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From clerk to billionaire: How Humphrey Kariuki made his fortune

Brian Eliani
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Billionaire Humphrey Kariuki. He owns the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage. [Source/ forbes.com]

The police raid on Humphrey Kariuki's multi-million alcohol empire in Thika town on Wednesday, last week, led to Kenyans asking how the little-known man become a billionaire. 

In an interview with Forbes, the tycoon said he is the last born in a family of 10 siblings and grew up in a rural setting in Nyeri County. 

The 61-year-old billionaire studied at Nairobi School and Kagumo High school and later joined Central Bank of Kenya, at the age of 19, as a clerk. 

"I started as a clerk and then went on to work in various other departments in the bank, the Foreign Exchange department and the Imports department. It was a decent job, and I earned a decent income that was able to give me a comfortable living," said Kariuki during the interview with Forbes in 2017.

He took some time off from Central Bank and went to visit his elder sister in Norway. During his visit there, he found out that his sister wanted to sell her car but couldn't find a buyer with the right price.

He convinced her to let him ship the car to Kenya, where he sold it to a Norwegian buyer at double the price. 

That is when he decided to venture into trading cars, a business he operated for sometime before later venturing into the food industry and opened his first restaurant, Green Corner Hotel.

"I was able to sell it to him at double the price my sister was asking for. I gave my sister her money and kept the rest for myself. I was amazed, and I wondered: ‘Is this how easy it is to make money? So that marked my entry into the car business, and for several years it was my mainstay," he said.

He later began importing wines and other alcoholic beverages. 

"In those days in Kenya, it was only Government that had the sole license to import alcohol, but as time went on, we were able to challenge that monopoly. I created a company, Wines of the World, which now trades today as WOW Beverages. We acquired the sole distributorships in Kenya for many of the leading wines, premium whiskies and brandies in Europe and North America," said Kariuki.

He launched Africa Spirits Limited in 2002, which produces brands such as Blue Moon Vodka. Glen Rock whiskey and Legend brandy.

Kariuki is said to have other several business ventures such as the Hub shopping mall in Karen, Fairmont Mt Kenya Club and the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage. 

The tycoon shot in the limelight after his Africa Spirits Limited plant in Thika was raided by police last week. The officers are said to have recovered 312,000 litres of illicit liquor, ethanol and 21 million Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) counterfeit stamps

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