The new landmark in Machakos town, the imposing Mulleys Supermarket, is the culmination of one of the most inspiring stories of entrepreneurship to have emerged out of Kenya.
They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Certainly the world never foresaw the consequences of young Peter Ngumbi Mulei’s decision in 1934 to hire himself out as a labourer in the coffee farms of Kiambu. But this was no ordinary young man. This was a driven man whose credo in life was, “Ikia vitii, vitii.” Loosely translated, that is Kamba for, “Press on, press on.” Over the next 57 years, the young man’s determination would slowly give birth to millions of shillings-worth of investment.
From working in a food kiosk and serving meals to British soldiers during World War Two to livestock trading and wood-carving, Ngumbi’s true calling began to emerge.
Though a school drop-out, Ngumbi’s life would evidence the contention that true education is not exclusively academic. He would display the hallmarks of true enterpreneurship: diligence, focus, discipline and hardwork. From his business wanderings to across Africa, he saved enough money to open a merchandise store in Machakos town in 1969.
Previously, he had run a chain of corner shops and grocery stores in Nairobi. Success can be evident in a person’s character. In all the places where Ngumbi worked, four things are remembered of him: he was a hard-worker, a man of integrity, a person who respected other people and one who valued relationships. These, self-help gurus say, are among cardinal ingredients of success.
“Among the many things I learnt from my father,” says Ndonye Ngumbi, “is that relationships matter. My father valued people and never took advantage of anyone.”
This must have played a significant role in influencing his firm’s mission statement: “to create an emotional relationship with our customers by providing reliable, quality goods and services through our inspired staff.”
This especially came to the fore in days when scarcity of certain commodities, usually food, was acute. At a time when most other store-keepers hoarded the commodities to spike the prices, Ngumbi had people line up outside his store and he sold to everybody an equal amount – at the normal price.
Although it can safely be assumed that he never read Stephen Covey, Robert Schuller, Dale Carnergie, or Napoleon Hill, Ngumbi’s way of doing business proves once again that the pricinciples of success are universal. The customers he faithfully and sensitively served for years until his death in June 2010, are trooping to Machakos town’s newest investment, the Mulleys Supermarket. Business, they say, is a relationship, not money.
“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men,” says Proverbs 22:29.
Because of the strength of his character, Mulei attracted the attentions and friendship of certain notables, among them one Jomo Kenyatta who would later become Kenya’s first president. Another was a fellow by the name Mbiyu Koinange, a freedom fighter. Each of these men held their relationship with Ngumbi in warm esteem to their dying day.
Ngumbi’s story at this point begins to reflect that of Asa Candler, the gifted enterpreneur who stumbled upon a strange concoction and went on to turn it into the world’s most recognisable brand, Coca Cola. The Mulei firm envisions no less an objective. It’s vision is “To become a world-class enterprise partnering with employees, customers and the community to make society a better place.”
Unlike Candler, Ngumbi provided a living model for his children, bequething them not just business acumen but character. Each of them worked with him for several years prior to his death. Their apprenticeship with him culminated into one of Machakos town’s best known business premises: Peter Mulei & Sons Limited.
“A most distingushing characteristic of the Mulei firm is their straight-forward way of doing business. Any one who does business in these parts will tell you that honesty is a rather rare commodity.
These guys pay in time without argument. As a supplier of goods, our firm finds them perfect representatives in the area around Machakos.”
Three of the Ngumbi sons, Mulei Ngumbi, Kyalo Ngumbi and Ndonye Ngumbi, are the firm’s directors. Four other siblings are also involved. Sisters Deborah Guturo and Josephine Wausi run the restaurants. Francis Kamalizah and Jennifer Muthue participate from their base in the USA.
They each tell of some profound lesson they learnt from their father, especially the areas of hard work, financial discipline and frugality.
“That man was everything to us,” says Kyalo Ngumbi. “He used to say that when you are running a business, concentrate like a man riding a galloping horse. You lose attention or look sideways and you are dead.”
Together, the seven have turned their father’s relatively modest wholesale and distribution business into one of the biggest investments in Machakos town. Right there we have one of the most inspiring enterpreneuship stories Kenyan and African children need to hear about.
Mulleys Vission and Mission
Vision: To become a world-class enterprise partnering with employees, customers and the community to make the society a better place.
Mission: To create an emotional relationship with our customers by providing reliable, quality goods and services through our inspired staff.