Ashish says his visit to Kenya is purely to catch up with friends and is not business related. However, his companies, such as Ison BPO, Dodhia Packaging and the Mara Foundation, are scaling up in the country. “I am here to catch up with long-lost friends, business partners. I haven’t visited this beautiful country for close to five months now. I’m here for a weekend. I studied in Kenya, St Mary’s along Nairobi’s Raphta Road, in my younger years, though I lost touch with most of my friends. I consider Kenya my home,”
How did it feel to make the first Sh1 million
“Frankly, I can’t recall that moment. I can genuinely tell you that I wasn’t tracking my wealth; I was focusing on the challenges as I was new in business. I didn’t have mentors. I didn’t track it or celebrate, I was cautious. I’m very impatient, I want everything done yesterday.
I reinvested everything in my business. The only way you are going to grow is if you keep on planting.” Ashish adds that over the years, he has formed the habit of taking a step back whenever he thinks he has achieved something, or as Aloe Blacc sings, when he feels like he is “The Man”. “I go out and see what others are doing and I get back to working. I have never settled.
Look at the late Steve Jobs, over half the world is using his products! “I’m a billionaire, yes, I agree, but billions of people are yet to hear about the Mara Group and Foundation. I feel the need to work hard every day. I follow my spiritual father, Morali Bapu’s teachings, which have had a great impact on me.”
His biggest mistake while starting out in business
“In my first year of business, I trusted a European man who showed up to ask for credit. He was dressed sharply and was in a four-wheel drive car. I advanced him goods worth $15,000 (Sh1.3 million at current rates) and he gave me a cheque from a certain water project; it all looked legit. I loaded the goods in his car but when I took the cheque to the bank, it bounced.
Half of my investment was gone. I was devastated! I kept asking if it was a sign Should I go back to school” And does he plan to going back to school He laughs. “Education is good. However, informal education is much more important and valuable in life than formal education. Mentorship and vocational skills training build up an individual,” Ashish says.
So how does it feel to be young and rich
“Feeling young feels great. Rich I feel like success should never be measured by wealth, but by the impact you’ve made, the lives you are changing, the difference you are making. People think too often that success is equal to dollar signs. It’s not.
How is that being successful “So when a guy robs a bank or a politician siphons public funds into his private accounts, does he become successful No. Ethics, making an honest living and giving back are what make you successful. I am saddened by the fact that many of us have got the wrong perception and associate money with success.”
Ashish, who has in the past said he avoids bidding for government tenders because of the tricky dealings often involved, explains why he thinks the youth fail in business: “Many go for shortcuts and engage in unethical deals, forgetting that where there is no pain there is no gain. They compromise on value. Like my mentor, Bapu, says, have love, compassion and be truthful. Stop thinking business is a destination, it’s a journey.” He, clearly, feeds on positivity and transforming lives.
“People keep talking about bringing Silicon Valley to Africa, and I like and appreciate this message, but it doesn’t excite me. I do not want to bring Silicon Valley to Africa, I want to take Africa to Silicon Valley. We need to be innovative and global. Why keep using Facebook, Twitter and all these American products when we can create great things like Safaricom’s M-Pesa Those great innovators started in gory garages, what’s holding us back” To contribute to changing the status quo, the Mara Foundation has partnered with various organisations to launch Mara Mentor, a platform that seeks to connect entrepreneurs across Africa with business leaders.
For his efforts, Ashish has won a tonne of accolades, most recently the MTV Base Leadership Award at the June MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs) held in South Africa.
His next conquest Space.
“We don’t want to rush it; we want ensure it is a return ticket, although I hope to find it habitable and see if I can set up Mara Group and foundation there,” Ashish jokes. He became East Africa’s first astronaut, and only the second African after South Africa’s software mogul Mark Shuttleworth.
Finally, how much is he worth exactly?
“I have no idea. Last I checked was in 1996, and back then I had a loan of $5,000 with the bank. Mara Group is a private entity. “However, the market worth of my bank, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, is open information, and it is worth $850 million (Sh74.5 billion).”
He is shocked into silence when he sees an Internet story that claims he is married. Eventually, and with a laugh: “Wow! People have time … I am single. But I don’t want to focus on that lest I start getting crazy messages ….”