Tabitha Karanja on humble beginnings, challenges, success and family

November 23, 2014
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Being a wife and a mother, Mrs Karanja is a firm believer that family comes first -- even before business. She admits that despite being the face of Keroche, she has all through worked and succeeded due to her husband's support/MUTHONI NJUKI
Being a wife and a mother, Mrs Karanja is a firm believer that family comes first — even before business. She admits that despite being the face of Keroche, she has all through worked and succeeded due to her husband’s support/MUTHONI NJUKI

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 23 – The Founder and CEO of Keroche Breweries Limited Tabitha Karanja is one woman whom I can say has gone to ‘hell and back’ to be where she is now.

She has had to withstand a myriad of challenges for her business to be worth the billions of shillings it is worth at the moment.

It started with rumours that her drinks were not healthy when the company was only six years, followed by a tax blow, where she was once asked to pay Sh1.2 billion in 14 days but managed to win the court case. Later she fought the charge of unethical trade practices that caused her Keroche billboards to be pulled down.

But as proprietor of the first Kenyan owned beer factory, Karanja tells me that giving up was never an option or part of her vocabulary.

“The way my challenges came, you could never try to think of giving up because if I ever gave up it meant that I could have hurt a generation, especially my children and anyone trying to come up in business. Then people would have later said… you remember that woman who started a beer business and closed down?” she explains.

When I met Mrs Karanja at her Nairobi office, she had just finished a special lunch meeting with a group of women friends who had come to congratulate her for being named Business Woman of the year 2014 at the CNBC All Africa Business Leaders Awards.

Despite the glamorous award which has greatly exposed her to the business world, Karanja says she has nothing to boast about; dedicating her award to her customers, her partners and as well as her family members, especially her husband.

“The only person who fails is one who forgets that there are people behind him or her. In fact, I am going to do a special lunch for my dear husband. As an African woman, being supported by your husband is a special thing,” she tells me.

While growing up, Mrs Karanja knew she would pursue medicine because she was bright in school. But that was never to be. Her strong entrepreneurship spirit could not let her. After leaving employment as a librarian in a government office, Mrs Karanja started a hardware shop in Naivasha.

It is during this time that she realised there was a gap in the liquor industry and after proper research, she started Keroche Breweries in 1997 at the age of 32.

“One day I felt that we really wanted to go to full manufacturing, but I didn’t know which sector exactly. So we had to do a bit of research and know which direction to take. But after going to the market, we found out that there was a big gap in the liquor market and it was in the lower market, which was neglected by the players that were there then and customers were left to drink whatever was available in the market. So we thought; why don’t we come with a product that is hygienically produced, that meets international standards and was affordable? ” she recalls.

“Then in 2005 we also discovered that in the upper market, people didn’t have choices. And after working on it we came up with Summit Lager, Summit Malt within a year and we were largely accepted in the market. It is after this we started our expansion plans.”

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