What you need to know:
- Kirubi described himself as a media owner, entrepreneur, mentor and a trailblazer who thrived on and embraced change fast. He also wanted to be remembered as an entrepreneur who was not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Flamboyant entrepreneur, Chris Kirubi, braved a long, public fight with cancer.
To some Mr Kirubi, whose portfolio at the Nairobi Securities Exchange is worth more than Sh10 billion, was a talented and streetwise businessman, an investor extraordinaire who knew when to buy and sell.
To others, the entrepreneur was always at the right place, at the right time.
Kirubi described himself as a media owner, entrepreneur, mentor and a trailblazer who thrived on and embraced change fast. He also wanted to be remembered as an entrepreneur who was not afraid to challenge the status quo.
But the billionaire, 80, will also be remembered as a go-getter businessman who made his fortune in the manufacturing and investments sector.
His personality was a contradiction to many friends and foe. In one minute, he was the street-smart investor, asking directors of Kenya Airways why they were running down a company he had invested in at a heated Annual General Meeting (AGM).
In another, the man who loved fine things in life would be deejaying at his radio station. He would have easily been a life coach or a motivational speaker, going by the daily doses of entrepreneurial wisdom he dished out on his social media channels.
He never hesitated to take journalists head-on at press conferences for being unpatriotic or whenever they reported what he did not like. In the boardroom, he did not take disagreements lightly.
In 2017, he bought back the 51 per cent stake in Haco Industries and barely a decade after, he sold it to South Africa’s Tiger Brands in 2008.
The buyback followed a disagreement between him and the South African investors over the company’s strategic direction.
This is not the only boardroom war he fought. Before he fully took charge at Centum, Kirubi survived an ouster as chairman despite being the majority shareholder in 2008. Centum postponed the AGM to oust him, and when it was called, he had built up consensus in the boardroom and was returned by an overwhelming 99 per cent of the vote.
DJ CK, as was his stage name, had business interests spread across various sectors including manufacturing, media, insurance, investments and real estate.
He was a major shareholder and chairman of Coca-Cola Nairobi Bottlers, DHL Worldwide Express, Capital Media Group, International House Limited and Smart Applications limited. Through Centum, he had interests in property developments including Two Rivers in Gigiri and the Pearl Marina Project in Uganda.
He also made money buying and selling shares in companies listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) among the Kenya Airways, Safaricom and KCB as well as Centum, where he sunk most of his fortune to become the single-largest shareholder of the investment company.
In 2009, he was charged alongside 13 others with fraud after the collapse of Uchumi supermarkets.
Also read: Kirubi sells off his stake in UAP
However, a city magistrate, Gilbert Mutembei, acquitted the accused in 2011, saying they had no case to answer on the charge of conspiracy to defraud Uchumi.
He served as a general manager of Kenatco in the 1960s and early 1970s. His performance at the State corporation remains controversial, as the company collapsed soon after his departure.
He was also Chairman of Haco industries, which for decades manufactured the popular Bic brand.
In 2014, Mr Kirubi led a high-stakes bidding war for the takeover of agricultural firm, Rea Vipingo, outbidding two British brothers who had declared interest in the firm after he offered to buy the company at Sh75 per share, compared to the Sh70 a share offered by the London-based duo, Richard and Jeremy Robinow.
He did not hide the fact that the was an ardent supporter of the Jubilee Administration and, during the run up to the 2013 general election, he used his media outlet to drum up support for President Uhuru Kenyatta.
By the time of his death, he had liquidated his interests in most public companies among them Kenya Airways, Safaricom, UAP Holdings and KCB.
In 2020, Kirubi opened up about his battle with cancer in an interview with the Business Daily, after images of him looking frail circulated on social media.
"One thing I’ve come to discover is that in the end you’re alone. Your friends may love you, but eventually you have to deal with your sickness personally. You think about the past, the things that you could have done, the things that you have not done, and what you can do to compensate for things you ignored. It is a time of reflection. And prayers from friends do help, a lot," he said at the time.
"Being in a good hospital, with good doctors, adds a certain value to your life. I was just wondering what we can do to make sure, in a poor country like Kenya, everybody receives the best treatment possible rather than mass treatment. Because to tell you the truth, if I had been here maybe by now I would be long gone."
He also spoke about death, referring to it as rest from the daily hustles of life.
"Death is rest. A rest from daily hustles. This is something that is irreversible. You’re born, you grow, you die. In the end, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter the age or what you do to try and elongate your life."