catering and cakes for all occasions. “We also do cocktail parties, offer services of tents and chairs decorations and PA systems,” explains Gibson.
Deciding to offer all services required at events was a wise move as Gibson elaborates. “We have positioned ourselves in such a way that a client is able to get almost everything that he/she may need for a successful event. For instance, if it’s a wedding,we do tents and chairs,decoration,cake,catering and PA plus an MC. This way, the client is spared the hustle of having to juggle several service providers. In other words, the client is left with only one contact person.”
This, Gibson says has proved to be the best strategy and has significantly increased their sales. Another way in which Gibsons Africa is targeting markets is through coming up with a variety of packages to suit various clients. “We have also created different packages for different category of clients in order to work with their budgets and still deliver quality services. The introduction of traditional foods and variety of menus with affordable prices, is one key strategy that has worked for us,” he quips.
Gibson has invested in human resource to improve the quality of services offered and be able to meet the demands of customers satisfactorily. “We currently have five departmental employees who hire casuals depending on the complexity of an event and other logistics.”
Business is looking up for Gibsons Africa and every day there are clients for food deliveries, events on every weekend and monthly orders for cakes.
The business is however not without its challenges. As Gibson observes, the institutions in Kenya offering hospitality courses lack the modern equipment necessary for training skillful hoteliers. “60% of top management in the high-end hotels in our country today are foreigners. The country is also experiencing a shortage of qualified lecturers in the hospitality industry.”
Epidemics are also a problem in this business. Whenever there is an outbreak like the current cholera outbreak, businesses suffer a great deal as people tend to avoid eating outside. As would be expected, insecurity can also reverse gains for people who have invested in the hospitality industry.
“Nevertheless, events business is very lucrative if you offer quality services and remain aggressivewhile networking.” Gibson also points out that in this business, one has to be up to date with the trending themes in order to give customers the best of services.
The target market for Gibson’s Africa cuts across people of different occupations and sectors. “We have segmented the market to accommodate various clients. Some of the common events in our portfolio are parties, packed breakfast, snacks, lunches for meetings as well as luncheons,” he explains.

Trends in the industry
Looking at the latest developments in this industry, there seems to be something attracting international players into Kenya. High-end hotels such as Villa Rosa Kempinsky, Radisson Blu among others are opening outlets in our country and this is an indication that the market is rich. “We should sieze these opportunities and grow our economy while developing ourselves,” he advises.

His drive
The young entrepreneur is passion driven and in less than five years, aspires to open a catering school where students will learn to be entrepreneurs and not job seekers. “We also have plans to start manufacturing our own tents and a number of outlets in different counties in a bid to reach out to larger markets,” he adds. Motivated by the desire to see people live healthy especially through good feeding habits, Gibson has plans to start a community based programme to enlighten the community about healthy living through healthy eating.
Business may not always be rosy but having mentors to look up to makes the hard times easier. “I am very much inspired by my fore runners and role models, Prof Simon Gicharu, the Founder Mount Kenya University and Mr Kimathiof San Valencia who has set the trend in the hospitality industry especially in events.”
No matter how hard it can get at times, Gibson is glad to have ventured in business. When I was employed I hardly got time with family, not even during Christmas, but now I make my own decisions and earn much more than I did when I was employed.” This freedom he says is a drive in itself and makes him work even harder as his efforts determine how much he takes home.

Lessons learnt
Self-employment has worked for Gibson and his advice to young people feeling frustrated by joblessness, or even feeling uncomfortable in formal jobs is that they should identify a gap in the market and seek to fill it with a service or a commodity. “Base your business idea on your passion and money will find you,” he closes.

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