My father, Paul Kitololo, has been an entrepreneur for all of my life. At the height of a successful career in the corporate world, he gave up the regular paycheck, the company car and, in many people's opinion – his sanity – in order to start his own tour company. Over the next 3 decades, Private Safaris grew to be one of the most prestigious tour companies in Kenya and East Africa. I remember spending my Saturday mornings at his office as a child, busying myself on his secretaries typewriter (creating my 'zine). I am still in awe at how my father successfully run the company while also: participating in or chairing several associations and boards; managing the Kenya Special Olympics team; writing a novel, Shortcut to Hell (published in 1983); making it to every single one of my parent-teacher evenings, as well as sports days and plays and; generally being so involved in my life.
In recent years, dad has sold his stake in Private Safaris but he's not sitting idle! He now runs a renewable energy company, Solar World; is working on a real estate development in his homeland of Taita and; is writing again!
There are so many things he has taught me through the years, directly and indirectly. Some of those lessons weren't appreciated by my siblings and I, when we were younger. Knowing what we know now, they were invaluable and we are incredibly grateful for them. Now that I have a business of my own, I feel blessed that I can go to my father for guidance.
I have to admit that I've been sitting on this interview for a while – because it's such a special one – but this month is a very fitting time to share it with the world.
What's your passion
My passion has always been for those around me to succeed in life – to continually grow and achieve their dreams. This is more so with my immediate family in mind: my brothers and sisters, and in particular my children. I spend a better part of my life pondering what I can do to help them make their lives better or easier. That is why I try to share with them as much as possible the fruits of my little success!
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? What inspired the different businesses you've established?
Since my childhood, my ambition was to run my own business someday. Like fate would have it, the American International Development organisation (AID) sponsored for me to attend university in the US where I pursued a course in Business Administration as a major and Marketing as a minor. Tools that would serve me well in the future!
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge and how have you dealt with/overcome it?
The greatest obstacle was accessing the necessary capital with which to start a business. Deciding what kind of business to go into was not easy either.
I overcame the problem by spending my first ten years after college working in both public and private organizations. This course of action turned out to a blessing in disguise! Besides saving some money, I was able to gain invaluable experience. With the little capital, I realised I still needed partners, due to nature of the business I was about to embark on. The tourism Industry was avoided by indigenous Kenyans!* I needed partners with contacts overseas – the source of tourists. I was fortunate to meet two foreign gentlemen who were looking for a Kenyan to partner with.
What is your greatest achievement?
We established a tour company, Private Safaris, which grew by leaps and bounds. The company employs around 200 and boasts as one of the best run organisations in the country! It is a great contributor of foreign exchange for the Kenyan economy, in addition to providing good training to many Kenyans. Many of whom have gone on to become successful in their own ventures or in other organisations.
Where will you be in 10 years time?
In the next 10 years I see myself as semi-retired. However, I may continue to consult as required from time to time.
How does Africa inspire you?
Africa is the continent of the future in many ways. It can be described as a sleeping giant. The challenges that exist provide opportunities for its people to exploit. As technology advances, so will Africa. With our immense resources, Africa will soon become a world economic power. With it, political power will follow. It is exciting to see how each African country grapples to find the right formula for growth and good governance. Soon the chips will fall in place, not only for the individual countries but also for the regional blocks, which bodes well for total unity of the continent.
Anything else you'd like to share?
It is encouraging to see the youth, with various skills, providing the necessary manpower so vital to the rapid development of a country. Previously, it was not easy to find an adequate supply of engineers, accountants, HR experts etc.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/years?
I mentioned that I am going into a semi-retired mode. While in that state, and with the necessary finances, I may venture into real estate, starting with some land that I acquired sometime back. I'm still being sought out by a few people for consultancy work.
[In the time since this interview was originally written, there is talk about my dad's book, Shortcut to Hell, being reprinted as well as being turned into a film and TV series. Watch this space!]
*To add some further context, my father was born in the 30s, decades before Kenya would become an independent country. He was starting his business less than 20 years after independence.
Illustrations by yours truly, Lulu Kitololo.
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