By Prudence Minayo
Dr. Simon Gicharu is the chairman and founder of Mount Kenya University (MKU). MKU is one of the largest private universities in East Africa. He believes his success in business is as a result of humility and focus.
“If a lion earmarks on a specific antelope, even if another antelope rubs on its body it will not be distracted from the original target,” he remarked in a previous interview.
He is also the founder of TV47, one of the newest TV stations in Kenya.
Age and Background
He was born in 1964 in Gathiruini village, Kiambu county. He is the first born in his family and has six other siblings. His parents-the late Stephen Gicharu and the late Alice Wambui Gicharu (“Wa Lazaro”)-were peasant farmers whose income could not sustain the whole family. The children, therefore, worked in coffee farms to supplement their income. His siblings are:
Bishop Emmanuel Gitonga (founder, Blessed Beyond Measure Assembly, Intl.), the late Mary Njoki Maina, Henry Njoora (Businessman, Thika), John Ruigu (Fidelity Computers, Nairobi), David Kimani (Jasy Agencies, Thika), and Samuel Ng’ang’a (Kings College of Technology, Thika).
Simon attended Kiawairia Primary School before proceeding to Gathiruini Secondary School. He then went to Murang’a High School and was captain in his final year. After high school, he proceeded to Kenyatta University for a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Chemistry. Later, he authored a book titled Applied Mathematics for Craft Engineering- Kenya’s first post secondary Mathematics school book.
In 1995, he got a scholarship at Cranfield University in Britain to study Managing Enterprise Development at Cranford University in Britain.
The MKU founder first worked as a secondary teacher before proceeding to teach at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Thika Technical Training Institute.
It was not until he was fired by the Teachers Service Commission that his entrepreneurial journey began. Dr. Simon Gicharu had started vending milk to support his family. Using an old pick-up, the owner of MKU sold milk earning ridicule from his friends.
“I did my rounds in an old Chevy pickup. Friends laughed at me, calling me a ‘failed graduate’. But this didn’t shake me. Self-belief is the key to success,” he shared on twitter.
In fact, years later, he says the person who had the biggest impact on his career was the one who fired him. The person gave him the shove he needed in order to get out of his comfort zone.
The entrepreneur shared how he sought a teaching job at the International School of Professional Studies, which later changed its name to Inoorero University. The recruitment officials did not want to give him a job and told him not to call back. They promised to call him instead.
Years later, he went back to buy the whole building that housed the university with everything inside it. The building is currently acting as Mount Kenya University’s School of Law located in Parklands.
After leaving Cranfield University, he came back to Kenya and started the Kenya Entrepreneurship Promotion Program (KEPP). It provided micro loans and training to young entrepreneurs then began offering computer studies. It then became Thika School of Management Studies and began offering managerial studies. In 2003, it morphed into Thika Institute of Technology and became the first private college in the country accredited to offer a diploma in Pharmacy.
The businessman also founded Equip Africa Institute. He serves as the patron of the Mount Kenya University Graduate Enterprise Academy and patron of Inter Universities Rover Moot under the Kenya Scouts Association.
Mr. Gicharu is also the chairman of:
- Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation
- National Private Universities Owners Association of Kenya
He also sits on the board of Thika Water and Sewerage Company.
In 2013, the president awarded him 1st Order Chief of Burning Spear- the highest civilian award in Kenya. This was due to his contribution to the spreading access to higher education in Kenya.
In 2014, he was named Eastern Africa Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. The same year, he received an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Gulu University, Uganda, for his contribution to expansion of higher education in the East Africa region.
In 2015, he was named the Eastern African Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year and subsequently inducted into the Ernst and Young Hall of Fame.
The Market Society of Kenya also awarded him the Superlative Trailblazer Award in 2012 for his incredible marketing skills.
The professor is married with three children.