The Corona billionaires: Why some businesses are thriving

Against the backdrop of businesses shutting down and millions of people losing their livelihoods as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a select group of businessmen locally and globally are turning their fortunes around amid the gloom.Innovators, manufacturers, contractors and e-commerce entrepreneurs are collectively sharing the biggest part of the coronavirus millions as the world moves away from traditional ways of doing business.

In Kenya, some of these companies have moved from struggling entities, barely breaking even a few months ago, to banking hundreds of millions of shillings in a matter of months, thanks to winning government tenders.

For this select group of companies, there has been no blessing larger than the pandemic since March 13 when Kenya announced her first confirmed case of the virus.

The Standard can reveal how, between the time Ministry of Health announced that the virus had come into the country and June 4, one State agency channeled close to Sh2 billion to nine companies for the government’s response to the pandemic.

For instance, one company is supplying Personal Protective Equipment and KN95 masks to a government agency worth Sh970 million. This translates to the company grossing more than Sh300 million every month in sales.

The supply of PPEs and masks has proved to be the most lucrative for companies, with many selling a single PPE kit for Sh9,000 and one KN95 mask for Sh700.

Between these months, the smallest supplier to government earned Sh25 million for the supply of 50,000 half litre bottles of hand sanitiser.

Documents in our possession show that Accenture Kenya Limited supplied some 12,000 PPE kits for Sh108 million. Another company, Abyssinia Group of Industries, was contracted to supply 30,000 N95 masks with a respirator for Sh27 million.

Bell Industries supplied 15,000 PPE kits as well as 5,000 infrared thermometers for a combined Sh185 million. The thermometers cost Sh10,000 each.

Medilife Biologicals Ltd has supplied government agencies with KN95 masks and three ply surgical disposable masks for Sh230 million. Another company, Nanopay Limited, got some action on the masks game, supplying 50,000 KN95 masks for a tidy Sh35.5 million.

By June 4, Light Up Limited had supplied 50,000 half-litre bottles of hand sanitiser for Sh25 million.

But one of the biggest pieces of business during the Covid-19 pandemic was done by a company called Shop N Buy Limited for the supply of PPEs and KN95 masks. By June 4, the company had done business worth Sh970 million.

Other companies that have made their mark in business, according to documents in our possession, are Ziwala Limited that supplied 120,000 KN95 masks for a total of Sh84 million and Wallabis Ventures Limited, which supplied 10,000 PPE kits for a tidy sum of Sh90 million.

On masks, besides the nine government agencies and institutions that had signed up with the Ministry of Industrialisation for manufacture, a total of 28 other companies were in the line of manufacturing the all-important piece of cloth.

If the capacities they had indicated are anything to go by, and if they eventually got orders, Revital Healthcare EPZ of Kilifi, Texplast Industries Ltd, Arax Mills Ltd, Nairobi Enterprises, Pyramid Industries in Juja, Brand Track Ltd, Bedi Investments of Nakuru and Buruk Ltd, among others, are making millions with each pass of the day.

Revital had indicated a capacity of making 180,000 pieces of masks in a single day, Texplast 200,000, Arax 100,000, Nairobi Enterprises 80,000, Bedi 60,000, Pyramid 60,000, Brand Track 50,000, Buruk 40,000.

Depending on how much they are selling the masks at to suppliers, these manufacturers are making a killing. A lucky few have landed the GoK supplies and have been supplying in bulks, others have landed in the arms of willing corporates, international organisations and non-governmental organisations.

But the PPE manufacturers are not the only ones making a killing. Contractors too have been having a field day renovating hospitals and other public facilities.

In Nairobi, for instance, the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS) has taken advantage of the Covid-19 scale down to undertake major infrastructure projects like expansion and paving of walkways as well as the carpeting of key roads.

The budget at play has been music to the ears of contractors. In last month’s national budget, NMS was allocated some Sh26.4 billion for the implementation of four key functions transferred to the national government, including health.

This includes budgets for road works and the implementation of a grand commuter masterplan as well as a new railway city whose development budgets will run into billions of shillings.

Road contractors have already started sharing the Sh5 billion budget for rehabilitation of access roads and bridges set aside for countrywide projects. The Kenya Rural Roads Authority, the Kenya National Highways Authority as well as the Kenya Urban Roads Authority have put out tenders for various projects.

Growing wealth in times of disaster is not just a Kenyan affair. Globally, Jeff Bezos, founder of e-commerce company Amazon, grew his wealth by Sh3 trillion as a result of a surge in demand for products by his companies.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos is one of the few billionaires to have seen an increase to his net worth since the beginning of 2020.

Others on the list include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who added Sh2.5 trillion to his net worth, according to Americans for Tax Fairness and Institute for Policy Studies Program for Inequality.

The gains among the world’s richest men highlight how the pandemic has rewarded the largest most tech-focused as well as research based and medical equipment supplying companies even as the economy struggles for air as a result of massive job losses.

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