Kenneth Mbae: From An Intern Tasked With Small Errands, Now Running Ksh 24 Billion Real Estate Investment

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Kenneth Mbae: From An Intern Tasked With Small Errands, Now Running Ksh 24 Billion Real Estate Investment
Kenneth Mbae Photocredit/nairobilawmonthly.com

By Prudence Minayo

Kenneth Mbae had this burning ambition of becoming a big business owner or heading a conglomerate. He joined Centum as an intern in 2011, performing menial duties, before rising through the ranks to become deputy managing director of Athena Property, a subsidiary of Centum that delivered Two Rivers Mall. He went on to be managing director of Vipingo development in 2018 before being appointed the MD of Centum Investment subsidiary Centum Re in March 2022. 

The company has handed clients over 800 houses and has many more in the works. They have also paid out more than Ksh7 billion to marketers, architects, designers, contractors and other professionals since 2019 and sold properties worth over Sh20 billion. 

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Here is the career journey of Kenneth Mbae as told by WoK

Education 

Mbae graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Kenyatta University. He has an Advanced Management Certificate in Business Management from Kenya Institute of Management and he is also an alumni of Harvard Graduate School of Design. 

Joining Centum 

In 2010, at the age of 23, he secured an internship position at Centum Investment. He worked in different departments before landing in the real estate department. When he joined the firm, he found a young team headed by James Mworia. Most of them had big aspirations of transforming the country by creating investment opportunities that were inaccessible. This was proved with the success of Two Rivers, a project that had never been done before in the country. 

During this time, the investment outfit was in its final stages of acquiring the land where the current Two Rivers mall stands proudly. Being the youngest and lowest ranking in the real estate department, he was in charge of ensuring the land was fenced and trees were planted.

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He grasped a wealth of information through facilitation of the first Annual General Meeting and conducting market research on Centum’s investment portfolio spread across Nairobi. After Two Rivers was constructed, he set up the estate and mall management business. 

Between 2013 and 2014, the company sent him to Uganda to help set up the Prime Pearl Marina Estate. He performed a number of roles including finalizing the land acquisition process before he left the project to a team of capable professionals. 

Vipingo Development 

He became the founding MD of Kilifi county, Vipingo Development, which is the largest Centum RE subsidiary. Mr. Mbae was made the development manager in charge of the master plan on what has to be done, assembling a team and doing feasibility study.

They began with thirty houses before working their way to hundreds of houses. Having started Vipingo from the very bottom, he managed to transform it into a firm worth over Ksh 20 billion with sales exceeding Sh9 billion and cash collections of Ksh 5.3 billion. 

Some of the properties developed by Vipingo include: Awali Estate and Palm Ridge Apartments. 

Cashew Nut Plantation

Vipingo also started a cashew nut plantation on 20 acres piece of land before increasing to a hundred acres. The firm commenced the development of a Ksh 1 billion nut processing factory, in collaboration with international investors, which would provide employment to hundreds of people. 

Before Vipingo was developed, it was a 10,000 acre sisal plantation. They had to conduct a feasibility study of the area and realized housing and water were major challenges. To have an edge in the market, they looked for funding far and wide and built a sea water desalination plant that has the capacity to provide up to 3 million litres of water daily. 

“Over the last three years, I have transformed Vipingo Development from a Sh5 billion asset (sisal plantation) to a Sh20 billion business with Sh7 billion in sales turnover and Sh5.3 billion in cash collection. The business has grown from two employees to over 20 and created over 1,500 direct construction-related jobs,” he told Businessdaily in a past interview.

The MD was also instrumental in the formation of Vipingo Scholarship Fund that has so far provided education opportunities to over 250 bright and needy students. This has seen many reach campus and even others go through vocational training. 

Market Research

Kenneth Mbae told the Standard that Market research was the key to the success of his investments. However, like any other person he has experienced failure and what mattered were the lessons learnt. He said that initially they wanted to establish an industrial park in Vipingo but speaking to investors made them change track. This is because people wanted to know whether the park would have amenities, accommodation and entertainment. Instead of giving up they began setting up residential properties. 

As the current managing director of Centum RE, his vision is to make the business worth over Ksh100 billion and have it listed in the coming years. They also want the business to spread across other countries in the region.

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