Lucy Karanja: From A Poultry Farmer To Aviation School Owner

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Lucy Karanja: From Poultry Farmer To Aviation School Owner
Collage image of Lucy Karanja and a Cessna plane at Capital Connect Aviation. |Courtesy| Capital Connect Aviation|

Lucy Karanja is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Capital Connect Aviation Limited – a flying school located at the Wilson Airport in Nairobi County.

According to a  report by The Standard, Lucy is the first black woman to establish and operate an aviation school in Kenya. She has always had to fight to prove herself all her life, and this is perhaps the reason why she is giving the male dominated field a run for its money.

The 35-year-old is the definition of resilient. She has braved numerous challenges in her life to be where she is today. She is a proof that with hard work and focus, one can achieve their dreams.

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Here is her story as narrated by WoK.

Background & Education

Born Lucy Wangari Karanja, she is the second born daughter to Mary and Joseph Karanja. She and her four siblings were raised in Thika Town, Kiambu County.

“We had a comfortable and fun childhood, our parents had good jobs and were hard-working, so they were able to send us to good schools,” she told The Standard.

Lucy credited her parents with the success she enjoys in business today.

She attended Moi Academy Primary School in Thika before she immigrated to the US at the age 13. Lucy moved to America with her mother and two of her brothers. Her father and two siblings remained in Kenya.

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“We didn’t enjoy living in America, not because we struggled, but it was a different environment that we were not used to,” she recounted.

They later returned to Kenya and she proceeded to join Greensteds Academy for her high school studies. She then went to Australia to pursue a degree in business management.

Business

Lucy did not enjoy living in foreign countries and described her time in Australia as tumultuous.

“While in Australia, my father fell ill and I felt that I needed to be home to support him. I had just completed my degree and graduation was near,” she said.

Lucy graduated in absentia so that she could be home to help support the family.

She partnered with her elder sister and together they started a poultry farm at their ancestral home in Makuyu.

“It was profitable, we had about 2,000 chickens every six weeks; but I found it incredibly boring because once the chickens were fed there was really not much else to do for the rest of the day,” she said.

Family

It was then that Lucy met her life partner Sam. She decided to leave the poultry business and focus on another career path.

“I got a strong urge to visit a friend who was also my business partner at the time. I had a feeling there was something there for me. That’s when I met my partner Sam for the first time,” she said.

“I found him so adorable, but he didn’t say a word to me, so I thought he wasn’t interested. Then I found him staring at me. I thought he was creepy. He somehow ended up driving me home and we hardly talked.”

Lucy had dismissed him at first, but after three weeks later, she ran into trouble, and he was among the people that helped. She gathered the courage to talk to him and they haven’t stopped since.

Together they have a daughter, nine-year-old Ella-Marie.

Just like any mother around the world would, Lucy holds her daughter in high regard.

“Ella is one in a million. She so funny, kind and smart and could count to ten when she was only one year old,” a proud Lucy said.

Aviation

Lucy decided to pursue aviation after she was encouraged by her partner, Sam.

“He (Sam) encouraged me by saying that I can be a pilot, so I was convinced to enrol in an aviation school in 2011 and to my surprise, my brother too, enrolled,” she narrated.

Lucy recounts that her experience in aviation school was tough, since she was tutored by ex-army men who at times were quite rough and abusive to a point.

“I don’t think the instructors were sensitised enough to realise that the rest of us are not in the army. Some of the instructors would hit us and shout at us even in-flight,” she said.

Lucy was one of four women in a class of 15 students.

“By the time we began flying, our count had dropped to two women,” she said, while explaining that the course was also expensive, there was intense pressure from instructors who were also sceptical about letting the women fly solo.

She left the school and went to another where instructors were milder but as effective. She would later work for the marketing department at a local aviation college.

Lucy notes that a majority of aviation schools are owned and operated by pilots who she says are not necessarily good managers.

“That’s why my business administration background puts me at an advantage, I also think being a woman also gives me an edge because we are more caring and intuitive than our male counterparts,” she said.

Capital Connect

Lucy and Sam were contracted by a company to start an aviation school in Kisumu.

“It was the first of its kind in Kisumu, and I am proud of it although I didn’t stay there for too long,” she said, adding that they, however, left after one year under rocky terms.

It was there that Lucy and Sam got the idea to start their own aviation school, Capital Connect Aviation Limited.

“My partner felt that we had enough experience to start and manage an aviation company. It was a big step, which scared me, so we prayed for guidance and managed to do it,” she said.

“I had also just given birth to Ella-Marie a few months before that, so I didn’t understand exactly how we were going to do it.”

Capital Connect Aviation now sits on a half acre plot at Wilson Airport. Apart from being a flying school, it is also a tendering company, which supplies nautical and aviation equipment.

“Flying is not cheap. Some schools ask for hefty deposits before students can start flying. We offer top notch pay-as-you go services at the fraction of the price of other schools with no hidden costs,” Lucy said.

She notes that running an aviation business is tough, but she pulls through by being positive.

“Being the underdog, I try not to look at myself as a woman but as an aviator in general. So if someone comes to me with a negative attitude, they are not attacking me as a woman but as a professional.

“We may not be equal in other people’s minds, but we are in the same playing field and I have the same right to be here as anyone else,” Lucy said.

“I have learned not to rush into decisions. If there is a problem, for instance, I will wait it out and see what other options are available. Most of the time, the first response is often not the best decision,” she added, noting that Sam is her number one adviser.

Coming into the aviation business 8 years ago, Lucy knew Capital Connect Aviation had a lot to prove in the industry. She and her partner had high hopes for the future of her organisation.

“We want to run a business that outlives 20 of our generations to come. I don’t want our company to be a memory, it needs to exist and inspire people to fly,” Lucy said at the time.

Through out her work, Lucy aims at inspiring the youth to work hard towards achieving their dreams.

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