He employs over 40,000 people: Manu Chandaria
By Lilian Kaivilu
Their ease as they converse at the comfort of their home in Nairobi does not depict a couple from a joint family which employs over 40,000 people through their business worldwide, Comcraft Group, a steel, aluminum and plastics manufacturer.
Manilal Chandaria, popularly known as Manu Chandaria, the Comcraft Group Chairman, and his wife Aruna Chandaria’s life is clearly one of sacrifice and the determination to leave the society a better place than they found it. The love story of the octogenarians who have now been married for 61 years dates back to 1951 when Manu completed his Masters in Engineering at the University of Oklahoma in the United States of America.
But Manu is quick to point out that the journey has not always been smooth as they have had both lows and highs in their 61 years of marriage. “Of course it has not always been good, and every situation has its difficult moment. There are times we have lost a lot in business. But the point is not the loss, but how fast we get up and dust ourselves.
The couple has two children: Priti Chandaria 60, and Neal Chandaria 55. Raising the children, Manu says, was a real sacrifice, though worth it. “I love my children so much. But of course, bringing them up, at the same time establishing the businesses was a real sacrifice. Even today, I have learnt to let go of some of my commitments so as to be there for my family,” he adds.
Presently Priti lives in Geneva and is involved in social and charitable work. She has a daughter who did her MBA at Columbia University and is heading Absolut Art a subsidiary of Absolut Vodka.
“Our son Neal with his life Aarti lives in Singapore and is involved in the family business. He has two daughters, Ayushi an ardent swimmer who swims for Kenya and got preselected to study at Stanford (like her father who studied at Stanford) and Nirali who will be completing her O Levels in Singapore,” says Manu.
Besides chairing the Comcraft Group, the father of two is also the Chancellor of the Technical University of Kenya, Chancellor of the United States International University (USIU), oldest member on the University of Nairobi Council,University of Nairobi Enterprises & Services Limited and the Chairman of the Board of Starehe Girls’ Centre.
According to him, their marriage in 1955 was not just an ordinary union but a timely resolve to a standoff that existed then between the two families who were business partners.
The businessman and renowned philanthropist recalls his initial intentions to marry the mother of his two children. “I first knew Aruna when she was about five years and I saw her as a beautiful girl. At the time, our families were friends and in together in business. I had gone to Mumbai to study, and then to the United States of America. “When I came back in 1951, I saw her as a beautiful woman and I fell in love. We got engaged and later got married in 1955,” says Manu.
Having been brought up in a wealthy family that resided in Thika and India, Aruna says she did not do house chores as she was the second last born daughter in the family which had enough domestic workers. “Our marriage has taught me many things, including how to cook. I became an excellent cook and even authored, The World of Rice: One hundred &One Delicious recipes, a rice cookbook with novel recipes using rice. It was published by camerapix in 1991. The late Mohamed Amin took great interest and Duncan Willet, one of the best photographers photographed the recipes,” says Aruna.
A few minutes into the interview, Manu’s phone rings. It is not a phone call but a reminder that it is time for lunch. “That means if I do not remember that, then I have a problem at home. Because many times I pass one o’clock, quarter to one or 20 past one, she phones me….Anyway, that’s a reminder to be obedient,” he jokes.
Aruna, who is a trustee of Chandaria Foundation, reveals that her husband always comes home for lunch, unless he has business lunch engagements or has travelled out of town. “He loves sweets and fried food. After every meal, he has sweets and chocolate after dinner,” she adds.
Manu says their marriage was a turning point for their two families that were not seeing eye to eye then. “I felt it was time to engage Aruna. But unfortunately, the two families had broken the family relationships.” Still optimistic of his move, Manu got engaged to Aruna and married her in 1955.
The two families had been business partners from 1939 to 1947 but only resumed their partnership in 1961, six years into Manu and Aruna’s marriage. “I felt that our marriage would make the two families come together again. We finally won the game,” he points out.
Manu attributes his philanthropic activities to Jainism and his father-in-law who he says was not just hardworking but a selfless man. “Aruna’s father was very committed to make a change in the lives of the people of Kenya. He was a classical example of philanthropy in action. It was not that he had lot of money but he had the zeal,” says Manu. Today the Chandaria Foundation appears in many institutions throughout Kenya.
Born in 1929, Manu says his exposure to different cultures while studying, and his wife’s interaction with different cadres of people who visited their home, was a proper blend for the couple. “She had seen a world that was much different and wider and I felt that our marriage was a good platform for us to learn from each other.”
Did you know?
- Manu and the wife love travelling
- He does not play any sport
- Aruna was born and raised in Thika
- The couple has hosted Mother Teresa in their Nairobi home more than once
- Aruna’s father spoke fluent Kikuyu
Manu’s nuggets on family businesses
- Growth of family business depends on the size and the strength of the families involved
- It is also the collective efforts of the family members
- It takes tolerance and keeping ego in the pocket
- Understand the other’s shortcomings
- The contribution of women is key in having this kind of harmony within the family which reflects in the business