Thursday, 4 June 2015

The CEO with a larger than life dream

Meet the man behind Kenya’s first and only castle; the beautiful Tafaria Castle. He has built one of Kenya’s most beautiful structures- an elegant structure designed on fairy tales of medieval Europe. The marvelous castle is a result of seven years of construction. Before he made the transition from the corporate world to build this dream castle, he was the man at the helm of Steadman Group (now Ipsos Synovate), who steered it to an African multinational. The man, George Waititu. Let his tale unfold.



Growing up in Laikipia plains near the Aberdares was remote, harsh, lonely and God forsaken (in many ways). My mother was a pioneer immigrant there. Make no mistake though, it was still fun and well-moulded me – I can bet I would have been a totally different person if I didn’t grow up there.

The inspiration behind Tafaria Castle stemmed out of a childhood dream and the need to express my love for architecture and art. Most importantly, the castle is very symbolic of transforming my village. Having gone back to conquer the brutality that it unleashed on me when I was growing up, a Castle had to be built to signify that – just like in medieval times when they conquered a territory. The fact that we built a castle was also borne out of the expression by my English teacher each time one was caught day dreaming ‘don’t build castles in the air!’, so I had to build one on the ground for my village.

The challenges I faced were in plenty – I look back and there is no way I shall undertake such a project again! (chuckles) The challenges ranged for the very location itself – far flung making materials haulage expensive, local labour was not used to the kind of work ethics the project demanded, I was fulltime working and supervision was a major challenge, the heavy rains and bad roads, lack of water and lack of power made the early years of the project very expensive. Overall, there were many challenges but they did not seem as such as Tafaria is a pure work of passion…. I am happy to note that we accomplished all the set out transformational goals: to bring water, electricity, roads, employment, skills, market for local produce, to enhance land value and to create social prestige in the village.
The front and rear entrances to the Castle
One of the beautiful pieces of art at the Castle



Tafaria was always a dream I had. I made the transition from my career to focus on the castle because of the overwhelming need to go back home and transform the village that I grew up in, the village that made me the person that I am today. I also have this thing in me - that this craving to live in urban areas needs to be reversed by making rural areas more attractive places to live in. Beyond the localized transformation that I pursued, I'm very deliberate about rural transformation.

The lessons I have learnt are un-ending. The most important one is being ‘never delegate your dream’; you must personally be involved and pursue it with brutal consistency. Anything short of that will be filled with regret of either unrealized goals or poor execution – I had to leave corporate life to pursue my dream brutally. The results are always deeply fulfilling.

Where I am today is a result of being passionate about what I believe in. I never take up anything in life that I am not in love with. I had a similar passion for the Steadman group which I built to an Africa multinational. If you have ever been in love, I'm sure you will understand what I mean – no one else or anything else matters in the world and you go to strenuous lengths to satisfy this. (Isn’t that amazing, can I get an amen? Haha!)

I am very average and have always been even academically – I still get bored very quickly – I'm also very edgy and terribly impatient – when I die, burry me quick else you might have some questions to answer. Haha!

Success to me is the attainment of a set personal vision – a goal true to one’s heart. I think it is always very disempowering to others when one tells his story because using the benefit of hindsight, everything sounds and looks well thought out and executed – it’s therefore very hard to explain this in a way that sounds normal. I would sum up my journey as one full of the ordinary ups and downs pursued with brutal consistence – hence few regrets.


Mentors are important but one needs to be careful not to be entrapped by social conformity. I have been personally inspired by different phenomenon and people. For instance am very inspired by the consistency of the sun (never fails to rise or set) and hawkers (for their aggression, belief in what they sell and passion to push it through). We are who we are because all our paths are unique and however hard you try to take mine, you will never end up with the same results. One needs someone to occasionally bounce off ideas. Trouble with young people when they get mentors is that they over-subject themselves to the said mentors, sometimes compromising their own creativity and personal liberties (which I highly cherish). You must stand for something first at a personal level then look for someone to guide you through it.

My advice to young people on saving and investing would be to make your dreams first and set your goals then define the steps towards their accomplishment. Put a financial tag to each and then set out to get the necessary finances. I am not a believer of saving money in the bank. The true meaning of money is what one spends it on. The whole essence of working hard is to accomplish a pre-defined goal. I would hate a situation where I make some money then go look for something to do with it.

Invest in that genuine dream that is personal to you. An early start is always advisable. Breakdown the various stages of your investment to the tiniest of elements (I say shilling worth) and that way you don’t have to wait to save big money to start. Tafaria started by simply planting trees. Each seedling then was 1bob and labour for a day was 100bob. So even the biggest of investments has a shilling worth element. If you have an opportunity, I say why not!

Endless pursuit of wealth for its own sake is not fulfilling. I find it deeply satisfying when you do things with and for the community. Tafaria is a social enterprise by motivation. Reaching out to the community does not stop one from earning while at it just like one can do with a hobby. Also, however hard one works, there is always the element of fate and many things in a community conspire to influence our direction. So, community being so cardinal to/in our lives, it’s worth attention.

The earlier one is able to ‘figure’ himself out, the easier navigation through life becomes thereafter. Remember, even the society engages with you at your own terms. You set the terms and immediately the society sees you through those lenses and engages with you as such. 

8 comments:

  1. Very insightful! I especially love what he says about being cautious when it comes to social conformity. We all need to own and guard our uniqueness :)

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    1. Thank you for reading Nyawira. Its always such a pleasure to get feedback :-)

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  2. I didn't know that much about the castle, but now I do! Great read.

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    1. Thank you Joy for reading and taking time to post a comment.

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  3. This guy, I want to have coffee with him. He seem to have very many nuggets of wisdom and you have done a great job of conveying that. Thank you for sharing the wisdom, Lydia!

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    1. Thanks Valentine, deeply appreciated. He is remarkable. A cup of coffee can be organised :-)

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  4. You must stand for something first at a personal level then look for someone to guide you through it.

    I especially like that line. Asante Lydia..keep on keeping on :)

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  5. very inspirational. young and rich...congrats Waititu

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