Tabitha Karanja, the CEO of Keroche Breweries:Resilient at 50
For close to 90 years, no Kenyan dared enter the beer market. It took one woman, TABITHA KARANJA, to jump into the dreaded unfair ground for it to move and she, to take her rightful place in the industry. As she turns 50 today, PETER MUIRURI retraces her footsteps from the village to the helm of Keroche Breweries.
Tabitha Mukami Karanja needs no introduction to Kenyans. When the history of astute businesswomen in the continent is written, her part will occupy a generous segment in the record. Her determination to set up a brewery in a country where one company dominated the sector is well documented.
Today, the iron lady of corporate Kenya turns 50. Tabitha, the CEO of Keroche Breweries looks back at her life that started in the hillsides of Kenton near Kijabe. Here, she took care of her younger siblings — five other girls and four boys. After all, she was the first born and could not escape the treacherous bog that was village life.
“I did everything a first born girl is expected to do such as cooking for the family, fetching firewood and water, unless of course, it rained and the water tank got full,” she says.
Little did she know that the humbling chores would one day come in handy as she set out to establish the only indigenous, fully fledged brewery in the region. Tabitha may be the boss, but the power that comes with such a position has not gone to her head.
Her down to earth disposition is evident as she takes us on a brief tour of the company, clad in a white overcoat synonymous with factory workers. Her easy-going nature and charming smile disarm even the stonehearted. At one moment, she stops in the compound to talk to a casual worker cleaning some section of the exterior wall. Next, she is helping a machine operator remove some faulty bottles from the conveyor belt.
he current expansion project will see the company raise its market share that currently stands at five per cent to 20 per cent. The factory will have a capacity to produce 600,000 beer bottles daily from the current 60,000.
“We are not there yet. It is a work in progress,” she quips. While many have given her accolades due to her courageous stand to face up to a giant, Tabitha says taking on the largest beer manufacturer in the region head on was not her prime mission.
“We just saw a market that needed another player,” she says. However, the market she chose would not only cost her the family resources, but also turned her personal life upside down.
Ed’s note: Read her whole story