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Baptism by Fire: Lesson Learnt after losing Sh 5 million
By Lilian Kaivilu @liliankaivilu
"It is the worst mistake that I have ever made and I call it baptism by fire. The search at the lands office went well and I was certain and confident that I had conducted all due diligence having followed all the requisite procedures.
I still have the big title deed to date," says George Wachiuri who lost all his savings accumulated over ten years in one land deal. The founder and chief executive officer of Optiven Ltd, a real estate company says his Sh5 million loss over a raw land deal in 2008 left him in depression for a year.
Having set his goal clearly, Wachiuri was happy when he met the land dealer in Nairobi. However, later he learnt that the land belonged to the government. He had been conned of all his money.
"That was the lowest point in my life. I got depressed and I remember one time I went to work with a mismatched pair of shoes, only to realise during the day," he says, urging those who want to invest to do their research well.
Wachiuri says although all the facts were right and he had done the correct search, he should have consulted further, especially with those who had previously engaged in similar deals.
"The problem with most of us is that we want to surprise people hence we rush into investment deals without comparing notes with those that have been there before. Consult people such as valuers, legal experts and other professionals before you engage in any business deal," he warns.
After loss, Wachiuri lived in denial for a long time. "I still have the title deed. I kept it, hoping that one day it would be genuine. I used to go to the piece of land and wonder why the county council agreed the change of user. Why did the government accept payment from the land?"
After a year of depression, he decided to move on, but wisely. "It took God for me to come up again. That one experience humbled me and I have learnt how to consult," he adds. He says the company he intended to start with the lost money is today worth over Sh100m and has more than 50 permanent staff members.
Having lost his father at an early age and knowing that their poor mother would not come to their rescue either, Wachiuri did all he could to earn a living in campus.
Noe, a father of three, he took photos, sold old magazines and journals and washed fellow students' clothes to survive at the University of Nairobi where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Marketing in 1997. This was after realising the Sh5,000 given by the Higher Education Loans Board was not enough.
Having sold onions, cabbages and even worked in people's shambas back in his Laburra village in Nyeri county, Wachiuri had his entrepreneurial skills honed at an early age. "You either work hard or become poor like me and till other people's land while they drive big cars," his mother told him and his five siblings.
Although he did his best in school, he did not escape the wrath of poverty as he, alongside his siblings, tilled people's land for food. "To us, having two meals a day was a luxury. We got used to having just a meal a day and I knew I would only come out of the situation by working hard in school," says Wachiuri.
His work in the local Catholic Church as an altar boy made him vow to become a priest. However, that changed when he joined the University of Nairobi in 1993 and became a member of the Christian Union.
"I got saved and my mother almost cursed me and even threatened that I would never inherit anything from her since I had not kept my promise to become a priest," he says.
Wachiuri later reconciled with his mother. "If my mother calls now, be sure we will have to leave this interview and attend to her call first. That is what she means to me. And if it means that she needs to come to Nairobi now, I will have to send my driver to pick her without question because that is what my mother is to me," he said during the interview.
He is a published author and recently launched a memoir, Soaring like an Eagle. He is also a motivational speaker, businessman, church elder, philanthropist and lecturer. Wachiuri holds a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Nairobi and is now a PhD candidate at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
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