Your birthday was a few days ago; happy birthday.
Thank you, it was on Thursday, March 17.
Normally, we would see a lavish celebration. Do we expect that this time?
No. With the pandemic, I have been sensitive to that. The country just opened up and we have to keep that on the back of our minds. In the last three years, I have not had a party; that is, since I launched my foundation. I will have the big party when I turn 45. Everything between that is about giving back.
Giving back… How?
Many people like to offer me gifts. I do not mind that. However, a lot more people can benefit (from the gifts). I am giving more opportunities for people to experience that. Remember on my 40th birthday we were giving Tanzanite earrings, golden bracelets and such. We did 40 gifts then. We are doing a little bit something like that; say clear your school bills or your hospital bills.
The 40th was big and we recall it as the biggest birthday party of the year then (2018). What do you recall it for?
I think it was the biggest but to be honest, I used to have sensational parties because of where I was back in the day. The Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) gave me a different platform. Of course, it is also about being sensitive to the family where I come from and the position I am in; all the limelight and scrutiny. But, it is good to celebrate yourself and be proud of yourself.
What would you tell someone who would like to gift you a drink, now that you do not take alcohol anymore?
Unfortunately, I do not endorse alcohol because I am a recovering alcoholic. It does not however mean, “Oh my God!” Because it is big business and a way of life, I just would give you that club experience as opposed to handing over bottles because I do not know what it could lead to as a recovering alcoholic. I do not want to change anyone’s life for the worse.
What has been your main take-away in your recovery journey?
Even with the foundation, one of the key things that I want to do is set up rehabilitation centres. It changed my life greatly. I would not be the person I am today if I had not gone through rehab. As an alcoholic, you have very few options. It is either you reform, or remain alcoholic, or die. I have to say I am grateful that it did work out. Having said that, I would like to do more moving into that space.
As CEO of the KICC, how did the pandemic affect business?
Once the pandemic hit, one thing that happened was social distancing. Of course, our number one business is social gatherings. Ironically enough, when I came to KICC seven years ago, I held a meeting with my team and I said “what happens if we do not have one event here at KICC?” We were able to make sure everyone paid their rent and obviously, we got affected (by the pandemic). It was the first time we got money from the exchequer.
Many people hear of KICC and think many things about the place…
I think first and foremost it is a meeting spot, for many years, about 48 now. Before the advent of mobile phones, it was like a reference; say direction, meeting point in the city. It is a platform for artistes and a major venue for international conferences. It is now a place where people have an easier meeting space and a preferred destination for incentives travel.
How much money does KICC generate on an annual basis?
We make well over Sh2 billion. I dream that we can be able to do much more. I am a marketer; I used to love the Super Bowl when I was in America and it was not because of the football, but because of the adverts in-between. I would sit and critique them. I’m an ‘ad watcher’ and that speaks to turning things around.