By Prudence Minayo
Joseph Thiong’o Chege’s journey is one that should inspire many graduates not to allow their skills to be unexploited. Coming from a poor background, his determination, hard work and persistence has seen him build a multi-million empire. He owns the JOTIS Business Centre located on the busy Kenol-Murang’a road.
Here is his story as told by WoK.
Joseph graduated with a civil engineering degree from the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 2000. The journey had been tough since his parents were peasants. Nonetheless, they were determined to provide the best for their son.
As he graduated, his parents ensured that 58 villagers were there to witness the occasion. They traveled all the way from Mukurwe-ini in Nyeri to the city.
By this time, they had borrowed a lot of money to put him through school. In their eyes, the first born of five, was their light and they were determined he would continue to shine. Hence, they had nearly plunged themselves into financial ruin just to support his education.
He secured a job as a research assistant earning a paltry Ksh10,000 a month. While some may have admired his job, he felt it was not right to work for such pay when the minimum market wage for interns was Ksh80,000.
Faced with the daunting task of deciding whether he should take the job, he decided not to be a candidate for exploitation. He took the job only while waiting for something else to come up. Then he secured a job that paid Ksh12,000 six months later.
Still, life didn’t suddenly change for the better, sometimes he got help from his parents back in the village to buy things like food. Most of his salary, on the other hand, went into paying rent and for his commute.
One day, he received a call from his father in Nyeri informing him that he had received Ksh20,000 as dividends for shares he bought in a financial institution. He gave all the money to Joseph telling him to invest it on behalf of the family.
He left feeling like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. His mother attended the father-son meeting as a witness down on her knees crying and praying for him.
This meant he had to make some life changes. He stopped indulging in alcohol which had become a habit he was getting accustomed to. He then sought divine help from a pastor in Westlands knowing the task ahead was not easy. With one final sigh, he was ready to make his father proud.
Taking a Wife
His pastor had encouraged him that for a meaningful life, he needed responsibility. Thus, taking a wife would be a smart move since it would give him the desire to work hard and provide for her. Through hard work, he would be able to fulfil his father’s dream.
Still struggling financially, in May 2002, he convinced his girlfriend they should live as man and wife. He also gave himself a period of four months to resign and start his own engineering firm. His goal was to convince some of his employer’s customers to award him some of their tenders.
“I had become familiar with profit margins and I knew if I floated a 20 percent cut on costing, I would win some to my side.”
His wife, currently a professional counsellor who teaches at Kenyatta University and Dedan Kimathi University, fully agreed to support his dream. She was willing to sleep with him on the streets if it meant they could save a few coins. She ended up being his very best personal assistant. She forewent having a child until they were stable, however, she asked not to be kept waiting for too long.
In October 2002, he launched his company named Jotis East Africa Ltd. He was the CEO and his wife became the assistant. The company dealt in: giving technical advice, supplying construction materials and drawing projects.
By the end of 2004, the business was bringing in profits amounting to Ksh300,000 monthly. With money coming in, he was able to invest in property and bought several parcels of land, company shares, and treasury bills.
Ten years after founding the business, his value showed he was in the millionaire league and had a projected yearly growth of 61%.
As his status improved, he also elevated that of his parents and siblings.
Multi Million Construction
In 2019, he set out on establishing a landmark investment along the Kenol-Murang’a highway. He bought a parcel of land worth Ksh30 million and began putting up a Ksh150 million property that has been christened JOTIS Business Centre. He partnered with financial institutions to make the project a reality.
Today, the complex houses supermarkets, a garden, a banking lobby, a swimming pool, office suites, a spa, eateries, a garden, a car wash among other things. The expected monthly rent is Ksh3 million and it is expected to break even in 2024.
“This has been possible because I refused to accept that I was destined to be in employment. I refused my skill to be mined for a song. I broke free the yokes of self-pity and associated myself with progressive counsel and trusting in God,” he told the Daily Nation.
Today, the father of four aged 48, wishes to consolidate wealth and ensure that financial constraints will never knock on his family’s doorstep.