Home » Kenyan tycoon Joe Wanjui passes away at 87

Kenyan tycoon Joe Wanjui passes away at 87

Renowned billionaire and influential business leader Joe Wanjui leaves behind a legacy of visionary leadership and diverse investments

by Oluwatosin Racheal Alabi

Key Points:

  • Joe Wanjui, a prominent Kenyan billionaire, passed away at 87 after a prolonged illness.
  • Wanjui was recognized for his diverse investments in real estate, insurance, and agribusiness.
  • He held significant roles including Technical Director at Unilever and Chancellor of the University of Nairobi.

Joseph Barrage Wanjui, the renowned Kenyan billionaire, magnate, and entrepreneur, passed away at the age of 87 after a prolonged illness, as confirmed by his family.

A prominent figure in Kenya, Joe Wanjui was recognized for his vast wealth and diverse business ventures. He excelled as a business tycoon, philanthropist, presidential advisor, and investor with interests in insurance, real estate, hospitality, equity, horticulture, and agribusiness. Famously, he was referred to as the World Bank’s Landlord in Kenya.

Early life and education

Joe Wanjui was born on May 24, 1937, in Kiambu County. He began his education at Kabaa Mission School and later graduated from Mang’u High School in Thika with a First Class in the Cambridge School Certificate. He chose the American Air Lift Scholarship to Ohio Wesleyan University over a Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine at Makerere University. His academic journey continued at Columbia University, where he became the first Kenyan to pursue a Master’s degree in industrial engineering and management in 1962.

In 1964, Wanjui returned to Kenya with Ksh 70,000 in savings. He initially invested in a house in Caledonia valued at Ksh 45,000, two blocks of flats in Eastleigh, and his first car, a Morris Cooper. Later, he acquired 20 acres of prime land in Kentmere, Limuru, to establish Strathbogie Farm. He also developed apartment complexes in Spring Valley, Gigiri, Upperhill, and Mombasa.

Career highlights

Wanjui started his career at ExxonMobil before transitioning to the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC). In 1968, he joined East African Industries (EAI), now Unilever, where he served as Technical Director. He played a key role in the success of popular brands like Omo, Kimbo, Cowboy, Blue Band, and Mama Safi. Over time, he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the managing director and later the executive chairman. He dedicated 19 years to the company before retiring in April 1996.

Throughout his career, Wanjui held positions on various boards, including Chair of the UAP board. He was a founding member of the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. Additionally, he served as Chancellor at the University of Nairobi (UON).

Major business deals

In 2020, during the acquisition of shares in UAP Holdings by South African-owned Old Mutual, it was revealed that Wanjui held 43.25 million shares (equivalent to a 20.4-percent stake in the company) through his investment firm, Bawan Limited. He, alongside his business associate James Muguiyi, divested their shares in a significant transaction.

Wanjui also fought a legal battle in 2022 against Unilever Plc to prevent the sale of its 52-percent stake in Limuru Tea, valued at Ksh596.7 million ($5.1 million).

Legacy and impact

Joe Wanjui’s passing marks the end of an era characterized by visionary leadership and transformative impact across various sectors. His contributions to the business world and his philanthropic efforts will continue to inspire future generations. His legacy as a multifaceted entrepreneur, influential political advisor, and generous philanthropist will be remembered as a beacon of inspiration for leaders in Kenya and beyond.

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