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From grass to grace: The making of Optiven

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He was raised from the unforgiving heat and biting poverty of Laburra village in Nyeri county.

But now he owns one of the Kenya’s most formidable real estate companies.

George Wachiuri, now a father of three, is calm, collected and deeply compassionate chap who vividly remembers his early years before fame and fortune came knocking.

I a recent interview with this writer, Mr. Wachira is keen to share some of his memorable moments as a boy – moments that helped transformed him into the person he’s grown to become over the years.

At just seven years of age, the young Wachira had a serious accident that nearly claimed his life, after narrowly escaping death by whisky from a snake bite. He was admitted at Nyeri hospital for three weeks and upon his discharge from the facility, he made up his mind and embarked on a journey to change his mothers’ fortunes.

“I thought of this issue and I realized that the only way which I can do so was to make a lot of money and build her a new house and make her comfortable .I wanted mama to one day be proud of me to know that even if she left me I would be able to look after her grandchildren,” he explained.

Wachiuri and his siblings had to do odd jobs to survive, including farming to their neighbors to get food and cater for school fees.

Upon completion of his final Keya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), Wachiuri had high hopes of performing exemplary but this was not the case. He however, failed to attain the marks he had hoped to achieve prompting him to re-sit the examinations a year later.

“Since by then I had decided I will become a priest I wanted good grades to propel me into priesthood and that is why I decided to repeat,” he adds.

On his second stab, his performance was impressive and was one of the best students. He received an admission letter from Nyeri boys for his admission but his mother insisted that he should forget about secondary school and join the seminary but no one could dare him not to go to secondary school.

He went ahead and secured admission at Chinga boys and after convincing his mother she accepted to pay for his school fees at .She had to sell one of her cows. Four years after his KCSE result were out and he had managed a grade which can secure admission in a public university. He was admitted at the University of Nairobi to study business administration.

For the two years he was to stay at home before joining the university he was trading onions and did landscaping for those who required the services. One day as he was coming back from Meru where he sold most of his stuffs he was hijacked but this didn’t   discouraged him but instead he started the business again and this time he grew from small time trader to a serious one. As English men warned “time and tide awaits no man” he had to make a quick transition from onion trader to a student of commerce.

“It was not an easy transition but I had to if at all I wanted to become rich and build my mother a big house. When I came to Nairobi I had only one goal to learn .I never thought that one day one time I will start a business as a student,” he said.

However things changed really first because about a year later he noted that students liked reading magazines and that is when he started his third job. He started collecting old magazine which have been thrown away and lending to his fellow students for just a shillings each. This made the vice chancellor of the university to recognize him by conferring him the honorable and inspiring title of the university most entrepreneurial students.

“This was my turning point because I even ventured into dry cleaning business even though I didn’t have the required machines. I used to collect clothes from people and take them to a certain dry cleaner before handing them back to the oner and no one ever noticed my trick,” he reveals.

Another opportunity came about when Kakuma Director told him to develop a system which would track down how their money and how they were used .This won him a job as a logistic and procurement supervisor with that company. He later got another job as accountant at Uchumi on Aga Khan Walk but he decided together with his brother to form a company called Beauty Pool Investments at Ngara.

“We were buying raw materials and made shampoo and supplied it to all the salons and shops in ngara.The product was so like the real thing and was loved by customers,” he said.

Wachiuri started and quitted many jobs until he finally decided to venture into real estate a sector which was booming by them and this is how Optiven real estate Company was born. As if he was not lucky the first deal he landed was not a genuine one. He lost sh 5 million in a deal gone sour.

“This is one of the incidents that flush in my mind as if it happened yesterday. A certain man came to me and offered to sell a land which I thought we could develop immediately.  I paid the required amount and started selling the land unfortunately the land belonged to the government and I had to sell some of my properties to refund my customers,” he adds.

After the loss he swore that he will never do such a business again. He was totally depressed and he decided to go back to his formal job and he was lucky to be employed by Daystar University as a part-time lecturer. He did not take the matter lightly but he was forced to move on.

A year or so later he landed on another landowner who had fallen in debt and wanted quick money to settle it. Even though he didn’t have even a coin in his pocket he offered the man one million shillings per acre. He organized and deposited half a million shillings into the man’s account and this was the rebirth of optiven.

The company is currently one of the after sought real estate companies and sells value-added plots with emphasis on conserving the environment which includes planting trees. The firm also emphasis on providing security, piped clean water and infrastructure among other facilities.

In October 2014, Optiven was named and awarded as the Best (Overall Winner) SME in Kenya and Best Company in Real Estate under the Top 100SMEs competition in Kenya 2014/15 run by the Nation Media and KPMG.He is planning to open 20 more branches worldwide and he has written a book soaring like an eagle which is sold to support children from poor background.

Written By Millicent Njeri

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