It’s a tale of resilience for three centurion giants as Standard Group celebrates over a century in heritage business

Sarova Hotels Managing Director Jimi Kariuki during an interview. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Like tributaries flowing into a river, three companies that started almost at the same time more than 100 yeas ago are now riding on a mutual relationship.

Their separate journeys dating back to the colonial era, and 1902 to be precise, encountered bumps that put to test their resilience and determination.

From a fire that razed the pioneer Sarova hotel to losses that forced Kenya Railways to tactfully concede business failure and the Standard Group office raid by masked gunmen, the three companies share a thrilling and intriguing past.

But the construction of the Lunatic Express, as the metre-gauge railway was called, is the genesis of all the buzz of activity that brought together the three business entities to share a related heritage.

When the meter-gauge railway snaked its way to Kisumu in 1901, Kenya opened up, leading to a gush of visitors from Europe.

Mayence Bent, the founder of Victoria Hotel, as the New Sarova Stanley was then referred to, took advantage of the potential in the hospitality sector while working in a store in Nairobi.

But in 1905, fire gutted houses along Victoria Street, currently Tom Mboya Street, and the hotel was reduced to ashes. However, in 1908, Ms Bent re-invented herself and a new hotel was constructed. It was named Stanley Hotel.

At the time, an immigrant from India, Alibhai Jeevanjee, had started a weekly newspaper, African Standard. It was later renamed East African Standard in 1905 when Jeevanjee sold the paper.

The Standard, owing to its bold nature of reporting, was raided by gunmen on March 2, 2006, because of a story that did not please those in power. The Standard was shaken but did not bow out.

While congratulating The Standard for being in service for over 100 years, Sarova Group of Hotels and Kenya Railways said they shared a lot of the history of the publication.

Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) Acting Managing Director Philip Mainga said The Standard Group has “stood the test of time” since its inception.

“We are agemates and share a lot in common. The publication was started as a result of the railway sector and has faced its challenges but remained in business.

“We have faced declining profits in the past that forced us to concede and give the management of the metre-gauge railway to Rift Valley Railways (RVR),” said Mr Mainga during an interview.

The Rift Valley Railways, a private company, was contracted in 2006 after KRC admitted running losses.

Last year, KRC terminated the contract with the RVR and resumed the management of the business.

“We have since diversified, just like The Standard Group. We started the Standard Gauge Railway with the second phase to Kisumu under construction. The Nairobi-Mombasa route is in operation and we are doing well,” said Mainga.

The Standard Group has diversified from its flagship newspaper publication and currently has KTN Home, KTN News, Radio Maisha, KTN Farmers TV, The Nairobian and The Standard Digital platform.

Sarova Group of Hotels Managing Director Jimi Kariuki congratulated The Standard Group for ensuring that its products remained dominant in the market.

The Standard newspaper has been bold and positive in its reporting since its inception and we are proud to be associated with the publication,” commented Mr Kariuki, who is also the chairperson of the Kenya Tourism Board.

The reactions of the two officials come at the time The Standard celebrates over 100 years in the media industry.