A life from two hens to billionaire - Daily Nation

A life from two hens to billionaire

Tuesday October 12 2010

FREDRICK ONYANGO | NATION Presbyterian University of East Africa vice-chancellor Kihumbu Thairu, brother of Mr Nelson Muguku, the founder of Muguku Poultry Farm in Kikuyu, talks to journalist after the death of his elder brother at the age of 78 at his home on Sunday.

FREDRICK ONYANGO | NATION Presbyterian University of East Africa vice-chancellor Kihumbu Thairu, brother of Mr Nelson Muguku, the founder of Muguku Poultry Farm in Kikuyu, talks to journalist after the death of his elder brother at the age of 78 at his home on Sunday. 

By HARRY MISIKO, [email protected]

With only two hens, a cock and with Sh2,000 in his pocket, Nelson Muguku quit teaching at a college in his early 20s to begin a long journey multi-billionaires’ league that ended last Sunday.

From a humble beginning of owning a bicycle as the most valuable asset in late 1950s, Mr Muguku died as the biggest individual shareholder of Equity Bank which he joined when it was a building society close to 2o years ago.

He owned the famous, multi-billion-shilling Muguku Poultry Farm, real estate and schools. At the time of his death, he was a renown philanthropist.

Just before his death at age 78, Mr Muguku was way ahead of others with plans to achieve the economic goals outlined in the country’s development blueprint — Vision 2030 — for the benefit of the youth.

According to his younger brother, Prof Kihumbu Thairu, the vice-chancellor of The Presbyterian University of East Africa, Mr Muguku was thinking of a strategy to lay out technical colleges in the counties soon after the promulgation of the new Constitution.

“We were planning to establish productive polytechnics where we were going to teach technical education of the kind taught in Korea and Malaysia to equip our youths with skills to manufacture and enable us compete with developed nations. That is what he was aiming at,” he said.

The entrepreneur was diabetic and died on Sunday night after becoming unconscious soon talking by telephone to his youngest son, Maina who lives in the USA.

“It was sudden. He was taken to a nearby hospital but on arrival, confirmed dead,” the vice-chancellor told the Nation at his Kikuyu home.

Born in 1932 in Kanyariri village, Kikuyu Division of Kiambu District, Muguku, learnt entrepreneurship skills from his father, the late Njoroge.

Prof Thairu says his brother was successful because of his hard work, determination and justice. Unlike the professor who got a chance to get higher education overseas, Mr Muguku only completed primary school education (then Junior Secondary) before his dream to pursue high school was frustrated by colonialists after his father and mother, Mama Wambui, convinced him to repeat the Kenya African Preliminary Examination at Kabete Intermediate School.

“He repeated but when the results came out, he had done so well that they (colonialists) cancelled them. They said he must have cheated and told him the only thing was to go to Thika to learn carpentry,” explained the professor.

Young Muguku obeyed his masters and joined Thika Technical School from 1950 to 1953 for a career in carpentry. He was to prove the colonialists wrong.

He completed the four-year course in two years and soon afterwards, became a teacher at Kapenguria Intermediate School in 1954 before being transferred to Kabianga Teachers’ College (now Kabianga High School).

Prof Thairu said his brother quit teaching in 1957 after feeling he was not getting enough and his efforts to improve his grade were being frustrated by the colonialists.

“He had done all the exams and passed but they could not promote him, saying Africans could not go beyond certain grades.”

Quit teaching job

Muguku quit the job against the wishes of his parents and the ridicule of his white boss and started keeping chicken with the help of his father in the first six months.

He married Leah Wanjiku, then a teacher at Kagaa Primary School, Githunguri.

The wife quit her teaching job in 1963 to join her husband in poultry keeping. In 1965, Muguku bought a 22-acre farm, Star Ltd for Sh100,000 from a white veterinary doctor, and started a hatchery with a 9,000-egg incubator. He later renamed the farm Muguku Poultry Farm.

This is when he started reaping and amassing wealth through the sale of day-old chicks and eggs through tenders. He at one time supplied eggs to Sir Malcolm MacDonald, the last governor and Kenya’s first Prime Minister Mzee Jomo Kenyatta at State House.

The VC said his brother ploughed back his profits. By the time of his death, he owned a computerised egg hatching incubator — one of the best in the region.

The hatchery comprises four state-of-the-art incubators, with a capacity to produce more than 500,000 chicks a day.
“He was reading the manual, operating it and maintaining it until his death,” Prof Thairu said.

Besides employing hundreds of youths on his expansive farm, the old man had a great record of philanthropy and community development.

Politicians thought he wanted to vie for Kikuyu parliamentary seat.

He established two primary schools, Kikuyu Township and Kidfarmaco and a high school - the former Greenacres School - at Red Hill off Limuru Road. He renamed it Tumaini School.

Mr Muguku was instrumental in helping bright students from poor backgrounds get scholarships from USA but when his son wanted to go and study medicine he was denied a chance because many had already been admitted using his name.

“He finally went after an African officer at the embassy helped him as an appreciation for the many students he had helped,” the VC said.

He also built the Anglican Church, Kikuyu, Church Hall and the pastor’s residence. He helped rehabilitate street children in Kikuyu Town .

“People here loved him so much that when armed robbers invaded his farm at one time, the whole town came to his rescue,” said Prof Thairu.

Mr Muguku and his wife had seven children.