Tabitha Karanja: From Shop Attendant to Beer Billionaire [VIDEO]

  • For decades, some industries were considered largely male-oriented but thanks to women like Keroche CEO, Tabitha Karanja, the chauvinism no longer holds water.

    To get to the top, however, the CEO, who had a dream of pursuing medicine while in school, has had to put up with a lot of smear campaigns and had to develop a tough skin to endure challenges.

    It all started after she walked away from her government job as a librarian. 

    Capital FM once reported that the queen of the Kenyan beer industry had such a strong entrepreneurial sense, that she wasn't really fitting in at her previous job, so she left it and started a hardware shop.

    Tabitha Karanja (left) and Joseph Karanja while launching a new beer in July 2019.

    After running the shop for a while, she noticed an anomaly in the liquor industry and in 1997, at the age of 32, the magic to transform it kicked off.

    “One day I felt that we really wanted to go to full manufacturing, but I didn’t know which sector exactly. So we had to do a bit of research and know which direction to take.

    "But after going to the market, we found out that there was a big gap in the liquor market and it was in the lower (income) market, which was neglected by the players that were there then and customers were left to drink whatever was available in the market. So we thought; why don’t we come with a product that is hygienically produced, that meets international standards and was affordable?" recounted Tabitha.

    “Then, in 2005, we also discovered that in the upper (income) market, people didn’t have choices. And after working on it, we came up with Summit Lager & Summit Malt within a year and we were largely accepted in the market. It is after this we started our expansion plans," she continued.

    To get to the billionaire status, however, the tycoon endured a lot of pressure, a majority coming from the government.

    It started with rumours, when the company was only six years old, that her drinks were not healthy. Shortly after, she was asked to pay a tax debt of Ksh1.2 billion in 14 days but she managed to win it in court.

    Today, her empire stands threatened. DPP Noordin Haji, on Wednesday, ordered arrests of Tabitha and her husband, Joseph Karanja, on claims that Keroche Breweries evaded tax amounting to over Ksh14 billion.