“God gives and God takes, and everything in life is a test. I always remember the Swahili saying : kuteleza sio kuanguka. There are tests in life and one has to overcome them to become stronger” – Suleiman Shahbal.
Serial Mombasa businessman cum politician Suleiman Shahbal is a gallant tycoon who has surmounted numerous hurdles ranging from unemployment to being declared bankrupt and then bouncing back to the tip of the pyramid.
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Shahbal was brought up in Majengo Chura in Mombasa and went to Kikowani Primary School. He joined Nairobi School through a sponsorship. According to Shahbal, at one time he was allegedly shamed by a prefect who questioned why he put on an old blazer despite being a form one.
Then, a 14 year old boy, Shahbal says he tried hard to restrain himself from crying but managed to explain that he had bought the blazer from a fellow student.
However, 30 years later, the Mombasa politician revealed that the same prefect came to his company, asking for a job which he offered him.
After completing his studies at Nairobi School, Shahbal was faced with a professional ambivalence of either studying law at UoN or pursuing business in US. He chose the latter and majored in finance.
The 61 year old was brought up by parents who both worked as teachers. As expected, his parents were focused on instilling a strict reading culture to their adoring son.
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“The biggest influence that I have from my parents is the love for books. I grew up in a household full of books,” says Shahbal.
In a recent interview, Shahbal revealed that at one point his parents would drop him at the library to read books from 8 a.m to 1 p.m.
Shahbal is married to Rahma Shahbal whom he describes as a woman of substance. Rahma previously worked as a marketing manager in Dubai. The couple’s number of children is not known but Shahbal recently revealed that he had enrolled his 11 year daughter called Samira to a beekeeping course at an institution based in Nairobi.
Bankruptcy & Success In Business
After completing his studies abroad, the politician jetted back to Kenya but struggled to find an employment opportunity.
He was forced to travel to Dubai, spending more money in an attempt to clutch a life changing job. It wasn’t an easy ride though he finally managed to secure an appointment letter just as he was almost running broke.
“I spent a whole month looking for a job, went for a bunch of interviews and on my last day I got a job in a bank,” revealed Shahbal.
He was employed at the prestigious City Bank, where his career took a dramatic rise. According to him, all the finest things of life were soon at his disposal; the young man from Majengo Chura was traveling via first class air tickets, hanging out in 5 star hotels and even his house furniture would be changed every 3 years.
However, Shahbal’s life took a new twist when he resigned in order to come back in Kenya to start a new venture.
“My wife thought I had gone crazy because you know we moved from an unbelievably luxurious life to going into a completely risky life,” he recalls.
The entrepreneur started an oil company in mid 1990’s which faded to whimpers within only 4 years. As a result, he was declared bankrupt.
Lucky enough, he secured employment at a bank in Oman as head of international operations. He then set up an investment company in Dubai which accumulated him wealth estimated to be worth billions of shillings.
Shahbal’s Investments And Business Lessons
The Mombasa gubernatorial aspirant seemed to have picked painful yet vital lessons after the collapse of his first investment. He was able to bounce back and set up Gulf Energy, a successful company which he sold to Rubis in 2019. Currently, he owns Gulf Power, a power plant based in Athi River and Gulf Africa Bank.
Shahbal is also linked to Kenya Trade Networks Agency, a firm that helps clients beat the painstaking process of exporting and importing products. He takes pride in saving investors an estimated Ksh 24 billion.
According to him, businesses are founded on 5 strong pillars:-
- Legal and ethical principles. Every business must be founded and be based on established law.
- Risk taking; one must take calculated risks but must have a high pain threshold to afford losing 100% of his investment.
- Management – Shahbal opines that all businesses fail because of poor management.
- Growth potential.
Shahbal was propelled to the public eye in 2013 when then a novice politician attempted to become the first governor of Mombasa county on a Wiper ticket. He was however unsuccessful.
In 2017, he came back to the electorate, this time on a Jubilee ticket and lost to the incumbent Ali Hasan Joho.
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Currently, as political drums reverberate yet again, the businessman has changed tact by joining the ODM party, a decision he arrived at after realizing most Mombasa residents are aligned to the orange party. He however will have to endure the political friction emanating from Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir who is also salivating on the ODM gubernatorial ticket.
Shahbal’s leadership principles are based on 3E’s which he lists as Envision, Enable and Empower. He opines that Mombasa residents feel taken for granted and alienated especially by the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which he alleges led to the loss of 10000 jobs. The firebrand politician also wants the county to have control over the Port of Mombasa.
Going to 2022, Shahbal’s agenda is to reignite the embers of Mombasa through creation of mini cities that will each have an administrative headquarter, a hospital, polytechnic and a fire station. He regards Mombasa as a gateway to East Africa and a city which is a potential investment hub.
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