So you want to start off your own business; you encounter the usual hiccups; funding, manufacturing, marketing, a little competition here and there. What do you do then? Give up? You had better not! Have you been threatened yet? Have you literally shed tears as you wandered through a terrain strewn with mines just so your dream could live? Have you been opposed by multinationals and government policies as you struggled to breathe life into your fledgling start-up? No? Then don’t quit just yet.
Ever heard of Tabitha Mukami Muigai-Karanja? The thoroughbred Kenyan wife and mother has fought the hounds of hell and back again as she struggled to establish her company, the Keroche Breweries which has gone on to become the first Kenyan-owned beer distiller in Kenya. Imagine David as he faced one Goliath…then imagine Tabitha armed not with a catapult but with determination, doggedness and passion as she faced 10, 20 nay 30 Goliaths armed with damning policies, economic firepower and social malice. Powerful government officials demanding over KSh1 billion as bribe is one of such.
The first of 10 children, Tabitha grew up courageous and resilient. She worked as a librarian with a government parastatal, and went on to start a hardware business with husband Joseph Karanja. Her foray into the beverage industry started in 1997 with a shot at selling fortified wine. This met a lot of resistance from hard hitters in the industry, and though she battled on for a decade, a punitive tax by the provincial government finally made it impossible for her to continue with that particular product. The coup was successful. But Tabitha was down, not out.
In an unprecedented and obviously unexpected turn of events, Keroche Breweries announced the production of a new Kenyan beer, Summit Lager in 2008. At the launch, Tabitha stated, “After so much pain and sleepless nights, my dream has been achieved and this is the best day in my life.” The company has gone on to launch Summit Malt and Summit Stout. For the first time in 80+ years, Kenyans have an alternative in the beer market, and Tabitha states enthusiastically, “We are pleased by how the beer is performing and I want to thank Kenyans for the support and confidence that they have given us”. Tabitha has grown her business from a small three-roomed factory with five employees to a state of the art brewery employing hundreds of Kenyans. Tabitha plans to expand the company’s production line with the expected launch of a new $29 million plant in 2013.
Now, personally, I aint an advocate of beers and liquor, but I do heartily applaud a woman who will confront her tormentors and come out on top. Tabitha plans to conquer the soft-drink industry [Watch out Coca-Cola!], subdue East Africa, and finally, Africa! Her multibillion shilling brewery is gunning to take over Africa, one bottle at a time.
Tabitha’s success recipe is an eclectic mix of vision, dream and a cause. Hard work and resilience are necessary for taste, and a dose of the right team make a palatable success meal.
In 2010, Tabitha was awarded the Moran of Burning Spear (MBS) award by His Excellency, President Mwai Kibaki for her efforts to liberalize the Kenyan liquor industry. Tabitha was rated the second woman to watch in 2013 by Ventures Africa Magazine. She has been rated among 13 other iconic women in Africa including, among others, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Her advice to women entrepreneurs, “Believe in yourself because you’re not likely to get much help from men if they perceive you as a threat. I knew what I wanted in life and I worked day and night to achieve it, and here I am.”
A dyed-in-the-wool fighter is Tabitha. Are you ready to never ever ever give up?