He is the Chairman of the Chandaria Group of Companies, a family concern that is also a huge empire operating in over 43 countries worldwide. He is also the Chairman of The Chandaria Foundation started in 1952 by his family which focuses on helping the less fortunate in the community.
His early years were spent at his father’s provisional store along Nairobi’s famous Biashara Street, he lived briefly in Mombasa and then in a one-roomed house in Ngara during pre-independence Kenya. In those days Muthaiga, an affluent Nairobi suburb, was still an exclusively European affair flagged by a huge forbidding signpost that read “Trespassers will be Prosecuted.” Lolling around on the beaches of Nyali was also reserved for the Europeans only. If Asians or Africans wanted to take a dip they had to take a boat into the sea and get off at the reef and swim in the open seas of the Indian Ocean. Therefore, it was ironic sitting in his lounge in his home in the Muthaiga suburb where less than half a century ago none of us would have been allowed into the area at all, or worse still allowed to fraternize.
The Muthaiga sign came down after 1955 when he had already married his wife Aruna Chandaria mother of his three children and his best friend. This is by far one of the most obvious fruits of independence that Kenya reaped, our ability to thrive on diversity.
But what is Dr. Chandaria’s key to success?
“At an early age I realized I would never be great at sports, so I made up for it in my studies,” he said.
His father had moved to Kenya in 1916 as a merchant with a provisions store along Biashara Street. They also delved into the manufacturing business by buying into an aluminium plant called KaluWorks. His parents made a lot of sacrifices to educate them well and Dr Manu, with some of his family members took over the running of Kalu Works once they finished their education. At first they were overwhelmed at the level of work required to run a successful business enterprise. However, they also felt a strong sense of responsibility and recognized the struggles that had to be endured first by their parents to acquire the plant and then by the children to make it a success.
He attributes much of their success to the exposure that he acquired while studying abroad which opened his mind to new ideas. He is also influenced by his strong religious upbringing in the Jain doctrines that are principled on a pious and moderate lifestyle. He has never had the need for ostentation or excesses.
Another side of Dr. Chandaria is his work in the community. He has always seen the need to give opportunity to Kenyan youth so that they can have the chance to live to their full potential. He is involved with several charity organizations and works with them to raise the quality of life; a feat that he feels all Kenyans with means should be involved in. Dr. Chandaria was on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s honour list in 2003 and in 2006 he was granted Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition for his work in the community and his promotion of Kenyan – British economic interest in Kenya.
“We need to realize, as the private sector, that we have the responsibility to accept making money and looking after ourselves but in addition we need to also care for the community and our country Kenya at large.”
With this in mind, it is not surprisingly to see him busy involved with projects ranging from rehabilitation of street families, to educational trusts that expand opportunities for the less fortunate in Kenya.
“The real key to success for the youth in Kenya is to open their minds to good ideas that can have a multiplier effect,” he explains
According to him, the government, the corporate world and individuals need to learn to harness the potential of the youth in Kenya by equipping them with skills that will help build them as strong capable citizens, and allowing them to use these tools to help secure the future of our beloved nation.
And his vision for Kenya?
“Among all our neighbours in East and Central Africa, Kenya is still a notch higher even without any real natural wealth. Our main asset is human resources, intelligence and goodness of heart. We Kenyans are the true source of wealth in this region. We just need to realize this and then we can make it.”
Kenyan multi-millionaire and manufacturing magnate Manu Chandaria, the chairman of Comcraft Group, an industrial conglomerate with interests in aluminum, steel, plastics and information technology, plans to list some subsidiaries of his conglomerate on a stock exchange.
Chandaria, speaking recently to Reuters, said that both the steel and aluminum businesses of the group could be listed within the next two or three years.
Chandaria’s father, an Indian immigrant, laid the earliest foundation of the Comcraft Group in 1915 when he relocated to Nairobi to start a provisions shop in the city’s popular Biashara street. As the business grew, his father and extended family members subsequently acquired Kaluworks, a manufacturer of aluminum cookware and roofing sheets. When Chandaria returned to Kenya after studying in the United States, he joined the company, expanded the group’s product offering and steered the company to the remarkable growth it enjoys today. Comcraft now has more than 30,000 employees in 40 countries, more than $2 billion in annual revenues and is arguably the largest manufacturer of aluminum and steel products in Africa.
But Chandaria is still looking for growth in Africa and elsewhere and has long sought avenues to raise additional capital to facilitate the group’s international expansion. In 2012, Kaluworks, a Comcraft subsidiary, raised $14 million in a corporate bond sale. There has been no other major public fundraising exercise for any of the group’s companies since then.
“Ultimately groups of our size cannot remain only private,” Chandaria told Reuters, while revealing that he had planned to take some of the group‘s companies public many years ago, but had held back due to resistance of some of his top management. ”Some of (our) top management still don’t think that we are ready for taking it public. I would have taken it public a long time back,” he said.
Chandaria is believed to be one of Kenya’s wealthiest men, and he has been on our radar for a while for our FORBES annual ranking of Africa’s richest people. It has always been difficult to figure out his net worth. While sources at Comcraft confirm he owns the largest stake in the group, the exact size of the stake is not known and the man himself has been notoriously evasive about his personal fortune.
Chandaria is also one of Africa’s most celebrated philanthropists. According to sources at Comcraft Group, has given away more than $100 million in his lifetime to causes in children’s health and education. He is also the 2013 recipient of the FORBES Africa Lifetime Achievement Award.