A breakthrough that came from a humble start

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021 00:00 |
Salome Chiira’s risk taking moves in her childhood helped her in her adult years Photo/PD/RODGERS NDEGWA

Salome Chiira who got pregnant as a teen shares how she turned her life around, from a house help to owning a business empire.

Steve Umidha @UmidhaSteve

Known for her illustrious spell in business, Salome Chiira’s journey is a rags-to-riches tale that starts out as a house servant, and ends with her being a proprietor of Radiant Group of Hospitals.

She may be a heavy hitter now, but the self-assured Sally — as she’s fondly referenced among her peers, doesn’t remember having a striking or amiable teenage past.

Her adolescent years weren’t the smoothest as she recounts in a rare sitting at one of her facilities in Pangani, Nairobi.

Salome was just 14 years when she got pregnant in 1991. “I got pregnant as a teenager, and due to this, I was forced to sell vegetables to earn a living before I went back to school to complete my secondary education and later pursue a career in nursing,” opens up Salome during an interview.

It was one of the toughest periods of her life as she was forced to drop out of school in Form Two at Kangubiri Girls High School in Nyeri county.

She stayed away from school for more than a year before returning a year later – this time in Mutira Girls High School, Kirinyaga county from 1992 to 1993. She left her son with a relative.

The next two years (1994 and 1995) would, however, be her defining moment – a period that offered both hope and despair.

She had done well for herself in school scoring a mean grade of B, but Sally had little choice and was forced to set aside her dreams of becoming amedical practitioner.

Salome Chiira. Photo/PD/Rodgers Ndegwa

Instead, she got a job offer to work as a house maid – making just enough to cater for herself and secure a somewhat decent future for herself and her baby.

Strange call

“It was hard work, but I did it nonetheless. At this point I had no ambitions to further my studies beyond Form Four. I was okay,” she reveals 

Despite the fact that she needed the work and that there seemed to be no meaningful future ahead of her, the young Salome opted to stay on nonetheless.

But it came with added responsibilities – answering incoming guests’ calls on behalf of her employer.

This, she says, required her to routinely devour etiquette while juggling between her day-to-day errands.

Her diligence, coupled with expressiveness and confidence while on those phone calls, which were always defined and precise, would later turn out to be step one on her long road to immense wealth.

One morning while undertaking her routine house chores, Salome says a usual phone call went on and she habitually reached out to answer it.

“It was the call that changed my life for the better. It was a call to my employer, who was not in the house at the time,” she narrates. 

 The caller, impressed by her fluency and understanding of English language, inquired, “You speak so well why are you not in school?”

The senior bank manager at the time, Salome says, curiously summoned her to meet him at his office.

Armed with just a name, contact and location, Salome discretely met the elderly man — who was working for a local bank.

“Upon narrating her story to him, without hesitation, he offered to pay my school fees and tuition fees for my diploma in nursing at  Kenya Medical Training Institute (KMTC) in Embu between  and 1999,” says Salome who still hits the gym three to four times a week to stay in shape and remain fit.

In 2001, she got a job at a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Salome yearned for further education and proceeded to Agha Khan University, where she undertook a degree in nursing between 2007 and 2010.

So, how did she acquire Radiant Group of Hospitals? Radiant Hospital’s initial owners had failed to get a financial rescuer at a time the facility was in a sorry state and in need of a facelift.

It was a tough period that had also seen employees leaving and suppliers running out of patience owing to delayed payments.

Taking risk

In 2005, Salome and five of her friends pooled their resources and bought the hospital, contributing Sh500,000 each to raise Sh2.5million — revitalisation capital.

However, that dream would fail to live up to the high expectations, prompting her to buy out other stakeholders who also had medical backgrounds.

“None of them was willing to dedicate their time to run it. They had given up on the business despite risking their resources in the hope of salvaging it.

I managed to pay each of them Sh300, 000 in first installments in the first year and the balance over a period of 12 months,” she reveals. 

She took a three-month leave from her well-paying NGO job to fully focus on reviving the facility.

She decided to spend time at the hospital to experience firsthand the challenges the facility was going through and during that period, she found herself working as a receptionist, a nurse and even a marketer.

With additional loan from the banks, her savings and top-up from her spouse, Salome embarked on a tedious, but a worthy journey spanning over 10 years of rebuilding the hospital brand.

“I approached a local bank for a loan. My father offered our only piece of land as collateral to the bank. I was also fortunate to get additional funding from my spouse,” she adds.

Today, she’s the proud owner of Radiant Group of Hospitals, with a fully functioning board chaired by the banker who paid her first education tuition at KMTC, Embu.

It employs more than 100 employees across its value-chain. Plans are also afoot to expand the facility to selected regions across the country.

Having the gumption to buy a business is impressive at any age, but Sally snapped up her business acumen way too early— at the age of seven. “As early as the age of seven, I knew what business was.

I would collect black coffee in my dad’s farm and he would pay me some cents for it. So, this thing of knowing the value of money was entrenched in me as a small girl,” she narrates. 

During her early days, Salome would double her small earnings as a salesperson in secondary school and college — selling love note books to fellow students and as a photographer, taking photographs using a camera bought from her savings.

It is an experience, she says, helped shape her risk-taking moves in her latter years.

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