Narendra Raval is 58 years old and estimated to be worth a staggering $500 million — or Sh50 billion—according to Forbes 2015 list of Africa’s 50 richest people. He made his money from steel, barbed wire, cement, aluminium, and reinforcement bars.
Nobody calls him Narendra or Raval, he is simply called Guru. He is called Guru not because of his knack for making huge amounts of money but because he comes from a caste of priests ( Brahmins) and served as a priest in India and an assistant priest in a temple in Kenya, learning the ways of the spiritual world.
As a result, he reads palms and faces, and has mastered astrology. He made the headlines recently for stopping the manufacture of steel at one of his factories to produce oxygen which he gives to struggling public hospitals for free.
Guru keeps giving away his money. He is a philanthropist. He owns one pair of ordinary $60 official shoes, a simple mobile phone, six ties and four suits, because his “wife insists I need more than one suit.”
He has no wallet, and no credit or debit cards.
He wrote an autobiography called ‘Guru; A Long Walk to Success’ that he says has sold over Sh100 million, money he has donated to charity, every last cent.
He runs children’s homes, has adopted many government schools, built classrooms in others, and feeds thousands of poor children.
JACKSON BIKO of Business daily interviewed him at his office at Devki Group headquarters, a behemoth rising from the dust of Ruiru.
He stressed the ethos of humanity, selflessness and recounted a long difficult journey that started from India where he was born in poverty, to Kenya where he found a wife, children, and great fortune.
Why do you think some people like you attain a certain level of commercial success running into billions of shillings, while some struggle and work hard but never break the glass ceiling?
It’s not magic. I realise that many people who are cleverer than me never quite find the same success. Making money, lots of money is about courage. First, most successful people are courageous. They take risks. You can’t be a successful businessman if you don’t take risks.
The second thing is focus. Have you watched big cats hunt on National Geographic? Once a lion has started chasing prey, it will focus on one animal even though many will run before him, many that look easy to catch, he will only go for this one animal.
Third, you are only as big as your biggest dream. When I was very poor, I didn’t have a shoe on my foot. Do you know what I used to dream of? A helicopter. Can you believe how insane and unrealistic that was? Not a motorcycle, not a big shop…a helicopter. I didn’t even know how to spell helicopter but I worked for it and I never forgot that dream.
Did you finally own one?
I own three.
After 35 years of marriage, what do you struggle with?
I never struggle with marriage. Marriage has only helped me to grow to where I am. You become close friends the longer you stay together, raising children, working towards something important for both of you. My wife used to work with me at our shop in Gikomba when I was starting and we shared a lot of ideas on what we needed to do. We don’t keep secrets between us. The beauty of marriage for me is that whatever problems I have, I always know they will be shared and halved.
How old are your children now?
My eldest is 30 years, I have a girl who is 22 and my last born is 15 years.
For a man of immense means, how do you make sure that your children don’t grow up entitled, that they don’t live in a vacuum of privilege?
It is very difficult for you to decide on behalf of your children. And yes, I have that fear that my children might not absorb certain principles that I want them to.
But it helps a great deal that we all stay together, three generations in one home. I have two grandchildren. My wife’s parents stay with us. In our home, we have people who are 92 years old and right up to two years old.
It is easy to pass down a culture of humility, sharing in this close setup. I can’t teach my children how to make lots of money but I can teach them the value of money which is a more important lesson. I teach them this every day.
My eldest comes to work every day and handles many things. Business is in his blood. He went to Harvard University but came back and joined the business seven years ago.