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Githua leaves limping Tuskys, hops onto new job

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Wainaina Wambu | March 9th 2021
Tuskys Supermarket Chief Executive Officer Dan Githua during The Tuskys Internship Programme launch at The Laico Regency Hotel. The programme aims at empowering youths by offering them training and job opportunity across their chain of stores. [Pius Cheruiyot]

Five months after jumping ship, ex-Tuskys chief executive Dan Githua is now involved in a new online retail venture.

However, even for a serial entrepreneur, the dust from the rubble of the crumbled Tuskys empire might prove hard to shake off.

Githua said he has since formed a “support group” for former Tuskys staff aimed at helping them get jobs.

“I left Tuskys five months ago. That is all I can say today,” Githua told Financial Standard last week, promising to give an interview “at an appropriate time.”

The former boss of the failed retailer has been keeping a low profile and even deleted his popular Twitter account where he vehemently defended Tuskys and commented on the local retail sector.

Here, he once went by the handles “Anko wa Tuskys” and the “Digital Retailer” but later changed to “Anko wa Retail” before quitting the social media platform altogether.

But just before quitting, he’d added “troubled!” to his bio. And after months off the radar, Githua has now resurfaced, marketing an e-commerce platform - AnkoRetail - where sellers can register as vendors and start trading.

Githua, who has previously declined countless interview requests, however, denied being the owner of the e-commerce business, saying it is owned by a Mauritius firm.

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“This is a Mauritius e-commerce company that has set up shop in Kenya. I’m helping them with setting up the business,” he told Financial Standard.

The marketplace promises discounts of up to 20 per cent, a pricing that offer better terms than regular supermarkets.

Buyers can get wholesale products, including fruits, vegetables, detergents, home items and textiles.

In the wake of Tuskys’ collapse, multiple small businesses, thousands of jobs and livelihoods that relied on the retailer’s ecosystem went down with it.

Githua, through a Whatsapp message, said he had formed a support group for former Tuskys staff to help link them with jobs using his “networks.”

“This is what I’m doing now, providing support to former staff of Tuskys, organising support groups and using my networks to hook them up with jobs,” he said.

In an aggressive marketing strategy, the e-commerce platform has even come up with a show on its Youtube channel dubbed Anko Lifestyle show hosted by influencers.

“We want to help shoppers identify lifestyle products to enhance happy living. The show will showcase the newest items in the market,” it says.

The e-commerce startup will ride on Githua’s vast retail experience. He is also credited with propelling the growth of Tuskys’ online selling. Anko, slang for uncle, promises discounted domestic shopping.  

The coronavirus has accelerated the growth of e-commerce, redefining brick and mortar retail.

Githua, a former Tuskys auditor, was the first non-family chief executive of the supermarket chain.

He was appointed in 2015 to oversee the retailer’s transformation from a tightly-controlled family business to a larger retail group with dreams of even listing at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

However, the business would soon be rocked by sibling rivalry, alleged fraud, aggressive debt-fuelled expansion and fierce competition from other retailers.

Githua bore the brunt of the sibling rivalry and was ousted in 2016 before making a comeback shortly after.

In a company profile, Githua is credited with having “introduced” smart retailing at the retailer, leading to increased profits during his first year.

However, his tenure was marked by drama amid accusations of conflict of interest by doing business with companies linked to him. 

Between 2009 and 2015, he founded and ran Speed Capital – a microfinance institution –  as chief executive.

He is also linked with Artemis, an outsourcing company that Tuskys used to recruit the bulk of its employees.

He, however, said in a previous media interview that he’d sold the business to avoid any conflict of interest.

Githua introduced outsourcing recruitment during his term as chief executive as part of cost-cutting measures.

But from the heady days when it was the country’s largest retailer following the collapse of Nakumatt and Uchumi, Tuskys has unravelled spectacularly.

At the beginning of last year, Tuskys was Kenya’s largest supermarket chain with over 50 branches stretching to Uganda and attracting almost two million shoppers a month.

It at one-point employed over 6,000 workers, the bulk of whom lost jobs last year.

The majority were owed arrears going as far back as six months. They are yet to receive their dues.

Top managers also fled as uncertainty over the retailer’s turnaround deepens. The exiting list included supply chain officials, branch managers and security officials.

Tuskys has also closed most of its branches in Nairobi’s central business district. Others across the country have temporarily been shut by auctioneers and most of the remaining ones are operating below par with a skeleton staff, while others have since been taken over by competitors.

Last year, it said that it will trim its 52 stores to 25 to stay alive as part of restructuring measures.

The final official communication from the supermarket said it had received Sh500 million as part of the first tranche of a Sh2 billion credit facility it recently secured from an unnamed Mauritius fund.

At the time, Githua said the money would partially pay landlords, staff and suppliers.

It had also introduced a new suppliers trading portal as part of a rescue plan and tapped an ex-Uchumi executive as the chief finance officer. 

The countless promises that Githua and the sibling made to clear supplier and employee debt now remain just that: a promise.

A dream started in the 1980s by Joram Kamau, a village shopkeeper, with only Sh7,000 now lies in ruin.

Today, the few remaining branches would be lucky to even register daily sales worth the startup capital.

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