Kenya’s Top Mid-Level College Entrepreneur Just Beginning To Reap From Her Sweat
“Money has not and has never been my driving factor. It’s the pleasure of giving people quality education that motivates me. I am a hands-on person. I train my managers. We work together. We discuss issues together. My goal is to make a positive impact on people’s lives. That’s what gives me joy, “says Lizzie Muthoni Wanyoike.
When the history of Kenya’s mid-level tertiary colleges is documented, Lizzie Muthoni Wanyoike’s name will inextricably be associated with that education ecosystem for beginning the NIBS Technical college, arguably the bellwether institution in Sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest economy in dollar terms.
Began 22-years ago, NIBS Technical College has grown to become the largest center in Sub Saharan Africa offering the Association of Business Executives (ABE) including Institute of Commercial Management (ICM) examinations.
As a compliment for achieving this feat, Madam Lizzie, as she’s affectionately known, has been awarded a Fellowship award from the latter organization.
“I have not invested in the education sector because there is money to be made in it. I just have a passion for education and at no time has the money element ever influenced my decision to invest in this sector (education). For me it’s a calling. And you can bear this claim out by talking to former and current students of this institution,” says this social entrepreneur who also owns an eponymous preparatory school that opened doors in 2020.
Indeed her social pages including facebook and twitter are seemingly hagiographic.
It turns out the storied history of NIBS Technical college is traceable to the second floor of Nairobi’s Pioneer House, where the institution initially enrolled 25 students including two hired teachers.
This was at a time when a major milestone was taking place in the world, namely the exiting of the 20th century, in a global jamboree, referenced as the millennium celebrations.
Back in Kenya, the timing was arguably inauspicious to begin a business as the country’s annual economic growth rate was averaging a wretched 1.9 % ,the lowest, at the time, since the country got its independence, according to a Kenya National Bureau of Statistics report.
But despite the dire economic picture, madam Lizzie took a gamble that has morphed off handsomely for the NIBS Technical label presently boasts of three local campuses with an estimated headcount of 6000 students.
“Without determination, one cannot achieve their goals. One needs to remain focused and to pursue what they think is right,” she says.
Conspicuously the year when NIBS Technical college, then known as NIBS college opened its doors, two milestones, namely holding of the country’s fourth national census since independence and creation of a Parliamentary Service Commission took place.
Verifiably public universities in Kenya in early 2000 were only six including the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Moi University, Egerton University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Maseno University compared to 69 today.
“ Middle level colleges were a token. And I saw an opportunity in the market and I seized it and ran away with it. And I decided to offer business related diploma and certificate courses,” says Madam Lizzie who was unbowed by the fraught economic meltdown defining Kenya then.
Indeed it’s not uncommon to start a company during an economic recession as many notable global companies began during such a period.
According to the British Business Bank, when economic times are tough, conventional wisdom leads one to batten down the hatches, going ahead to put start-up plans on hold while one weathers the financial storm.
“ Yet research shows that launching a small business when the economy is on the ropes may be a good idea, with start-ups for they are better able to exploit gaps in the market compared to existing companies,” says the British Business Bank.
Once described by Dr. James Mwangi as being a “resilient and focused woman who is a benchmark for any serious Kenyan,” this septuagenarian lady is today thought to be a member of an enviable tribe of local billionaires.
“Money has not and has never been my driving factor. It’s the pleasure of giving people quality education that motivates me. I am a hands -on person. I train my managers. We work together. We discuss issues together. My goal is to make a positive impact in people’s lives. That’s what gives me joy,“says this proprietor of a Ksh 450 million (US$ 3,722,084) worth hotel which opened in June 2018.
The facility offers commercial services as well acts as a training ground for the institute’s hospitality students while undertaking practical training as well as internships.
“It is a diversification project. We are looking into the future and consolidating our incomes into a broader investment spectrum,” says Madam Lizzie in regards to the hotel, which runs as a commercial enterprise with its own profit and loss accounts despite being affiliated to Nibs Technical College.
It’s arguable, Madam Lizzie must have taken a cue from the thinking of Startup Sloth which points out that being passionate about what one does can help one get through the long-term slog of launching and running a company. While being genuinely excited about the area one is working on meanwhile can help avoid entrepreneurial burnout.
Indeed when the outlier label of billionaire is attached on the back of Madam Lizzie it belies the straightened and ubiquitous circumstances that she wrestled with in her ancestral home located in Kiharu constituency.
At the time British Kenya was facing a popular insurrection famously known as the Mau Mau uprising, which had generally reduced her homestead and hundreds of others found in Native reserves strategically expropriated by the British colonial government into palpable humdrums.
Her father Peterson Kariuki,who was a village chief was at the time wasting away in a colonial jail after the British colonialists, slapped him with a nine year jail term, ostensibly for being an accomplice of the seismic rebellion, leading Naomi Wangechi, the mother, a homemaker, to singularly fend for their 10 children.
According to The Washington Post, the British colonizers in the ’50s pictured the rebellion as an irrational descent into savagery by the Kikuyu people.But with the advent of Kenya’s independence, the rebellion was given its due as a war of liberation.
Said the newspaper“ Continuing research in the ’70s and ’80s, however, has revealed a more complex picture: The rebellion which sought to drive the colonizers from Kenya and reclaim lost lands became, in practice, a class war among the Kikuyu.”
Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’ research into the Mau Mau rebellion meanwhile shows the British forces wielded their authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic.
“Only by detaining nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million people and physically and psychologically atomising its men, women, and children could colonial authority be restored and the civilizing mission reinstated, “she writes.
After nearly a decade of oral and archival research, she had uncovered “a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead”.
That was the leitmotif of Madam Lizzie’s environment while growing -up.
But with her D.N.A hell -bent on achieving social mobility in the midst of the challenges she faced Madam Lizzie unwittingly took a bet on formal education – an option oxfam says allows children from poor families to end up better off than their parents.
She began her educational journey at Gathukiini primary school, then joined Kahuhia Girls High School, both publicly run institutions found within Muranga county.
Once done with secondary education, Madam Lizzie’s desire of joining a teacher training college suffered an ephemeral blow.
“ I wanted to join the teaching profession but I was never invited to join a college and my friends advised me to pursue a secretarial course that was being offered at Nakuru High School as part of the business curriculum. Once we were through with the course we got an opportunity in the same institution to train as teachers of business studies targeting high schools and I got a diploma,” says Madam Lizzie.
Fortuitously she met a group of Canadians in the Nakuru based school who offered her a chance to study business education at Kenyatta University , then a constituent college affiliated to the University of Nairobi, which was then a national cauldron for churning out teaching professionals.
Upon graduation in 1972 with a Diploma in Education, she was posted to State House Girls High School where she taught the English language, earning a monthly salary of Ksh 961.
At the time Lizzy Muthoni Muthoka as she was then known was simply a 20 year old ingénue.
It turned out, her education accomplishment accelerated the dropping of scales from her innocent eyes, allowing her to embrace the attitudes of a girl about town, justifying lazy excuses for not wanting to relocate back home after graduation.
In her telling, Kiharu now seemed benighted for apparently it suffered from a lack of basic social amenities including power, portable water, tarmacked roads and so on, existential luxuries which she had lapped up to while studying.
Routinely campuses worldwide witness the act of hooking up among students forming a huge part of the culture with about 80% students , on average, engaging in the activity over the course of college life.
And lo and behold, Madam Lizzie was not beyond falling prey to this seedy culture, for she fell for the amorous spell of one Josphat Mburu Wanyoike, a well-heeled politico who was once the MP for Gatanga and who was 16-years her senior.
“I met my husband who had parted ways with his initial wife leaving behind three children.At the time I was barely 20 years of age. And I got pregnant shortly after. After which the gentleman visited my ancestral home and paid for my dowry according to our Gikuyu customary rites, says Lizzy Muthoni who had now adopted the name Wanyoike to signify her new status as a legally married woman.
By 1975, she had figured out employment was not her thing. She wanted to engage in a business enterprise.
“That is when I teamed up with my husband and other partners and founded Temple College of Secretarial Studies ,” says Madam Lizzie.
Five years passed on and she was promoted to the position of Managing Administrator, a tangible sign that she was doing something right.
“I was very devoted to my work even though I really didn’t need to because I was then married to a rich husband. But I would report for duty very early even when others showed up late. As a result I gained lots of knowledge and experience, which I later used when I started NIBS. Even today I don’t take my work for granted,” she told How we made it in Africa.
It was around that time that she began purchasing land and building rental houses.
And after two years playing the role of Managing Administrator she realized there was a need to introduce new courses in the college.
“ By 1999 I was sure that the realities of a moving global economy required more challenging ventures to tap into so as to benefit from the immense positive changes that were taking place globally, “ she recalls.
But when she approached her employer with her idea it was akin to talking to a wall.
“After 18 years I quit that partnership,” says Madam Lizzie.
Often, problems in a business partnership are the natural result of individual preferences not being identical, which can lead to disagreements on the way a business operates, says Indeed.
It’s often said that when it rains it pours, and Madam Lizzie was turning to being a quintessential example of the meaning of that term.
After 26-years of marriage, the union collapsed with Madam Lizzie singularly faulting the 16-year age gap for the unfolding debacle saying instead her former husband was a good egg.
“ One day I returned home after a busy day at work. And the gatekeeper informed me that he had been instructed by my husband not to allow me into my matrimonial home. It had reached a point where it was clear we were not reading from the same page. I reversed my car and I just sat in my car and cried for four hours.
I spoke to God and thought ‘could he have given me this man for having just kicked me out’? I left only with my handbag and began living in a hostel where I laid a mattress on the floor for a bed. I thank God my three children were already grown ups and were out of the country studying. But if I were to marry again I would still go for that same man,” says Madam Lizzie.
“ When I took my matters to court seeking a ruling seeking a division of the properties we had purchased together, my husband arrived in court with a marriage certificate of his previous relationship and told the court that I was simply a girlfriend,” says Madam Lizzie.
This turn of events shattered the heart of Madam Lizzie.
Eternally, married couples are pulled towards pooling resources together and Madam Lizzie and her husband were an exemplar.
Some research shows that combining finances with a partner may lead to a happier relationship while another study titled “Pooling finances and relationship satisfaction,” indicates couples who pool all of their resources together experience greater relationship satisfaction and are less likely to break up.
For Madam Lizzie the situation turned out to be asymmetrical.
However, unknown to most, by the time she was turning 40, she was practically homeless and living at a Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) hostel, after separating with her husband.
“In my despair to have a fresh start, I visited Equity Bank Kenya Limited, who agreed to give me a loan which I later added to my savings to start afresh,” says Madam Lizzie.
She sold shares of a local bank she bought many years back and was still uncertain about buying land to build a college but a bank boss persuaded her to take a risk.
In 1999, armed with savings of KSh6 million (US$60,000) and a bank loan from Equity worth KSh4 million (US$40,000), she established NIBS, which struggled for eight months before settling down.
“As a business we broke even in the first year and this was purely on the basis of the quality of service that we were offering. I worked closely with the lecturers to ensure students got the best. Additionally as a sign of the confidence of what I was doing, I used my visage alongside any advert that I placed in the Established media believing my history as a teacher stood me in good stead,” says this finalist recipient of the 2018, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year award.
In 2003 NIBS relocated to Cooperative Bank House after outgrowing its first facility but after three months into the new lease, the landlord threatened to evict her with the matter settled eventually after two years by a court ruling.
“It was a very traumatizing experience, but it taught me to possess resilience in addition to the need to own my own piece of land because the experience could recur again in the future,” says Madam Lizzie.
In 2009 NIBS purchased a 10-acre parcel along Thika Superhighway near Ruiru for Ksh 20 million (US$ $ 166,888) and invested an addition Ksh 134 million (US$ 1,105,610) to build NIBS Technical college, main campus.
“ I was very strict on savings and had bought some plots even though I had a wealthy husband so what I did was to sell some of those plots and I used to invest in the Nairobi Stock Exchange,” says Madam Lizzie.
Saving money is important because it helps cushion the blow of financial emergencies and unexpected expenses. Additionally, saving money can help one pay for large purchases, avoid debt, reduce one’s financial stress, and provides one with a greater sense of financial freedom, says bethebudget.
In 2010 her estranged husband whom she describes as “the foundation and inspiration of my success today” died, an occurrence she describes as “ a setback “ but she chose instead to focus on building her the business “instead of remaining stuck in mourning”, she says.
“We have grown this investment from the Ksh 6 million (US$ 49,758.80) capital of 2010 to the current status where we now sit on a Sh600 million (4,975,880.40) 10 acres of land in Kimbo, Ruiru that’s fully developed,” she told Business Daily.
Abel Mutua- Mastering Storytelling
Lizzie -Thinking of the next business plan
Ms. Lizzie Muthoni
Lizzie Muthoni Wanyoike