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Kariuki And Gurcharan: The Two Entrepreneurs Who Acquired Sarova And Hotel Ambassadeur

The iconic Hotel Ambassadeur has a rich history that dates back in the 70s. In an article appearing on the Standard titled Ambition: How two men built top hotel chain, gives a blow by blow account of how the idea to acquire the hotel by John Kariuki and Gurcharan Singh Vohra-or simply Channi as he is popularly known-was conceived. 

What’s even more interesting is how the two, coming from very different cultural and social backgrounds, were able to forge trust and a long standing working relationship that has withstood the test of time.

Here is the story of John and Channi and how they were able to acquire Hotel Ambassadeur and later Sarova. 

Here is their story as told by WoK.

Purchase of the First Hotel

The two entrepreneurs met by chance. Kariuki, then a sales manager for Esso Petroleum in Nakuru, was in the business of selling gas cylinders and one of his clients was Channi’s Sister.

They had created a rapport and he expressed his desire to establish a retail business in Nairobi.

She told him to talk to his father who knew of shops left vacant on River Road by Asians who had left the country for the United Kingdom. 

Jimi Kariuki, the scion of John Kariuki, told the Standard of how his father got to meet Channi:

“It was the old Vohra, Sardar Singh, who introduced my father to his son Channi and the two started to talk about the hotel business in their drinking sessions” 

He went on to tell the publication:

“My father bought a house in Thika, opposite the Blue Post Hotel after our family moved from Nakuru where my mother was also a teacher. He sold it and bought another one in Garden Estate, Nairobi, which he later sold to buy the hotel together with Channi. It was a mix of personal savings, small investments and bank loans,” he said. 

Ksh600,000 to buy hotel

John identified the Hotel Ambassador that was being disposed for Ksh600,000. This was a lot of money at that time but did not dim the dream of the duo.

They pooled together their resources from various sources and in April 1974, they bought the hotel. John is 84 years old and is currently the Sarova Group Chairman.

Gurcharan Singh Vohra

Channi was the son of Sardar Singh Vohra who had an illustrious career in Law firm. Channi ran Vohra and Gitau Advocates at the time when he met John Kariuki through his father.

Channi’s father grew up in the shadow of the Himalayas before he traveled by sea to East Africa where he established a bicycle shop in Nairobi as a means to get by.

Selling Hotel Ambassador

The hotel was sold in 2004 to the late serial entrepreneur Samuel Maina

Acquiring Sarova

With the acquisition of Hotel Ambassador, the dynamic duo were not about to rest on their laurels as they went on to acquire Sarova Whitesands in Mombasa and later on Sarova Stanley.

The name Sarova symbolise the unwavering bond between the Kariuki’s and Channi’s families. ‘SA’ is initial for Swarna Vorha, Channi’s wife; while ‘RO’ stands for Rose, the Kariuki family matriarch and ‘VA’ standing for Varsha Vohra, is Swarn maiden name. 

Also Read: The Interior Architect Behind Radisson Blu Hotel In Nairobi

The Sarova Hotels and Resorts

The hotel chain has seven unique properties in prime locations in Kenya. They include;

Sarova Stanley 

This is located in the Nairobi CBD and since 1902 has always maintained very high standards. Interestingly, the first Tusker beer was opened at the hotel and the Nairobi Securities Exchange was started on the hotel’s first floor.

Sarova Panafric

This once hosted African nationalists under Pan Africanism including Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Milton Obote, and Julius Nyerere.

Sarova Woodlands

Located in Nakuru’s Milimani area, Sarova Woodlands neighbours the State House.

Sarova Whitesands

This was one of the first two Sarova establishments set up at the Coast.

Sarova Mara

This is located at the heart of the Masai Mara Game Reserve offering an experience with nature and safaris.

Sarova Shaba 

This is located at the Shaba Game Reserve.

Sarova Lion Hill 

This is perfect for clients in search of a safari experience.