From house to 3 campuses: Investor’s key lessons on growing to group of schools

Enterprise

From house to 3 campuses: Investor’s key lessons on growing to group of schools

Wednesday March 27 2024

Boniface Owiti, CEO, Rophine Field Group of Schools at his Kamulu Campus office. PHOTO | POOL

While working as a banker, Boniface Owiti thought his role was purely to provide capital to his wife who was passionate about education to enable her to fulfil her ambition of owning a school.

But over time, he realised that availing capital was not enough and he had to step in and support her with administrative and financial matters, albeit on a part-time basis.

“With time, I became more passionate about the school and with my finance and banking expertise, I immersed myself into the business,” opens Boniface Owiti, co-founding director and CEO, Rophine Field Group of Schools.

Initially, they didn’t have a business mindset; their goal was to create opportunities for learners, make a difference and transform society.

He adds that the core of their strategy was to align themselves with the school’s vision of building an exceptional institution where everyone feels safe and valued.

He points out that starting, running and growing a private school is a difficult task because one must establish the brand, a big challenge they faced at the beginning.

“Building a brand is not easy. We started the school from a three-bedroom bungalow in 2009 and it took a lot of effort to make people understand and appreciate our effort and to believe in what we were building,” he recalls.

When it comes to running a school successfully, he points out that what gives an investor an edge is not the billboards on highways but the transformation and impact it leaves on the learners. This he, says sets one apart from the rest in the market.

Investment

Starting a good school requires heavy infrastructural investment and Boniface says what saved their situation was his good salary and teaming up with a financial partner who understood their business concept.

Despite the heavy capital expenditure, he says that Rophine Field Group of Schools is still able to provide quality education at a reasonable cost.

Read: Elite schools set up in Eldoret as rich class grows

“We are not purely profit-driven but rather focus on the impact through quality education,” he says adding that work on quality education has to be solid and requires long-term planning.

He adds that just like any other product, one must keep track of the overhead costs to determine the fees chargeable. “The two major cost items when running a school business like a school are salaries and transportation of students,” he explains. This, he says, are crucial determiners of an institution’s profitability.

Choice of location and rebrand

Over the past 15 years, the investor has experienced tremendous growth, which he attributes to good academic performance.

“We began with three students in 2009 but currently have close to 2,000 at our campuses in Utawala, Kamulu and at our International School section and 400 staff members. We also have the upcoming Diani campus in Kwale,” reveals the former banker.

Recently, the school rebranded from Rophine Junior School as it sets its sights beyond Kenya, targeting among others, the DRC, and Ethiopia.

To finance that growth, Boniface says they are re-investing earnings from the business and partnering with Kenyan banks with subsidiaries in the target countries.

Other than expansion, he says they are ready to share their management expertise with other schools elsewhere.

He points out that when establishing a school, demographics determine the choice of location as it will be foolhardy to build or start a school, let’s say, in a location with many retirees and senior citizens.

Setting an advisory board

When he resigned from the bank to fully concentrate on running the school in 2017, he employed the corporate approach but realised that the dynamics are very different in terms of handling teaching staff.

“I almost got it wrong due to poor approach and methodology but I moved fast to address them,” says Boniface.

One thing that school owners grapple with is remaining liquid for smooth operations and Boniface says he is a firm believer in efficiency to avoid such a scenario.

“Structure your business to be efficient. In school business, cash flow management can be chronic, so create a system that gives parents a clear fee payment structure and develop a supplier’s payment structure based on your cash flow,” he advises.

He explains that problem arises when one doesn’t manage what comes in and what goes out. One should not release everything at one go, he advises.

The other painful experience which has led to the loss of millions of shillings is parents accumulating huge fee arrears and later transferring their learners to other schools with no recourse to recover the money.

The entrepreneur says that they set up an advisory board comprising professionals from diverse backgrounds upon the realisation that the two of them cannot be a one-stop shop in terms of knowledge and they needed people to interrogate their decision-making processes, and hold them accountable.

Covid-19 pandemic disruptions

The Covid-19 pandemic was the lowest moment for those in the education sector, especially private schools investor. Boniface’s saving grace was his ability to align himself very fast.

Read: Why parents pay a premium in Kenya’s top schools

“I had already embraced digital integration as part of learning and engaged parents and while others were still trying to figure things out, our system was up and running, which helped a great deal,” he adds.

He advises that for family-owned businesses, mentorship of the next generation is key. Walk them through the vision but don’t force it on them.

“When investing in this kind of business, don’t be profit-driven because that will leave you very frustrated. Having passion makes it easy so even if things don’t work out, at least you will feel you have transformed and made a difference in someone’s life.”

Biggest lesson

His biggest lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions was that when running a business, be open-minded so that when challenges come, look for solutions quickly.

He adds that presently, the tricky issue is the risk element because the business could be flourishing but a single mishap or lapse can bring it down.

He advises that for family-owned businesses like theirs, mentorship of the next generation is key. Walk them through the vision but don’t force it on them.

“When investing in this kind of business, don’t be profit-driven because that will leave you very frustrated. Having passion makes it easy so even if things don’t work out, at least you will feel you have transformed and made a difference in someone’s life.”

He concludes that patience is key because the return on investment is not immediate and also underscores the significance of retaining your best staff.

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The post From house to 3 campuses: Investor’s key lessons on growing to group of schools first appeared on Investorempires.com.

 

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