In Uganda, it is common practice for business empires to boom when their founders are still living, only for them to die when the founders also die.
Esther Muchemi, the founder and Chief Executive Office Samchi Telecom--Kenya’s largest telecom dealership believes that for wealth to survive generations, it must be placed under God so that it becomes the legacy of the founder when that person dies.
Without prior knowledge of her, Muchemi who ranks as Kenya’s telecom magnate, easily passes for another ordinary woman.
A first born of nine, like any other woman, she does not reveal her age. She prefers that one guesses it.
In 2000 when Safaricom entered the Kenya market, she opened the first shop dealing in airtime in Nairobi.
In 2001 when Kencell also entered Kenya, because of rivalry, they refused to allow her to deal in their products arguing that a dealer for a rival company could not be their sub-dealer.
However she continued selling airtime which earned her commission based on the amount she had sold.
When Safaricom introduced Sim cards, each was selling for KShs2,500 (Shs90,000). They had to buy them and sell them at the same price but at the end of the month, they were given commission. Her initial capital was Kshs50,000 (Shs1.8m).
When they were paid their first commission, she was too disappointed to learn that she was the least commission earner because there were people who had more money than she did and they were buying more lines and selling them cheaply increasing their turnover and commission.
However, that did not deter her resolve. Instead, she learnt how to build her capital base and the business.
She recruited sub-dealers who would give her more money to buy more lines which increased her profits.
She re-invested the profits into her stock and slowly, she started opening up new branches numbering 60 now spread across Kenya dealing in all Safaricom products.
Asked whether she attributes her success to her level of education, Esther believes university education is important because of the level of exposure it gives you.
It allows you to mingle with different people at all levels in society and she is now proud to have won many accolades recognising her as the largest dealer for Safaricom in Kenya.
Today, she is the proud owner of four telecom brand names in Kenya. They include Samchi Telecom, Jumbocom, Mergut telecom and Forward Airtime all dealing in products that Safaricom deals in and distributes.
About her net worth, Muchemi says she does not view herself from the net worth perspective because she does not count money. She says, she despises anyone who boasts of riches which do not have an impact on society because such wealth is worthless.
She believes her marriage with Safaricom is inseparable because it is a worthy partner and being the loyal person she is, she will never betray a friend because they have walked all this journey.
Muchemi’s life has not had to depend on telecom alone. She diversified into hospitality where she owns a 63-bedroom After 40 Hotel on Biashara Street off Koinange Street.
She owns two properties in the course region for hospitality and another in Mt Kenya.
The other area she has ventured into but has not fully taken off is the office and accommodation concept targeting young people.
The idea is that the business people can also sleep in the same place. The offices are furnished with all that is required in an office as well as where to sleep. It is becoming a common trend in Kenya.
Journey to success
Her journey through the success ladder was a self-assigned decision to deny the world the opportunity to define her.
She deployed her God-given intellectual and physical abilities to earn the contemporary status of Patrick Bitature who is Uganda’s largest telecom dealer, who invited her to share her story with Ugandans as he launched his book, ‘Inspired by Patrick Bitature,’ recently.
She describes herself as a common girl born in Othaya in Kenya, attended normal school, did all the things other people did to get where they are today. For instance, she grew up in a normal setting, went through normal school, knocked doors for jobs, but her guiding principle was always to be the ‘A’ student.
However, God is her first love. Her widowhood is not an issue today because her husband the late Gen. Gerald Muchemi, then Kenya’s chief of military intelligence.
Whereas loved ones never return to life, in business, if one wants the business to survive, they have to pick up the pieces to move on.
“When you lose your spouse, you are not the one who has died. You must chart a way for your life. I decided that my greatness is not over and I decided to get where I wanted to get,” she asserts.
“I always say there is a choice you have to make on the journey you decide to take. As a business person, sometimes we make mistakes which crumble empires but must you remain behind?” she asks. She adds that African businesses fail to sail through the second generation, because of failure by the business founders to build structures that can accommodate people who will continue growing the wealth in their absence.
“I built this company with a belief that I am not the one to realize its full potential. This business is for the next generation I want to know that when I am gone, Samchi group of companies will remain employing people,” she says.
She illustrates that to see the full picture, the business which currently employs 300 people directly, must be scalable because the business today is no longer about her family alone but it serves a bigger society which should make a bigger cake because she believes God put her in the position to exploit that opportunity.
“I want to tell the people around me that let us make this big because when we make it big then, each one of us will have something to take home,” she says. As if paying tribute to her late husband, when asked what influenced her to join telecommunications retail business, Muchemi unveils the hand of the late Gen. Muchemi to get her where she is today, saying, it was his plan of protecting her when he is dead, advising other men to plan to protect their wives when they are dead rather than when still alive.
“My husband, an electrical engineer in charge of communication in the army, was too exposed. He read between lines and he knew my passion for retail business,” she says.