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Akamba Bus Company: How Sibling Incompetence Brought The Best Bus Company In Kenya Down

A majority of the Kenyan population rely on public transport as means to move around the country. This need has led to growth of the industry with entrepreneurs building successful business ventures in the transport industry.

Among these businessmen was the late Mr. Sherali Hassanali Nathoo who was credited for founding Akamba Bus Company that would collapse soon after his demise under the hands of his son.

In this article we look at how the once popular bus company came to be until its untimely collapse.

Humble beginnings and Establishment of Akamba Bus Company

Akamba Bus was a popular household name to a majority of Kenyans particularly those travelling over long distances.

The Company was started from very humble beginnings in the late 1950’s after three key players in the public transport industry namely Makueni Bus Company, Commercial Bus Company, and Western Bus Company forged a merger to form a single business entity. 

Akamba Bus Management and Leadership

At the helm of leadership and management of this newly formed company was the late Sherali Hassanali Nathoo, a vibrant entrepreneur who was a member of the Ismaili business community of Machakos.

Founded in Machakos, Akamba Bus Company established its national headquarters in Machakos town.

This town is strategically located between Nairobi and Kitui. The headquarters would later be moved to Nairobi city before the company established more hubs in key towns across East Africa.

Akamba Bus Phenomenal Growth and Success

In what started as a mere transport company whose vision was to ferry commuters to and from their workplaces, Mr. Sherali Nathoo led the company to scale operations across East Africa creating a vast network spanning nearly 70 destinations.

The company owned and managed over 100 buses and was at one point ranked one of the best transport companies in the entire East African region. 

As a brand, Nathoo ensured the bus company had a good reputation to their main clients, the general public.

In its peak years, the company made millions through bookings and in fact was part of the bus companies that ferried football fans to South Africa during the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The business model- What contributed to this Growth and Success?

The founder Mr. Sherali was a very smart, astute and intuitive entrepreneur and leader who worked to bring the services that commuters and especially the Kamba community expected.

He ensured the bus operators stuck to schedules and the company reported very few accidents. He would later introduce a safe and reliable courier service that posed a great deal of competition to the state operated Postal Corporation.

Additionally, with the slow collapse of the Kenya- Uganda Railways, Nathoo seized the opportunity to ensure there was no gap.

He marshalled the employees who were majorly young and energetic Kamba men to build this brand.

In a smart branding and marketing move, the company chose Yellow as their dominant colour alongside the large “Akamba” logo that showed an athlete. This resonated very well with the Kamba people and they’d soon recognize the bus company as the ambassador of their culture.

In later years the brilliant entrepreneur incorporated vehicle assembly in his business model and established a vehicle assembly and fabrication unit at the Industrial Area.

Beginning of the End- Akamba Bus on the journey to failure

In September 2000, the founder Mr Sherali passed away marking the start of a series of woes that would soon engulf the successful business.

He left the company under the leadership of his wife Zarina and two sons, Karim and Moez. In the next 11 years, the once pride of Kenyans and Akamba people would decline exponentially after the sons failed to replicate their father’s business and maintain the image he had worked so hard to maintain for the bus brand.

Karim Sherali Nathoo- The man behind Akamba Bus fall

Soon after taking over management as the de facto CEO of Akamba bus, the elder sonKarim Sherali who was not conversant with running any business led the company to its undue demise.

He created a toxic work environment for the workers characterized by lack of professionalism. On many instances, he would walk into the office and draw cash without approval, had boardroom fights, disputed with his family and cancelled important meetings at the last minute without prior notice.

Workers would complain about how he mistreated and looked down on them and it goes without saying that this impacted productivity on all levels.

Mark you, the interim CEO, Karim, had never been involved in the business when his old man was still kicking the ball. Losses started being the norm under his bad leadership.

The youths whom Mr. Sherali had inspired and motivated were still pushing hard to realize mzee’s dream. Karim would soon cut this short by forcing pay cuts down their throat, delaying salaries, firing and hiring inexperienced staff and working in absentia.

On the other hand, his younger brother, Moez, and other family members followed suit and copied how Karim was running the business.

Unmotivated, disgruntled and angry, the staff started looting cash and spare parts. The vehicle assembly and fabrication unit at the Industrial Area would soon close down. 

The last Ride- Fall of the giant Akamba Bus

The entrenched looting and bad leadership brought the bus company to its knees. At the board level, wrangles, blame games, heated arguments, physical brawls became the order of the day. Unpaid staff would boycott work for many days.

Towards the month of December 2010, it was evident that Akamba Bus was beyond salvaging and was definitely going under. The brand name had lost its appeal to clients characterised by fewer bookings and closure of booking offices.

Buses would break down on the way or run out of fuel. Majority of the suppliers cut business with Akamba bus. The directors were at loggerheads. In 2011 Auctioneers started knocking at the dying company’s doors due to the skyrocketing debt level and selling assets to that effect.

In 2012 Akamba Bus Company breathed its last. The damage weighed heavily on Sherali’s business and it had to be closed down. In a sad unfortunate series of events, Karim Sherali burned the business empire that his dad had worked so hard to build over a period of nearly fifty years. It only took Karim 10 years to bring it all to the ground!