As he makes his way into the compound of the spacious hotel located on the outskirts of Nakuru City, nothing distinguishes him from one of the many guests at the hotel.
But as he moves further into the well-kept compound, it begins to get clear that he is no guest here. He easily interacts with the staff briskly moving around the hotel serving patrons.
The serene spot is increasingly becoming a popular relaxation point for many residents of Nakuru City running away from the noisy and congested atmosphere they are used to.
"Welcome to Cherrynam Resort," says Lee Njiru, who served as Director, Presidential Service Unit during the late President Moi’s rule – Mr Njiru is the proprietor of the hotel, located in Ngata area off the busy Nakuru-Eldoret Highway.
“Early in my career, my entrepreneurial spirit was triggered by the hostile working environment I experienced as a young journalist, a press officer, when I joined the Presidential Press Unit in 1977 under the presidency of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and later Mzee Daniel Moi,” explains the 73-year-old, adding that his businesses over the years were a product of intimidation, fear of getting sacked and tribalism.
“I had to have a plan B, an alternative source of income just in case I was shown the door,” he comments.
His foray into business started in 1990 when he opened a bar and butchery in Racetrack Estate in Nakuru Town, which he later shut down.
He started building this facility in 2008, though at the time, his vision was to found a school, which he named Lenro Academy.
The venture did not, however, pan out as he had envisioned, and after running it for a year, threw in the towel and shut it down. In 2012, he started remodeling the facility, which he gradually converted into a hotel.
“We have grown gradually, and with time, I have found my niche in the hospitality business and learned to love it,” says Njiru.
He explains that setting up his business here was a calculated move, Nakuru having been singled out as the fastest growing town in East and Central Africa in a study by UN-Habitat.
“As I did my research, I drove through Nakuru, and besides the conventional banks, there were many small ones coming up. I asked myself, ‘where will all these people working here relaxe on weekends…’ I knew if I set up a hotel, here, it was just a matter of time before I started reaping what I had sown.”
The facility occupies three acres of Njiru’s 25-acre farm, buoyed by an initial seed capital injection of Sh10million. Part of the farm has been converted into a landing zone for helicopters.
“I fuel helicopters here, there is an airport lounge. Those who land don't have to come to the hotel as there is a separate restaurant for them,” he says, adding, “I can’t complain of the profit margins. What I get in a month is enough to survive on and ensure that I’m not a burden to anybody. I don’t have too many needs.”
The hotel, which has 25 rooms, offers a range of services, such as venues for garden weddings, team buildings, seminars and picnic grounds.
Njiru enjoys the freedom that comes with being self-employed. His hotel currently employs 25 workers.
“When you run your own business, you reap the maximum benefits of your sweat. You also get to draw your own programme, and the volume of your business determines how many hours you should work.”
He too feels the pinch of high taxation, which is imposed by the devolved and national governments.
“Taxes are too high, they are too punitive on businesses, the fact is that we are overtaxed, yet sometimes we don’t get the requisite services, such as road infrastructure. I pay training levies, yet they do not train my staff, I pay towards the tourism fund, yet they don't bring tourists to my hotel,” he points out.
Some of the business people he has looked up to over the years include the late President Moi, who he describes as a shrewd businessman, a man that encouraged his staff to invest in businesses.
His interaction with some of the most influential business figures in Nakuru such as Joseck Thuo, Stephen Kungu, Stephen Mung'ara, Benson Karuku, Gathogo Mwitumi, and Rahab Wanjiru, who started from scratch and worked their way up also inspire him.
“I learnt a lot from them, but the best business advice they gave me is to be focused and to be tenacious.”
He points out that the secret to success is patience, keeping off family from your business and training staff to respect customers. He has a succession plan in place.
“In another five years I will be 78, and will not be able to run this business as it should be. I will hand over the mantle to the new generation. I'm talking to some investors who have shown keen interest in the business…”