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Terry Mungai, The dashing and passionately prayerful entrepreneur

Friday, September 23, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY NJONJO KIHURIA

Rarely
do the arts of hair dressing and beauty therapy mix with passionate
praise and worship. The ordinary hair salon and barber shop is
actually more of a gossip manufacturing unit than a house where the
Lord is extolled.
But
for the Ashleys College of Hair Dressing and Beauty, frenzied prayer
sessions, emotional praise and worship and charged sermons are
routine. Under the guardianship of the college CEO and director,
prayers with all students and staff are held every Monday, Wednesday
and Friday for at least two hours in the morning.

For
the rest of the week, students and their lecturers hold prayers in
their various classes.
Ashleys
Kenya Ltd director and CEO Terry Mungai is herself a committed
Christian who most of the time leads the praise and worship and even
delivers the sermon when the college has not invited a clergy person.
I
was a committed Christian when I started this institution and I want
it to be based on Christian faith and morals. I have to show the
young students what the faith is all about for them to be able to
live and practice it,” said Mrs Mungai.

A
dashing lady and a sharp dresser, Mrs Mungai said the college
instills morals that some of the students lack even from their family
backgrounds. “When they join us, we invite the students to talk to
us about their backgrounds and by the time they leave the college, we
ask them to talk about the people they have become since.
Some
have told stories of how they have changed from people of loose
morals, outright thieves and alcohol abusers to upright citizens,
thanks to the prayer meetings.”

Mungai
believes that with God as her authority, the college will continue
being successful and the students who pass through it leaving as
better people.

The
otherwise glamorous lady, who has held the Miss Kenya franchise for
over a decade now, did not start on life's journey with a silver
platter. “On the day (the first president of Kenya Mzee Jomo)
Kenyatta died (in August 1978), I heard the news on the radio at my
groceries kiosk in Nakuru town.”

Her
next job was as a van salesgirl selling bakery products before
joining the Rift Valley Business Machines and the Kenya Farmers
Association as a secretary from where she started working part time
as an insurance agent for Alico.
After
a while, I realised that the part time insurance job was paying more
than the full time job with KFA and so I quit the farmers’
organization in 1982 to join Alico, where I worked for four years.
There
were no restrictions at Alico and one could travel to make sales to
such far flung places as Nairobi and Nyeri among others, which opened
my world. This is how I became a complete cosmopolitan.”

Among
the people who assisted her net clients is the current MP for
Gichugu, Martha Karua, who at the time was a magistrate in Nakuru.
“Martha introduced me to a lot of her friends in the legal
profession and in the process, I became a star in Alico.” But
selling insurance is a highly competitive job with a very fast pace
and when Mungai wanted to settle down in life in 1985, she opted to
drop it for an office job at the El Al, but soon found out she was
not an office person and moved on to Diners.

There
are those who up to today believe Mungai had inside information on
possible collapse of Diners Club for it was only two months before it
went burst that she started Ashleys.
Back
in 1994 when I started Ashleys Salon and Barbershop in Kenwood House,
Nairobi, my husband and son would go to a barber shop known as Karai
where they queued on a wooden bench. Making hair and getting a shave
was not enjoyable and I could see there was a real vacuum in the
groom industry.
There
was one or two professional hair dressing outlets in Nairobi but
their staff did not take their jobs very professionally. As a
marketer I sensed a niche that needed to be tapped where I would make
the executive man and woman enjoy their visits to the salon and
barber shop.”

Mungai
then took a bank loan and started the Ashleys Barber Shop as an on
the side occupation, but only two months later, Diners was put on
moratorium and Ashleys became her full time employer. By
the time she was starting Ashleys, Mungai had two sons and longed for
a daughter. “I had watched the classic movie 'North and South',
keenly following its two characters, Ashleys and Ashton. In the
movie, Ashleys was the daughter anyone would have wanted to have and
thus named her business in anticipation.” Today she has a daughter
who bears that name.

Though
it took longer than she anticipated for Ashleys to pick up, she says
it is more successful now than she ever imagined. “It has surprised
me and in my religious world, this is what I call a miracle.” Not
unlike most other businesses, her major challenge has been capital
and she remembers 'hiring' her first loan collateral. “Someone gave
me his title for my first loan for a fee and I was able to
comfortably service the loan and pay the title owner his dues.”

She
says hair and beauty is everything for today's man and woman.
“Grooming is no longer done for the sake of it as image is
everything and to maintain it, your body must be well taken care of.
It
goes beyond just hair and beauty; it is the study of the skin that
involves hygiene and proper diet. Those taking the courses have to
thoroughly understand the human body.”

In
1999, Ashleys was invited to sponsor the Miss World Beauty Contest
(Kenya Chapter) and two years down the line the company became the
franchise holder for the event. “Being associated with the beauty
contest was working well for us in terms of marketing and when we
became the franchise holder, we got an even better platform.”

Mungai
recently held the Miss Kenya auditions that started in Kisumu, and
spread to nine towns representing the major counties in the country.
The finals were held in Nairobi on July 30.
Ashleys
also hold the franchise for Miss Teen (Kenya Chapter).

Mungai's
normal day starts at five in the morning and by six she is out of the
house and at the gym in Westlands by six-thirty. “Luckily my
husband is not a breakfast person, my first born son is all grown up
and a co-director at Ashleys, the second born is in college in the UK
and our daughter goes to school at Turi Junior which means I have
hassle-free mornings.”

She
would leave the gym at 8.30am, but on the days that she attends
prayer meetings at the college, the gym session is cut short by 45
minutes. “Normally I am in the office (at The Mall in Westlands) by
9.30, where I spend my working day though at times I visit the
various Ashley branches,” says the lady who lately has included
real estate into her stable. Barring any crisis, she is home by six
and personally prepares supper for her husband.

During
short school vacations, Mungai, who does not work on weekends, leaves
work earlier and even takes some days off to be with her two
youngest children, while on the longer ones the family would take off
for holidays.

For
the Ashleys CEO, inspiration comes from seeing the lives she has
touched through employees, students and beauty queens. “Just seeing
lives that have been transformed because I have had the fortune of
bigger blessings, gives me a lot of joy.”

The
determination to succeed and the independence that has come with it
dates back to her childhood when she lost her father when she was
very young and was raised by a single mum struggling to bring up four
children.
I
saw hard work and determination with my mother transforming herself
from a small time butcher to a property owner,” says Mungai who
from about age 10 would come from school in the afternoon and take a
bus to Njoro to fetch ten kilos of meat for her mother's butchery. A
mere two years down the line she was toying with her mother's own
motor vehicle as a driver in making. “As I saw the fruits of hard
work where we moved from a council house into our own home, I got
motivated. I also realized that one did not have to depend on a man
to succeed.”

Fortunately
for her, her husband studied and for a decade worked in the US and is
therefore liberal and respects her independence. “I must admit it
was a bit difficult in the beginning, but now he appreciates my
independence and I as a Christian reassure him and follow the
teachings of the Bible as far as the authority of my husband is
concerned
Our
children have the best of two worlds; we do not spoil them but we
make sure they are comfortable.”

She
spends her extra time attending Bible study group meetings, reading
inspirational books and watching sermons by stirring televangelists.
Mungai who loves to travel, also watches movies with stimulating
messages, true stories and local dramas that advocate good morals but
at the same time are entertaining.

In
future, Mungai sees Ashleys spreading its wings to register presence
in every county in Kenya, cross borders to east and west Africa and
even internationally as franchises. Having
grown Ashleys from a one salon outlet to a fully fledged college with
additional eight branches, acquired franchises for both Miss World
and Miss Teen (Kenya Chapter) in only 15 years, we would say that is
a mission possible for the lady who was awarded with the prestigious
presidential award of the Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) in
December last year.

nkihuria@yahoo.co.uk