The force behind Vimal Shah
Manda Shah has an aura of senerity about her that immediately puts everyone around her at ease.
As she serves us tea in her sitting home, the 51-year old woman’s warm voice fills the room and she smiles invitingly; an anti-thesis of the woman I had created in my mind.
She is dressed in an orange Karta top with a white trouser, her long flowing hair moves gracefully. Her gait is slow but certain and it seems the person who coined the saying; behind every successful man their is a woman was aptly describing her.
Manda, the wife of Kenya’s business mogul Vimal Shah jokingly refers to herself as the silent force behind her husband but attributes his success to hardwork, good values and a strong regard for family.
As she speaks of the Shah she has been married to for over 30 years, Mandah gives a peek into the life of a man who has rubbed shoulders with creme de la creme of Kenya’s society and was in 2013 declared the 18th richest man in Africa and wealthiest in Kenya by Forbes Magazine with an estimate fortune of Sh138 billion, which was then US$1.47 billion.
Seated in a couch right opposite me, she smiles and says: “I don’t see the billions in him. It has been hardwork all the way.
The Vimal she met in 1984 and married a year later was a young idealist man selling insurance who had a penchant for reading books. Vimal was born in Nyeri, proceeded to Jamhuri Secondary School and later United States International University. Manda on the other hand was born and brought up in Nairobi, attended Arya Girls Nairobi for her Secondary Education and did a Diploma Course in Computer and later a Secretarial course because it was the “ in-thing those days”
Soon after the marriage the couple had had twin projects– navigating a new marriage with all the challenges it brings with it and tranforming the concept of Bidco Group into a real business.
Manda, says she knew role as a Vimal’s supporter was vital as he was just conceptualising Bidco, having left his employment a few years back where he sold insurance. So she quit her job at General Accident Insurance company to support her husband and concentrate on their home.
The mother of one takes a deep breath when I ask about Bidco Group’s journey and whether her husband has always been a high profile businessman. “No. Before I met him, he used to sell life insurance but at the time we met, he was working on Bidco which started as a soap manufacturing plant.”Manda recalls how she would accompany her husband from shop to shop to convince shopkeepers to stock their soap.
She displays a purple painted wall-hanging in the house, containing the name of their 17-year-old son, Soham, and their only child. “Soham is a Hindu word meaning ‘I am so you are’. His name was given by a Jain in India who Vimal has high respect for,” she says.
Though best friends with his father, she reveals that Soham, is still discovering his path and passion in life, saying it is not automatic that the boy will follow the entrepreneurship path as his dad. “But he is a hardworker like Vimal. My son loves engineering and we would like him to follow what he is passionate about. But we will be there to guide him.” She describes him as a very quiet but helpful child who makes sure that people around him are at peace.
Asked on how she manages to put up with her husband’s celebrity status, she says her husband has never been egoistic about it and that she respects the fact that so many lives depend on him. “Vimal is humble and that makes me humble too. He could meet you out there, and when you approach him for a photograph or a handshake he is always ready to do it.”
When she is not at home cooking for her family, Manda does a lot of work for the temple, though not on the forefront. Besides, she does charity, however, not to a specific recipient.
On dealing with negative publicity, Manda believes it is the role of the wife to make the husband’s life easier at such moments. “It does hurt when I read about such gossip but there is nothing you can do about it. That is the sad part of social media. But my role as a wife is to support and comfort him. So when rumours about Vimal emerge on social media, I do not want to raise them again once he comes home because I know it is all rubbish.”