When Khalil Anjarwalla took over the management of the African Cotton Industries in 2010 from his father, he wondered whether the experience he had garnered during his stay in the United Kingdom would be enough to steer the firm to greater heights.
Anjarwalla was taking over as the Managing Director of the family business that his grandfather started in the late 1950s. Then, the firm which was at the time known as Absorbent Cotton Industries was the only local manufacturer of fast moving hygiene products such as tissue paper, cotton wool and sanitary towels.
Five years later, Anjarwalla, 31, has exceeded his own expectation and has seen the company make major strides. His major achievement is winning a government tender worth Sh123 million in the 2011/2012 financial year to supply poor schools with sanitary towels for three financial years.
The Engineering graduate from Oxford University in the United Kingdom says various internship opportunities got him interested in coming back home to work for the family business.
“Immediately after completing my Masters in Engineering at the Oxford University, I went into consulting and in 2007, I started workin in the UK where I also did internships with some international companies that were in the same line as our family business, but at a global scale,” he says. Some of the firms he has worked for include Pearson Group, Procter & Gamble and Oliver Wyman Financial Services.
Anjarwalla had to make a tough decision between continuing with his Engineering career or heading back to Kenya to take over the management of the African Cotton Industries. After the tug-of-war his heart settled for home.
Although born and raised in Mombasa, he later relocated to the UK after obtaining a scholarship when he was 16.
“When I was 16, I moved to England after getting a high school scholarship. I spent two years there then took a gap year where I travelled around the world before coming back to the country in 2010.”
African Cotton Industries are the manufacturers of Flora, Tendercare, Medicott and Tena products and has grown from being a purely cotton wool manufacturer to having a multiple product lines with presence in Kenya and Uganda.
The company diversified its operations in the 1960s and moved from just producing plain cotton wool to making sanitary towels, maternity pads, tissue and baby care product.
“We went into making sanitary towels after discovering that the cotton wool was being used for sanitary protection,” he said.
Anjarwalla blames poor industry practice, poor farming techniques and lack of government incentives for cotton farmers for the industry’s stunted growth.
“A number of cotton ginneries and spinning mills have shut down because we were not getting products from the farmers. But trade unions are trying to revive the industry from an agricultural perspective. We, however, have a long way to go,” he said.
In order to have a thriving industry in Kenya, Anjarwalla believes that will only be achieved if the government supports local manufacturers in the cotton sector.
“Here in Kenya, for example, if we want to make sanitary towels in large scale, we need to import the Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) from China. So all we need to do is to set up a company making SAP here in Kenya. But at the moment, it is not realistic to have a company set up such an expensive facility here. Otherwise, who will use it?” he poses. This, Anjarwalla explains, is because if we have only one or a few companies manufacturing sanitary pads locally, then it is not a viable venture to set up such a facility here.
The government, he said also needs to ensure that the country has affordable energy, which will in turn lower the cost of production. Good transport infrastructure, he adds, will ensure easy movement of the products. “I make sanitary towels and I need to send them to Uganda, Congo or Zambia, I need to be able to access those markets directly. But sadly, what is happening currently is that if one wants to export sanitary pads to Zambia, they first have to go through Durban or Dar es Salaam. As a country, we also need strong engineering capabilities and a labour force with technical knowledge.”
Did you know?
- Anjarwalla is father of a two-year old son
- He likes to spend time with his wife and son
- He enjoys dining in Nairobi
- Plays golf and tennis weekly
- Anjarwalla is the first born in a family of four