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Atul Shah: The Kenyan Tycoon of the Retail Industry


Many of you may not know who Atul Shah is, but in East Africa, especially in Kenya, he is known to be a business tycoon in the Kenyan retail industry. He is the founder and former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nakumatt Holdings Limited, the parent company of Nakumatt Supermarkets, Which is the largest privately owned supermarket chain in the African Great Lakes. Nakumatt Supermarkets is the equivalent of Walmart in the United States. It is a giant retail company that borderline monopolizes the retail market in the East African region. The company has branches in Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. As of 2014, the retail chain maintained 50 stores in four countries, employed over 7,000 people, and had annual sales in excess of $650 billion.

Atul Shah was born in Nandi Hills, Kenya in 1961 to Indian parents. In 1965, the Shah family relocated to Nakuru. Atul’s parents migrated to Kenya in 1947 from India and opened a retail clothing store opposite the Nakuru open market. Atul learned from his father, Mangalal, how to run a business and developed from there his first business skills and entrepreneurial instinct, which will help him become successful in the retail industry. In 1975, his father started exporting clothing to Uganda, often on credit, and in 1976, he was forced to declare bankruptcy once creditors demanded their money. He owed more than KSh.1.2 million to creditors. This was a painful lesson that Atul learned during his adolescence.

In 1984, Atul Shah opened a store in Eldoret, Kenya, a town right outside of Nakuru called Nakumatt. In 1986, he expanded the retail chain to Nairobi, with a store on Ukwala Road. Over the next 30 years, the supermarket chain has grown into the largest retailer in Kenya, with over 36 stores, employing over 4,500 people, and in 2008, the retailer opened its first outlet outside of Kenya, notably in Kigali, Rwanda; Kampala, Uganda in 2009; and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in 2011.

In 2013, it was reported that Atul Shah had valued shareholder’s equity in the retail chain at $400 million at that time, which was the equivalent of KSh. 34 billion. Though, Atul Shah is no longer the CEO of Nakumatt. Over the last few years, Nakumatt has encountered some financial difficulties, which forced the retail company to default on a KSh. 2 billion. Nakumatt became overleveraged, and Atul Shah had to sell some of his holdings to pay back his creditors. Nevertheless, Atul Shah remains one of the wealthiest individuals in Kenya and the entire East African region.

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