Jane Karuku, Tabitha Karanja and Mary Waigwe [Photo: Courtesy]

It is scientifically proven that women have a more superior sense of smell and taste.

And, according to experts, women always have the upper hand since they can appreciate and identify the nuances of say, a fine and complex whisky.

 This probably explains why some of the top liquor companies are headed by women, who call the shots, literally.

This week, we look at some of the women who scare ‘the shit’ out of most men in the industry.

 Karuku, golfer with an eye for chocolates

Last year, when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that East Africa Breweries Ltd (EABL) was investing $142 million in a new production plant in Kisumu, Jane Karuku was the company official who signed the deal.

Jane Karuku is the managing director of Kenya Breweries, a subsidiary of East Africa Breweries Limited, one of Kenya’s oldest and most successful companies and is among the top taxpayers to the government.

Before taking over at KBL, Karuku headed Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from April 11, 2012, to September 2014. She has also been the managing director of Cadbury Schweppes East Africa and deputy chief executive of Telkom Kenya. At Cadbury, she was responsible for 14 countries in the East and Central African region.

Jane Karuku [Photo: Courtesy]

An avid golfer, Karuku holds a Bachelor of Science degree in food science and technology from the University of Nairobi and an MBA in marketing from the National University of California.

A member of the Karen Country Club in Nairobi, Karuku is also s director at Barclay’s Bank of Kenya, a board member of the Global Sustainability Index and a trustee of the United States International University.

“Playing golf and spending time with my family are my two most important passions. Another place you can find me is at the members’ only private Capital Club in Nairobi catching up with friends,” she said in a past interview.

 Karuku served as a Joint Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Telkom Kenya Limited from July 2010. She served as the Head of Support Services for Telkom Kenya Ltd as well.

Her career has spanned over 20 years, most of which has been spent in the agricultural sector. Karuku, whose pay, according to company filings last year, was Sh7.2 million monthly, also served at a senior position with Farmers Choice.

Just as wine, Githuka gets better

Lina Githuka is the managing director of Kenya Wine Agencies Limited (KWAL). Githuka, who has a strong commercial background in the FMCG having previously worked at BAT (East & Central Africa) and Unilever Kenya joined KWAL in February 2017, as commercial director before being promoted to manage the company.

With her at KWAL is the former chair of the board, Charity Seleina Kisotu who at 38, was appointed to chair the board of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), a pension fund with annual revenues of Sh20 billion and asset base of Sh171 billion.

A Certified Public Secretary (CPS) and a member of Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), Kisotu is now a board member at the Central Bank of Kenya.  Kisotu led the successful privatisation of KWAL.

Lina Githuka [Photo: Courtesy]

KWAL is a wine manufacturer, distiller, importer and distributor of alcoholic beverages, and was founded in 1969 by the Government of Kenya to consolidate and streamline the importation and distribution of wine and spirits in the country. The agency opened its first wholly owned winery in 1982.

Initially, KWAL enjoyed a monopoly, which was broken when the country’s economy was liberalised. In the beginning, KWAL was a 100 per cent parastatal, owned through the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC).

In 2014, the process of divestiture by the government was kick-started when 26 per cent shareholding was sold to the South African multinational conglomerate Distell Group Limited. The Nairobi-based, publicly listed equity investment firm Centum Investment Company Limited, owns a 26.43 per cent stake in KWAL.

Nyawira, Lawyer with an eye for Wines

African Spirits Limited is a multi-billion shilling company headed by Nyawira Kariuki.

With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kent in the UK and a master’s degree from Essec Business School, Nyawira quit law to follow her heart.

African Spirits is the largest indigenous manufacturers of spirits, including Legend Brandy, Furaha Brandy and Bluemon Vodka.

Nyawira Kariuki [Photo: Courtesy]

The company, located in Thika, Kiambu County, started operations in 2004 with the aim of providing quality, safe and affordable alcoholic beverages across the consumer value chain.

Nyawira also acts as the chief operating officer of its sister company, WOW Beverages. Established in 1992, WOW Beverages, formerly Wines of the World, is part of the business portfolio of businessman Humphrey Kariuki and was the first private company to import wines and spirits into Kenya.

Tabitha, cheerful and ever jovial

Tabitha Karanja is a phenomenal woman. Founder and current chief executive officer of Keroche Breweries, the first large beer brewery in Kenya owned by a non-multinational company.

Tabitha was born near Kijabe. She started working as an accounting clerk in the Ministry of Tourism before she met and married her husband, who owned a successful hardware store in Naivasha town. In 1997, the couple closed the hardware store and went into the wine-making business.

Tabitha Karanja [Photo:Courtesy]

Tabitha and her husband started making fortified wine, targeting the lower end of the market. In 2007, when the government enacted heavy taxes on locally made wines, her product was priced out of the market and she switched to manufacturing ready-to-drink gin and vodka, which her state-of-the-art factory still makes today.

In 2008, she added beer to her list of alcoholic drinks, beginning with a brand called Summit. In 2013, the factory began expansion plans to increase beer production from 60,000 bottles per day to 600,000 bottles per day.

The refurbished plant, which cost Sh5.5 billion (US$55.5 million), was commissioned by Adan Mohammed, the Cabinet Secretary for Industrialisation, on March 31, 2015.

Muthoni, distiller of Ice Vodka 

 Patiala Distillers Kenya Ltd was registered by Mary Waigwe Muthoni in the year 2009 as distillers and blenders of spirits, wines, gin, vodka and brandy.

Mary Waigwe Muthoni [Photo: Courtesy]

The company produces a wide array of spirits, including Best Gin, Best Brandy, Flying Horse brandy, Gold Medal brandy, Blue Ice vodka and Diamond Ice. They are also the distributors of Faxe beer.

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