Monica Musungu: defied all odds to get her company up and running.

 Her attempt at business hit the rocks twice and twice she was arrested because of client mistakes. But Monica Musungu rose up again and she’s smiling all the way

If you said hi to Monica Musungu, you are likely to be rewarded with a very infectious smile. Always jovial and on the run, the marketing manager of Scenery Adventures can be very hard to find, but great company when you do. “In the tour and travel business,” she says, “you cannot afford to walk. I am always running. A small hitch can mess a whole day for a client running a conference or an important meeting.”

So every day Ms Musungu wakes up early to plan and organise transport for dignitaries and safari for tourists. Scenery Ventures offers a range of travel services including among others car hire, hotel booking and furnished apartments. Business has been good, she says. Scenery Adventures has handled logistics for a number of dignitaries such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Akon, the Senegalese-American hip-hop singer.

“I must be there to make sure everything goes according to plan. Being there makes decision making easier,” says Ms Musungu, whose role model is mercurial British entrepreneur Richard Branson. “I have read most of his books. He is a true entrepreneur and I apply most of his philosophy.” She quit her hotel job in 2008, where she had risen from waitress to receptionist to venture into entrepreneurship. Her eyes, she says had been opened to the opportunities around her after meeting people in the industry. Success did not come easy.

Ms Musungu stumbled twice as she started up. She was arrested and locked up: first when a client sold off a car she had hired and when one of her cars was involved in an accident. If setbacks inspire more energy to push on, Ms Musungu personifies. “I did not have cars so I leased two. A female customer sold one in Thika and I was arrested, accused of being part of a theft cartel. I was released after the car was recovered,” she says.

Fighting spirit

This did not kill her spirit. During her second brush with the law, a doctor who had hired the second car crashed and abandoned it at the Central Police Station in Nairobi. She was arrested for exceeding the 24-hour limit of reporting a car accident. This drained her resources and energy. She was forced to close her business. “I could not pay rent and went to stay with a friend. I even used to hang on the train to save on transport costs to town,” she says.

After sometime she teamed with a friend to restart the business but this, too, was short-lived, as her new partner diverted one car to run private errands. The business collapsed, again. In 2009, Ms Musungu decided to go it alone. She took a loan of Sh70,000 and opened an office in the city centre.

“As I struggled to get a footing, I was tipped off about a major job and got it. They (clients) wanted six executive shuttles. I did not know that it was the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was coming for the AGOA conference in August 2009 with a delegation. They needed transport to and from the conference. I looked for a shuttle owner who, fortunately, trusted me and gave them to me without a down-payment,” she recalls.

This was the turning point for Ms Musungu, a slum girl who walked to school barefoot in Kariobangi. Within three weeks, she had pulled off three big jobs, including, as it were, managing Akon’s transport and accommodation logistics for a week during the MTV Mama Music Awards as well as a Korean embassy delegation. These jobs gave her the resources to furnish her office at Nanak House on Kimathi Street, Nairobi and employ staff.

In 2012, now a growing startup, Scenery Ventures brought on board a new partner who took up 50% stake, giving the company more muscle to fight in the highly competitive tourism industry. Well-calculated risks Ms Musungu says she had learned great lessons from past failures and started taking well-calculated steps. She opened an office in Norway with an eye on the Scandinavian tourist market. “I had to push my dream. When I fail I rise again and learn. I am a risk taker and believe in myself. Unless a lion eats me, I will always take risks,” she says adding, “ask for a chopper and I will get it for you.”

Highest moments

Another high-profile job came in 2013 when she clinched the deal to handle President Yoweri Museveni’s convoy during the Great Lakes Summit in Nairobi. To date she has handled Mr Museveni six times. Now she plans to open an office in Entebbe, Uganda. On car hire, she serves only corporate clients and to cut down on capital expenditure she leases most of the vehicles, which include shuttles, executive cars, and powerful machines like Prados and Land Cruisers.

Her highest moment came when she was invited for a meeting at the Ugandan High Commission, where she was officially recognised for good service. “I am a ghetto girl and I never imagined I would get to this level. I cried tears of joy,” she says. Looking at her life now she reckons she has come full circle. Her life of relative comfort now is a complete contrast to the humble beginning when she was homeless at some point and sought accommodation in a church.

She would later walk daily from home to school due to lack of bus fare and work as a house girl on weekends to raise school fees. But that, she says, was all the inspiration she needed to work hard. “I refused to pity myself and focused on achieving my goals,” she says.

“My dream is to see more women competing for business in various fields in Kenya. The hospitality industry, for example, is dominated by men. No other woman I know has handled a presidential convoy. I did and that shows other women can do it too. They must take a step and be willing to take a risk,” she says.