List of 7 Kenyan Billionaires Who Started as Hawkers and Lessons to Learn

Unknown to many, however, are the vital lessons that they can derive in their pursuit of success and happiness from those who have already trailblazed the way.

From persistence and innovativeness, these seven billionaires have truly shown that true grit and hard work will eventually transform into success. 

1. Hassan Ali Joho

Mombasa Governor, Hassan Ali Joho, also rose from the streets, having started by hawking vitumbua (a popular coconut and rice vegan donut or pancake) to owning a shipping company.

His success, however, came early on in life as he started working while still in high school but his persistence catapulted him to cross the Ksh1 million net worth mark by the age of 20 years.

When he was about 20 years old, Joho got a job as a clearing and forwarding agent at the Port of Mombasa. He  made Ksh6.6 million in his first transaction and that was the largest amount of money he had handled since birth.

2. Gerald Gikonyo and Gerishon Kirima

Three decades before Kenya became a Republic, two hawkers, Gerald Gikonyo and Gerishon Kirima, from Rwathia village in Kangema, Murang’a County dared to dream.

They packed up their bags and embarked on a journey to Nairobi in search of a better life, kicking off their empire building by hawking vegetables, selling charcoal and wattle bark while donning tattered clothes.

Later, they founded Rwathia Distributors which was then transformed into Rwathia Group that then acquired plots and constructed commercial and residential buildings.

3. Paul Kinuthia

Starting as a hawker in the rough streets of Nairobi, Nice & Lovely company founder, Paul Kinuthia, is the epitome of a  grass-to-grace story.

In 2013, he closed a Ksh1.5 billion deal after L’Oreal Cosmetics from Paris, France acquired his then fledgling Nice & Lovely manufacturing Company InterConsumer Products.

He was stationed at a shop along Kirinyaga Road before relocating to Kariobangi and then Gikomba. As of 2012, the company was commanding an annual revenue of Ksh1.7 billion with profits of Ksh200 million.

4. Madatally Manji

House of  Manji products, mostly known for its biscuits line, is virtually a main stay on the shelf of major supermarkets and retailers countrywide.

As much as the company is now an ubiquitous brand in country, their existed an era where none of it existed and it took the zeal of Madatally Manji who started out as a hawker at Karatina Market.

5. A.M. Jeevanjee

Businessman Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee can easily be referred to as the father of Nairobi’s green spaces due to his immense contribution to the green city in the sun (when it was still green anyway).

Identified among the founders of Nairobi, Jeevanjee played a pivotal role in upending the city’s looks and at one time, he owned 70 per cent of the town after importing over 31,000 people to build the Railway line.

6. Mbugua Githere

In 2008, a biography by Mwangi Gicheru posthumously detailed the inspiring life of the deceased billionaire Mbugua Githere.

The tycoon’s shine began in the little-known Gachie neighbourhood in Kiambu County where he started as a street hawker.

Before his death, his empire had expanded to owning Runda Estate and was a large shareholder of the Pan Africa Insurance Company.

7. Bundotich Buzeki

From a humble beginning of hawking milk using a cart in the Coast region, Bundotich Zedekiah Kiprop, popularly known as Buzeki rose to become a business mogul who is among the richest CEOs in Kenya.

“I am a self-made individual who rose from a mere milk hawker in Mombasa to my current economic stature,” he affirmed in a previous interview.

After his stint in the milk distribution sector, he bought the company he worked for from his employer and rebranded it to Kilifi Gold. His shopping spree extended to Molo Milk and Limuru Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society. 


1. Start from anywhere – In the case of Paul Kinuthia, it is important to start with whatever capital you have since what matters is the amount of physical work you will be willing to put in and record growth, no matter how sluggish. With Just Ksh3,000 investment, he now enjoys the sedentary life of a billionaire master.

2. Innovation – As much as any investment will get you in the game, it is your street smartness and taking calculated moves to reposition your product that will keep you there. Madatally Manji studied his market and pivoted to utilising his lunch break to ensure his clients are comfortable.

3. Adaptive to change – Since the communication age was introduced with the paper, adaptation to change has always reigned supreme down to the internet age. That characteristic is also true for virtually any industry. Paul Kinuthia began with Shampoo products but after market analysis, his products expanded to face creams as well as body lotions, in line with the market demands.

4. Be persistence – One common characteristic for all the billionaires on the list was there ability to persevere the rough streets of their towns as well as the latter challenges of multi-nationals.

5. Illiteracy is not a factor – The Rwathia duo Gerald Gikonyo and Gerishon Kirima did not let their illiteracy hinder them from creating employment to the learned. It is the willingness to learn, unlearn and re-learn as you progress.

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