By Polycarp Igathe
Chairman, you fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.
Lucky that you extended an abiding hand of friendship to me, Cathy and the kids. They are sad that Uncle Chris is gone. To you, we were family. We shared a divinely ordained bond. You granted me a ringside seat to your epic life. I watched you triumph, battle, conquer, wrestle, box, kick and live life. And oh my word, what a life it was. You shared knowledge, skill, tales, pain, concerns, counsel, laughter, charm, wit, and wisdom. Thank you for your generosity.
I joined family, dignitaries, former colleagues, friends, people of goodwill from all walks of life to bid you farewell at Motho farm, Thika, on Saturday, June 19, 2021.
It was a befitting send-off. Absolutely fit for purpose. Cruised down Thika highway with police outriders and you riding in a gleaming black jaguar. The ceremony was pristine, elegant, choreographed to Chairman’s standard. The funeral organizing team led by James Mworia – CEO Centum with assistance from Andrew Kamau – PS Mining & Petroleum as Master of ceremonies did a splendid job. The tributes by the family were spectacular. With a solemn cheer, they avowed their love for you, expressed gratitude for the help and grace you extended to them whilst alive and committed to keeping your torch and legacy alive. Mary-Ann, Fiona, the Kinyany family, the Mburu family were outstanding. Robert was stoic. Mary-Ann committed to work to the best of her ability and to apply golf lingo, she vowed to play to her best handicap. Every family member spoke of your love, care, commitment, joy, faith in God and chutzpah.
That was you, Chairman.
I drove to Loresho almost at curfew time on Saturday night to congratulate the funeral committee on your behalf. You were laid to rest at the favourite end of the farm, the best viewpoint to Lake Kirubi and the amazing banana plantation.
At the church service, I sat behind your loyal, dedicated buddy and lawyer Mr Eliud Njoroge. He will miss your rounds of golf. Harrison MD Smart technologies sat behind me. He will cope and make you proud in realizing the Pan African dream. Cathy and I sat adjacent to Susan Githuku. She implored God with teary eyes to end the season of the grim reaper that has bestrode our land. Walked to the graveside alongside Muhoho Kenyatta, looking lean and smart. At the graveside, I stood next to the always cheerful, well-dressed hotelier Peter Kimenyi, he will miss Christmas lunch together. PS Joseph Njoroge – Energy who remembered the beautiful lunch we had at New Rain restaurant in Gatundu, the ever-smiling Peter Njonjo – Twiga Foods, Mutuma of DHL looked sad yet strong. He worked tirelessly in the funeral organizing team plus countless other friends of yours. Mucheru and Joe Eshun Managing partner Deloitte sat with me for the wonderful lunch. You would have appreciated everyone eating to their fill. Was particularly touched by the in-the thousand turn out of your people – Haco, Centum, Smart Applications, International House, Coca Cola, Bayer, DHL and CapitalFM. A befitting salute to your life. As usual Aisha, Beverly, Mercy, Carol from IHL paddled away putting everyone at ease and ensuring everything in order. You built an amazing team of loyal dedicated people. They love you.
I know how hard you worked to acquire the piece of real estate where we laid you to rest. At some point in time, I believed Motho Farm investment will bankrupt Haco. Manufacturing and a farm in the same Balance sheet do not augur well I would argue, and you absolutely ignored me. You had the amazing ability to see around corners as Robert beautifully put it in his tribute. You knew Motho farm will be the final milestone in your epic journey. You always cautioned me to never count amongst those who know a lot about very little. ‘Think. Thinking is for Free Poly”. Gotcha! You were preparing your final resting place. Rest Chairman. Enjoy Lake Kirubi.
Going forward, my duty is to join others in promoting and defending your legacy. You taught me well and would expect no less. You entrusted me with the hardest tasks and most complex assignments. I celebrate you. I mourn that you are gone. You granted the best shot in life.
The universe conspired for us to meet back in June 1994. I was a student at the University of Nairobi and National Chairman of AIESEC – The International Association of Students Interested in Economics and Business Management. We hosted you at an AIESEC event. Was enchanted and mesmerised by your achievements, drive and purpose. I asked lots of questions and you invited me to escort you to the car. That kick-started our friendship.
You hired me at Haco in July 2003 as Marketing Director, reporting to Norbert Schlater the Managing Director and your Son-In-Law. Within six months, you promoted me to the position of Deputy Managing Director and eventually the Managing Director in October 2006. At the youthful age of 34, you entrusted me with the crown in your jewel, Haco Industries Limited. Under your tutelage and leadership, we trailblazed the Fast Moving Consumer Goods market space. You made me a fundi in the FMCG business. I continue to unleash the same FMCG fundi skills as Group Chief Commercial Officer at Equity Bank. You were my direct boss for a decade and a permanent referee in my CV. At the start of 2013, I managed to convince you to let me join Vivo Energy Shell as the Managing Director. Thank you. It was not easy for both of us.
To ensure I remain loyal and connected, you appointed me a non-Executive Director at Sidian Bank. Then you nominated Cathy Igathe as a non-executive director at Centum and Gen Africa. And along the way, your genius, architectural mind designed a political powerplay in Nairobi. Remembering fondly how we laughed and fought about that particular design. The moralist in me lost to the realist in you. How I finally accepted to get into Nairobi politics and eventually exit is a story for another day. Thank you for supporting my decision to exit politics.
Enjoyed how we laughed about the political episode as we enjoyed goat soup. When you asked why I resigned as DG Nairobi, I simply answered, “In matters of the conscience, the rule of the majority does not apply” Atticus Finch “ To Kill a Mockingbird”. And you went into delirious laughter despite obvious discomfort from the battle with cancer. You loved books.
Ultimately what was required and needed in Nairobi was delivered by your design – A city governed by a competent authority and administration. It is a work in progress now with NMS. But what a sacrifice that was.
Been distinctly honoured and highly privileged to have imbibed your humour, wit and wisdom over the years. My favourite is the five things one must enjoy in life; 1) What you Eat; 2) What You Drive; 3) How You Dress; 4) Where You Sleep; and 5) Who You Sleep with.
You regaled me in tales of your life. How it all started in poverty and hardship. Secondary education in Western Kenya – Kolanya and Friends School Kamusinga, then Strathmore college, where you took refuge at fellow classmate homes over school holidays to escape hardship at home. How you gallivanted in Sweden attending Handles University leading up to Harvard University as well as Insead. Working in Shell Afrigas, Sterling Winthrop, Kenatco and starting your own business Kiruma International.
How you met Janet and eventually separated. How you bought the home in Loresho, invested in Haco Industries (Hagemayer & Company), bought international house, invested & exited Paints business (King paints), encountered theft & arrogance of Chepkube coffee smugglers, how you educated Robert and Mary-Ann. How you survived the Nyayo era. How you brought Mary-Ann back home from the USA. How Robert is a smart highly paid professional you cannot afford to pay. You truly allowed me a ring-side seat to your life.
When you appointed me Managing Director Haco Industries you gifted me a book by Stephen Covey “The Speed of Trust”. A real treasure. Our friendship blossomed. We became Father & Son.
Was there to walk you out of High court cells and drive you back to the office after taking the plea on charges of having executed a sale-leaseback contract at Uchumi supermarkets. You were livid. The case was eventually dismissed. Was present as Mary-Ann brought Andrew home for the formal introduction. You insisted Cathy and I be there. It was a nervous evening yet was thoroughly impressed with how it got through smoothly. Could not help beaming with pride and admiration, as Andrew read the family vote of thanks on Saturday. You always told me God gave you the best Son-In-Law. I could not agree more. Andrew Musangi is family gold.
Was there when you hosted President John Kufour of Ghana, accompanied by the Attorney General of Ghana Nana Kufuor Addo, now President of Ghana. Watched in amazement and wide-open mouth as you coaxed and bullied Kenya Airways to host a cocktail for the then visiting President at extremely short notice at the Intercon.
Chairman, you were such a bully!
Was there at Intercon as you offered James Mworia the role in Centum. Was there when you bought CapitalFM Radio and was appointed a Director. Was there when you invited Tiger Brands to partnership at Haco Industries and was appointed Regional MD East Africa. And was present when Societe BIC France garlanded you with the Best Global Manufacturer of Bic products Award in an amazing ceremony at Acapulco, Mexico back in 2010. James Mworia is a gem. His leadership with the funeral arrangements was first class.
And I shall never forget the treat of balling in Beverly Hills California, driving down the Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood with a stretch limo. Hollywood movie stars noticed a new entrant that weekend. You ate life with a big spoon. High end retail stores in the major cities of the world will miss you. And so is brands such as Bally, Rolex, Hilfiger, Puma, Bentley, Range Rover and Mercedes. You were born to shop. Clothes, Furniture, Mobile Phones, Perfumes, Paintings and artwork was your thing. You had no problem spending what you earned. Gina and Mara were the most favourite target of your shopping sprees. The Los Angeles California one was epic. Took you to buy a custom-made golf set whose price I better not mention. Will always remember the embarrassment of the golf set shop owner when he called the bank to confirm the validity of the payment card. You asked him to put the bank on speakerphone. And a banker from Switzerland told the Golf shop owner firmly and loudly that Mr. Kirubi’s card can buy off your shop. And laughter ensued plus Dom Perignon bubbly for the son of the buyer of the golf shop. You were loud and proud about you and your achievement.
Was there when you introduced several own brands at Haco Industries after years of trading and manufacturing licensed brands. You set up Haco Laboratories, for innovation. Result of which is Miadi, Amara, Sparkle, So Soft, ACE, and many others. You loved selling. Was there as you harassed waiters and restaurant managers to make sure Dasani water was on every table, and coerced corporate executives to enrol onto Smart application products. You sold yourself, then sold your products. You were forever selling. Heaven must brace for one of a kind salesman and baller.
Was there as you chaired board meetings, led management teams, addressed workers and led business lobby organisations (ie. Kenya Association of Manufacturers). You presented solutions at many Presidential roundtables to tackle the hurdles of licensing, taxation and unfair trade practices that face small and large businesses in Kenya and East Africa. Mitumba fight was a dear one to you. Was there to listen to you read riot-act to a visiting Chinese premier about his country’s role in counterfeiting trade and intellectual property infringement. You shot from the hip. Spoke with candour and rare courage. At times to your detriment.
On Friday, June 18th we celebrated your connection to Small medium enterprise at a thanksgiving event at Runda Car Care grounds – the Rt. Hon Raila Odinga was the Chief Guest. The businessmen acknowledged you, as one of them. They hailed your contribution observing a minute’s silence. You earned respect as you did rivalry. And you meant business in all endeavours.
I was there in the hospital when it was confirmed the discomfort in your body was cancer. Dr Rajiv Goel an oncologist friend from New Delhi confirmed the same after reading and reviewing your medical reports. I was gutted. You took it in stride. We prayed for you. God listened. The care you got was first class. And what a doctor you had in Dr Goyal of Massachusetts General. Her tribute at the funeral on Saturday was angelic.
Finally, was there to listen as you showered praise, extolling the industry and virtue of Robert, Andrew & Mary-Ann. Oh! How dearly you loved them. Especially Mary-Ann. The adoration continued as you battled cancer, the reason your body was embraced by the grim reaper. You loved family. You had an obvious bias to women I noticed. You especially loved your sisters. Will never forget how you cried at the sidewalk near the village market when you learnt Mama Mburu has rested. It was always obvious you and Mama Jimmy have a special bond. You declared when you liked a person and vice-versa. All people counted with you but none too much. For you were Chairman Dr Chris Kirubi and that is what counts.
Thanks for the sojourn. Am still here on the ringside seat till we meet again. Rest in Peace Chairman.