First Business Anniversary on a Profitable High!

Gladys and her brother Godfrey.

How did the co-owners of Ranges Estates do it?

One of Gladys’ sons aced his KCPE exams and was among Kenya’s top 100. As per the Muhunyo tradition his present was a trip to Dubai. He opted out of the celebratory trip and bought a parcel of land worth Kshs.100,000. “Mum, watch me become a millionaire by the time I finish campus,” he said.

Business Acumen Runs in the Family

Growing up, her parents were the proverbial kikuyu business people. They had dabbled in all kinds of businesses in their Nakuru hometown; from selling groceries to automotive spare parts. “I never imagined I would be employed a day in my life,” Gladys says. Her post teenage life in the 1990s came at a time when computer age invaded Kenya and Kenyan schools. Gladys learnt the basics of using a computer at a nearby mission school while her enterprising father saw yet another business opportunity. He invested in a Pentium 1 computer for close to Kshs.150,000. Everyone at the Muhunyo household hardly slept those first weeks. They all wanted to know how the gadget worked and Gladys was ready to give a master class. A few weeks later a computer college was set up in Thika town. Gladys, only 21 then, was sent out to run the business. She made the best of it and years later when the business was sold, the new owners kept the original name to retain the anchorage clients and the good reputation.

Gladys’ quest to understand the science behind ICT had her digging deeper as she sought out professional training. She combined books smarts and street smarts to understand the mechanics of the ICT industry. Soon after, she was employed as a trainer and rose to the level of general manager in a local ISP, then diving into the NGO world at Computer Aid International, and lastly as head of strategy and business development at Tangazoletu Ltd. By the time she was reluctantly leaving employment, she was making history as a decision maker, streamlining systems for mobile banking and was part of the software development business support team that made Lipa na Mpesa a reality.

Gladys has always been the type that under promises but over delivers. When she started out at Computer Aid International, they asked her to create computer distribution centres in eight countries. She surpassed the expectations and created centres in twenty African countries in 8 years.

What’s Your Vision?

Getting into an industry full of computer geeks and engineers was all about “leaning, adapting, applying and teaching,” wash, rinse, and repeat as a millennial would put it. For Gladys it was it. Two years ago, a friend asked her, “Gladys, what is your vision?” This was a hard question – she did not have any answers, she was not ready to quit her job at Tangazoletu. She loved the place, the people, the camaraderie and the adrenaline of it all.

Then the universe somewhat spoke for her. Two things happened. First, she fell ill and was admitted in hospital for a few weeks. Second, Godfrey, her younger brother, reached out with a business idea.  As she was recuperating she thought long and hard about “vision” and Godfrey was part of her new perspective.

She still kept working in ICT as a consultant and would do a double take between Nairobi and Nakuru every week. She got into a new venture of buying and selling land with Godfrey. The double life was weighing on her and one day she woke up, sold off her mortgage and closed the Nairobi – gridlocked traffic chapter of her life. Her millionaire enthusiast son in college resisted the move but it had to be done.

This proactive decision to move made the future clearer.  Gladys and Godfrey decided to co-own Ranges Estates in February 2016 as equal partners. Each one was going to abandon their current preoccupation and together start afresh. Their core business was buying and selling land; everything else was an add-on. The dual passion inherent in the two was making money, developing the country and empowering people.

Ying and Yang - a Power Team

Ranges Estates is not a family business. Gladys and Godfrey have laid down the law. Each business partner has to pull their weight. Godfrey is the risk taker and Gladys knows when to avert the risks. Gladys is all about organisation, marketing and paying attention to minute details that matter. Small things such as business cards, marketing on radio and social media marketing are a major concern.

Gladys, Godfrey and his young daughter at his home.

Godfrey, an award winning chess player, borrows some of the game’s strategy in business. When everyone is going left, he’s going right. “Always take risks but have some risk advantage,” is his guiding principle.

Godfrey’s passion for business has been bubbling for a long time. Like his parents he’s done a few odd businesses; importing and selling clothes from Dubai, importing and selling caterpillars and bulldozer spares, buying bulldozers and hiring out for Ksh.8,000 per hour. Every time Godfrey changed businesses it was to reinvent himself and find something that made more economic sense.

After closely evaluating the business people on his radar, he noticed that the only crowd that had stayed consistent over the years was the real estate crowd. It’s then he shifted gears and started buying land whilst running his construction company. He bought his first piece of land in 2013 in Gilgil, and at the end of the year he’d sold all of it and made 100% profit. He continuously bought land countrywide including Nakuru, Voi, Mombasa, Maralal, Samburu and Londiani; as he constructed dams, drilled for water and built houses. A few times he’d borrow money from Gladys at an interest rate to finance these land investments and that helped offset some of her mortgage payments.

The groundwork for collaboration between Gladys and Godfrey had been laid down inconspicuously in past years. Godfrey has had to make many adjustments from running a business juakali style from the boot of his car to being part of Ranges Estates. Gladys compares the running of the business in the first six months to exclusively breastfeeding. The two siblings put in the time and capital to get the ball rolling. Godfrey who had done a 360 take travelling the entire country would scout for prime parcels of land, Gladys would then give the land a clean bill of health, do the paperwork and together the team would get buyers and close deals. After the six month incubation period, Ranges Estates’ profits were headed for the skies; they had profits valued at 200%.

Godfrey was strategically placed to reap the benefits of good business in the first half year. He did a proper Kenyan wedding after 10years and could afford a month away on honeymoon. When he came back he moved to his own home built from the business returns. Godfrey narrates how he lived in a simple two bedroom house for ten years. His family was breaking at the seams, his five daughters and wife needed more space.

As we walk through his open plan kitchen, you can tell that his new house is a dream home. It has five bedrooms, each one a master en suite. “It saves time when getting ready. All my girls spend so much time in front of the mirror… each having their own bathroom gives me hope they will come out soon and all at once.”

Godfrey is big on entertaining guests, young and old. He has an exterior kitchen and barbecue area. He loves it when kids fill up the place and play by the swings as the parents enjoy some potluck. While as brother and sister the two enjoy easy laughter over a bonfire on such days, as business partners they have mega size disagreements and each has to logically justify their standpoint to win an argument.

As we share a cup of Kenyan tea, Gladys who is big on education has been putting pressure on her brother to go back to school and finish his degree, but he’s not keen on it. “That’s how you’ll convince your kids to get a degree; they look up to their father,” she jokes with him.

Taking a stroll on one of the properties up for sale, Gladys shows me how an eighth piece of land looks like. She points out that most people don’t know this mathematics and are often ripped off.

The Art of Buying Land

What is so unique about the Ranges Estates? “The biggest headache for people when buying land is that no one walks with them till they are in possession of their title deeds,” Gladys says. “Kenyans value land and it still holds sentimental value as it did with our forefathers. For Ranges Estates the number one drive is to empower people and show them the need to invest in land.”

Gladys points out that Kenya has beautiful climate, great topography, breathtaking scenery, plenty of water and good soils for food crops. Some of her clients are foreigners looking to settle in the country and be part of the Kenyan dream. Godfrey’s expertise  in developing the land comes in handy for the clients who want to go a step further and have Ranges Estates build them a home or rental houses. They offer a complete package par excellence; drill for water and ensure the standard 9-metre roads are constructed.

Most land Gladys approximates to appreciate at 35% every year. Her advice is for people to buy land for business. To make rental houses for which Ranges Estates offers to map out a plan. Gladys says that the difference between a certificate of ownership and a title deed is that most leases last for 99 years and such deals cause problems for generations further down the line. Once the lease of land expires you no longer have right over the land and eviction is eminent.

At the Ranges Estates, they walk with you step by step; they help you figure out why you are buying land, identify the resources you are going to use to buy this land, see the land, do a legal search, draw up the agreements, pay the deposit, finalise the transaction and get the title deed. She then gives a word of caution; “Don’t buy land on your own ” for security purposes and also because, as Gladys has noted, people do forget where the land is.

Of Investors and Thugs

“We have a wide range of investors – sometimes they get more profits than us,” says Gladys who considers this as a non-issue. She believes in keeping investors interested in their business because of the high returns. Investors for Gladys have helped the business grow in leaps. Partnership has also been an integral part of their success. It’s not humanly possible to be in three places at once doing three different things and as a team they cover for each other.

Godfrey believes that in business the hardest thing is maintaining a clean name. Buying land from the legit owner and confirming the person selling is genuine and not an imposter is a huge part of his day to day work. They recount the story of a young gentleman who came to sell a large piece of land that had been transferred to him by his mother. Godfrey then had his detective hat on and insisted on digging further into the case. The two partners were shocked to find out that the son was a thug who had sold almost all his mother’s land. He was using fake documentations, signatures and certificates. The two located the mother and gave her the 411 on what was happening unbeknownst to her.

Godfrey’s due diligence procedure is somewhat clandestine and needs to be in a detective novel. Given the crooks in the business, he says that he treats every land dealer as a thug whether they have grey hairs or a bishop collar. He always visits the shambas with a private investigator.

Godfrey is warming up and expounding further on the undercover work. Gladys stands; she needs to take her leave. She’s meeting some colleagues who are former workmates she wants to turn into land owners – the marketing never stops. “I want them to own something, start serious investing,” she says.

It’s dusk as we leave Ranges View Estate, one of the gated communities that Ranges Estates has developed in Nakuru. Personally, I’m now itching to be a land owner.

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Gladys Muhunyo

 
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 Joan Kabugu

Joan Kabugu is a writer, published author, award winning filmmaker and blogger who 
Launched Ecila productions in July 2013

 


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