|Achievers College of Professionals Director John Mukundi at the school’s premises in Embu County. [Photos: Joseph Muchiri/Standard]|
By Joseph Muchiri
Kenya: Would you quit formal employment to start a college without any savings for capital or knowledge on how to run a school?
Not many would, but Mr John Mukundi, the director of Achievers College of Professionals in Embu town, made the bold decision to resign from his job as a tutor in 2005, and aged 29, ventured into offering college courses.
Mr Mukundi’s story would challenge any young person with dreams of becoming self-employed who feels held back by a lack of capital.
He saw the opportunity in college education, borrowed Sh8,000 from a friend and started a small institution that is today one of the top tertiary educational schools in Embu County.
Mukundi does not come from a privileged background.
He worked as a bar attendant for two years after he left St Pauls’ Kivuti High School in 1993 where he scored a C plain. He acquired some basic skills in running a business and would have started his own, but opted to join Nyeri Technical Training Institute in 1995 for a diploma in accounting.
He then taught at several high schools and at an accountancy college. At the same time, he sat the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams.
“In my teaching career, I realised that if I was going to achieve my life dreams, I had to get into self-employment. I got some inspiration from the Bible in Joshua 3, which says when you see the priest carrying the ark, know it is time to cross over,” says Mukundi.
He quit his job at the accountancy college after going eight months without pay, which meant he had no money saved up.
His crossing over was rough and the Sh8,000 he borrowed for capital was spent on hiring two single rooms in Embu town.
He sourced a few tables from a carpenter on barter trade terms — he would teach the carpenter’s brother for free at the college.
Initially, Mukundi would hire chairs at Sh5 every day from an outside catering firm. The trouble with this arrangement was that he would have to close his school on weekends as the firm needed the seats for weddings, parties and other events. Still, he borrowed the chairs for three months.
“I also carried out an intensive advertising campaign. The first intake brought in 12 students all taking the Kenya Accounting Technicians Certificate 1 and CPA 1 exams. I hired five tutors whom I paid Sh80 per lesson.”
Each teacher would pocket around Sh7,000 per month, with Mukundi also paying himself the same rate.
“This taught me an important lesson. We were earning Sh7,000 after a month of toiling, which made me realise we were earning less than we should be.
“We sought to close that gap by offering classes after 5pm. This allowed us to reach the working class, and we became the pioneers of evening classes in the town,” he says.
Consequently, their remuneration improved, which increased his staff’s motivation to offer quality tutoring. Word got round and there was in increase in the number of students joining the college at the next intake.
The father of two then thought of increasing the courses on offer. He felt there were too few colleges offering computer packages, and the ones that did so charged an average Sh1,000 per package.
So he started information technology courses with three computers, and charged Sh400 per package, which attracted a lot of students.
The increase in the number of students enrolled forced them to move to larger premises. They moved to Subira House, still in Embu town, and occupied an entire floor.
Mukundi furnished the school and bought more computers and learning materials.
Today, the school enrols between 400 to 600 students a semester. It also occupies two floors and has booked another floor at a building under construction in the town.
Further, Achievers College of Professionals has branches in Kerugoya and Chuka towns.
The courses on offer include diplomas and higher diplomas in accounting, business, information technology, management and journalism.
The college is also a Cisco academy, which means it provides practical courses for students taking online exams in computer networking offered by Cisco.
It has also embarked on taking computer literacy to rural areas by setting up digital villages in Kangaru, Masinga, Kibugu, Kirigi and Njukiri, all in Embu, with plans to set up more outside the county.
The digital villages provide Internet access at low rates, while those interested in studying computer packages can do so without having to travel to larger towns.
The college has a staff of 20 and is run by a board of management with seven members.
Mukundi is now a certified CPA-K and holds a degree in business administration from Kenya Methodist University.
His biggest challenge?
“Teacher retention is a major issue in the education business, and it can either make or break your business. You have to ensure your pay is almost equal to the market rate or else they will move to competitors.”