The Penthouse at International Life House lives up to its name: it’s spacious and commands an uninterrupted view of the Central Business District.
This is where the late business mogul Chris Kirubi would spend most of his time, before hitting the social circuit.
If you were lucky to get an appointment – and they were rare – you would be ushered into his secretary’s office where you cooled your heels before another door was opened and you would walk in thinking that finally, you were in the big man’s office only to find another beauty, or flower, as he referred to women.
This was the office of his personal assistant (PA); his office was on the other side of the door.
During one visit to see the Big Man, I was ushered into Kirubi’s PA’s office and after whispering my name and the purpose of my visit, the unsmiling damsel flickered her eyes, raised her head ever-so-slightly and invited me to sit down.
I couldn’t help noticing that the décor in the PA’s office was much better than that of the secretary.
As I waited, I could barely hear the cacophony of the Kencom bus stage across the road.
The PA whispered into a mouthpiece before showing me to yet another door.
The heavy door was opened and I walked in not knowing what to expect on the other side.
But, lo and behold, there sat the Big Man himself behind a huge computer screen, a couple of cell phones arranged on his desk.
The spacious office was richly furnished with an exquisite leather sofa set at the corner next to a Bose music system. There was also a huge flat-screen TV on the wall alongside artworks that could pass for masterpieces.
Narcissism and hubris
“Mr Kirubi, you have a beautiful office,” I mumbled in greeting. I had gone to interview him for a daily newspaper I worked for then.
“Sit down, young man,” CK, as he was popularly known, said pointing to a seat opposite his majestic office table.
“What do you expect of me? We are the captains of industry in this country!” he said with a flourish.
I knew Kirubi was famous for his narcissism and hubris, but I was taken aback.
I sat down humbly and continued with the interview that was supposed to be about his business empire, but he ended up talking more about the millions he had contributed to the various political entities in the country.
It was an election year, and he had been one of the organisers of a dinner where a plate was going for a couple of million shillings.
“They always come to me for money,” he sighed.
As a businessman, CK had it all. At one time, he controlled a huge stake at the Nairobi Securities Exchange through his investments in quoted companies.
He also had other investments in various private entities such as Haco industries, International Life House, among others.
For the latter, he was especially proud telling anyone who cared to listen he had the most airlines concentrated in one building (as his tenants).
He was unhappy that he was not considered Kenya’s richest man. He took exception to the fact that there was that former Gikomba hardware dealer who had struck it rich in cement and steel manufacturing who was always on the Forbes list of Africa’s richest men.
He still appears on that list. His name is Narendra Raval. Kirubi hadn’t made the cut.
Perhaps to make up for this anomaly, he pursued eternal youth, becoming a DJ at his radio station - Capital FM - and his preference for a posse of youngsters when his peers were huddled at the deepest corner of Karen Country Club nursing their gout.
Even his cars – top-of-the-range, with personalised number plates – symbolised his search for the elixir of life.
And he was no respecter of protocol. At one time, I took the president of an international organisation to see him at The Penthouse.
The plan was to entice Kirubi to become a member of an exclusive club of six or so advisers to the institution.
Among the proposed members was a former US Congressman, a former top international Monetary Fund (IMF) official, among other influential individuals.
I had warned the organisation head that Kirubi was not the most well-spoken businessman in the country and perhaps he might not be the right man for the advisory role. I was ignored.
On arriving, the individual explained the purpose of the visit in a minute or two to Kirubi, adding that the work would not be too involving.
It would perhaps involve a meeting or two a year in some major city in the world, where all the costs would be catered for and a small honorarium paid.
“An honorarium?” Kirubi cut him short “You mean I won’t get paid? I don’t do charity work. Look around this office: How many of you have seen a leather table like this one?” he posited, poking his finger repeatedly on the leather-upholstered table.
I had never seen a table like that in my life. That I was sure. However, I was sure the president had seen more exquisite furniture, but he didn’t utter a word.
“When I was in Harvard, (Kirubi was there for the Executive programme that barely lasted a month), we were taught the value of time. I value my time greatly,” he retorted.
That’s how the meeting ended. We drove back to the office in loud silence. I wanted to shout “I told you!” but I had to restrain myself.