A chit-chat with SportPesa boss Capt. Ronald Karauri
By Steve Umidha
The newly-minted Chief executive of betting company, SportPesa paid his dues early on, starting as a novice at Kenya Airways (KQ). His first few weeks on the job at KQ, he reminded himself that he was indeed one of the lowest of the low.
“There’s opportunity everywhere even at the bottom of the totem pole,” he opens up during a candid tête-à-tête in his Chancery Building office on Valley Road, Nairobi.
But this corporate version of hazing didn’t slow him down. Ronald Karauri adopted “Thank you for this opportunity KQ” attitude and got to his first piloting drill in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia –when the airline announced ab initio pilot training program.
He realised quickly that, as a trainee in the region’s largest air company, he was in a unique position to interact with everyone at the firm – which afforded him countless opportunities to chat with executives, flyers and everyone in between.
While Ronald had originally planned and even attempted engineering course at the University of Nairobi (UoN), he soon realised it wasn’t for him. And rather than suffer through four years for education he didn’t fancy, he decided to pursue what really made him happy – flying airplanes and was determined to make a career out of it.
After dropping out of college at the initial stages of his studies, Monskie (his nickname) joined Kenya Airways and within a few years, he had networked his way into the job, and not long after, he became one of the industry’s greatest.
“I dropped out of campus when Kenya Airways selected me in the first ab initio pilot training program and the flying school was in Ethiopia.
We used to get an allowance of Ksh15, 000 monthly and for me that was my first pay check. The first thing I bought was a pair of new sneakers, and at the time they felt so expensive and special that I rarely wore them, so they were just kept to be admired on the shoe rack,” recollects the 38 year-old father of two.
His rise to the top started at the bottom of the ladder, as a beginner. But managers quickly noticed his talent and offered him opportunities to excel.
Over ten years of flying aircrafts, Mr. Karauri has quit the airline a ‘legend,’ even earning himself a spot in the list of KQ captains and pioneers of Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) – serving the latter as chief executive officer (CEO) as mouthpiece to its members, pilots.
He joined KQ in 2004 and called it a day last year (2015) and appointed SportPesa CEO in February of the same year.
Mr. Karuari had quietly and diligently acquired shares in the then a fledgling gaming company soon after it was formulated in February, 2014 – a decision he confesses was not a tranquil one.
“To be honest it was not an easy decision to just walk out of the company I had known almost my entire life, I loved flying planes because it’s all I know and love. But after weighing my options I haven’t looked back since then,” he opens up.
Hi decision he says was also motivated by troubles that were facing KQ at the time – a period the airline’s revenues had begun to nosedive.
The numbers speak for themselves
In February, 2014 with Kenya at its nascent passé in the business that is betting, SportPesa felt the financial strain that many companies across the nation still experience.
Unable to instantly appease ‘curious Kenyans’ and at severe risk of losing everything it had built from the $400million (initial capital), the firm’s top decision makers including Mr. Karauri leaned forward and bound to soldier on, albeit vigilantly with a bit of hope.
He used his vacation time and booked a trip to the United Kingdom (UK), his favored shopping destination by the way and vowed to cultivate relationships directly with pioneers of football betting.
He realised that if he could better control this process, it would aid him to connect and improve the quality of SportPesa, creating a deep market leaders’ advantage that the firm is today.
After his trip, he shifted strategies and now he’s reaping the benefit of more time marketing SportPesa.
Fast forward in November, 2016, in his short spell at SportPesa, the alumni of Mang’u Boys High School – the tall, nimbly built basketball lover has turned the company’s fortunes around and he has the numbers to show for it.
After two and half years in business, the firm is now mulling a Kenyan Securities Exchange listing, whose popularity in the local market has so far seen it pay to the taxman in excess of Sh1.6billion (in taxes) this year alone – widening from Sh800million it remitted to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) for the financial year ended December, 2015.
Karuari says the process could be as early as two years from now, although no decision has been taken thus far.
“That is a plan we have and its one that we will consider in the next two years, no active conversations have started yet but we are thinking about it,” he revealed.
Those plans are at advanced stages and no meetings have been set with stockbrokers or investment banks for pitches on potential initial public offering’s likely structure and valuation.
What’s more, Karauri’s immediate plans he tells me, is to steer the firm into offering a LIVE-BETTING platform.
“We plan to increase betting options up to full live betting. As a company we have taught the market how to play, and we add more options as the need arises,” he says.
But just like in any business, SportPesa has had its share of downs as well.
“It was a tough start. We’ve in the past and still face unnecessary scrutiny from our cynics, but we are determined to offer opportunities for Kenyans through betting,” he concludes.
About Captain Ronald Karauri
-He’s 38 years old, married with two kids
-Served at KALPA as CEO
-Worked at KQ for 11 years
-Current CEO, SportPesa
-His other interests include Politics & has not ruled out possibility of running for gubernatorial seat in Nairobi County
– His hobbies include playing basketball, riding and
-He supports Gor Mahia football Club, Hull City and Arsenal FCs
SportPesa, is a Kenya-based sports betting website owned and operated by Pevans East Africa Limited. The website is licensed by the BCLB under the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act and was founded in February, 2014.
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