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Equity Bank founder’s long journey to billionaires club

By Winsley Masese | Updated Mon, December 9th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
Equity Bank board chairman Peter Munga. (Photo:File/Standard)

By Winsley Masese

Kenya: Equity Bank board chairman Peter Munga, is arguably one of the richest Kenyans. His vast business empire and interests span across finance, insurance, education, and agriculture.

His share holding at Equity Bank and Britam are valued at over Sh1 billion, in the current market price. He has 58 million shares at Britam.

Besides, he is the chairman to the board at the National Oil Corporation and director at Housing Finance and Britam, both quoted companies.

“I am also a director and chairman in my home,” he says heartily.  This directorship cannot afford free money to his son who wants to buy say top-of-the range Mercedes Benz.

“I will tell my son to go to hell. He has to make his own money and buy one. Besides, he must work for it,” he says.

Nevertheless, Munga would only give his child precious thing — hard work and economic independence. “I would also love to see them become innovative by leveraging on technology.”

Education philanthropy

He holds education so dear to his heart. This has been manifested in the Wings to Fly Program launched by Equity Bank to assist bright but needy students continue with their education.

“I started this idea when I used to pay school fees for children from my area as part of my dedication to empower the community,” he avers.

“Education is the key to breaking the vicious circle of poverty,” he says. He also runs Pioneer Group of Schools, whose returns are promising.

“I cannot invest in it if there are no returns. However, my greatest gift is to see them achieve exemplary performance,” he says. But no matter how much you acquire the wings, he believes that “knowledge without application is useless.”

Changing lives

Asked to state his wealth, he becomes philosophical: “Just this cup of tea.”

Even success to him is relative. “A photographer can be successful by taking a great photo that can change lives in society,” so he believes.

However, he owes his success to the passion he has in whatever he sets his sight on and to pursue it with faith. “This is the master key to my endeavour, coupled with hard work and persistence.”

Along that entrepreneurial pathway are people who he says are key to a sector like banking. “I am successful because people have had confidence in me, especially when I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey,” he notes.

As part of that society, they understood his background and principally, he was part of them.

Interestingly, he prefers we stand outside in one of his offices. In any case, he has served as the chairman to the board at Equity Bank for the last 39 years and is not prepared to sit, literally.

Munga reckons that he mobilised people to own part of his dream, when he started Equity Building Society and got it incorporated in 1984.

To him, the biggest wealth you can create is to earn the trust of the people. “I have never told a lie to the community and they could not associate me with one. You see, banking is nothing else except trust.”

And those who obliged, he says, have shares worth of millions at the company. Interestingly though, he admits that the same people might have different visions.

Seizing opportunities

Quoting one verse in the Bible, which he calls a “manual of life”, he says that God created the rich and the poor the same. “But if you read further, it says that God created the rich and the poor, with different sights and that is why we have the two different classes of people, anyway.” Consequently, he believes that what makes a person rich and another poor is because of the way they see and seize opportunity.

“People who see nothing but problems certainly would be poor. “Those who see opportunity in a problem are rich and have the power of vision.”

However, he decided to resign as a deputy secretary, Ministry of Water in 1993, aged 48, because he knew he could not get far. “Resigning at 48 and that was the happiest day in my life,” he says, without hiding his happiness.

For him, opportunity came when small-scale farmers in his home, Kangema, had nowhere to save their earnings. “My mother was one of them and sharing her story, I saw an opportunity and took four years to implement it,” he told Business on Sunday.

Strict parent

“With Sh5,000 all that I needed was a licence to open a facility in the rural area and it worked perfectly well.

This has created self-belief that it’s not all about where you come from. “It is neither how much you inherited. Even if you inherit, you must have vision to grow and guard it,” he advises.

“Haven’t you heard of a story where even after a father securing his son a job, the young guy told his dad that he would only go to work if he bought him a car to take him to work?”

A Certified Public Secretary, Munga reveres people from Murang’a because of their hard work. “These are the people, especially from Rwathia, who thought nothing but business. They had made their own money through hard work,” he notes.

Murang’a tycoons own most of the properties in the Nairobi’s Central Business District. Munga only needed to employ professionals and inspire them.

However, he will not hesitate to sack them, arguing that it is part of the business, just like heaven and hell.

Besides, he believes that one secret is to also have a great team to inspire rather to lead or manipulate them.

—wmasese@standardmedia.co.ke

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