|A Kenyan made history this week by taking his privately owned business to the mainstream of America’s commerce.
|The building which houses the Holden Group of Colleges and right, Mr Wilfred ole Saroni in his office
Mr Wilfred ole Saroni, the proprietor of Holden group of colleges, has merged with Premier Educational Group.
The group is an empire of private sector middle-level training institutions boasting 47 colleges in states within the American eastern seaboard.
According to the merger, the Kenyan businessman brings to the Premier group the much sought-after private nursing programme which he has successfully run for more than five years at his three colleges in Lowell, Worcester and Nashua.
The Nashua college has been rated the second best in New Hampshire by the New Hampshire Board of Nursing for two years running.
The new development directs focus on a man who has become accustomed to scoring firsts.
Three years ago (in 2005), Mr Saroni hit newspaper headlines in the US when he became the first Kenyan to be awarded the Ronald Reagan Republican Gold Medal. In the same year, he scored another first by bagging the New Hampshire Businessman of the Year award.
By joining the board of directors at the Premier Educational Group, Mr Saroni has embarked on a journey of a transition from a business owner to an investor.
Talking to the Saturday Nation in his office in Lowell, Mr Saroni said he has had to endure great challenges to get where he is today.
Last year, he said, was particularly difficult for his businesses. He cited two investments that he said pushed him to the edge.
The first one, he said, was the acquisition of a multi-million-dollar building (Holden Center) at the heart of Lowell City.
The building, sitting on 3,000 square feet, is a former health facility that Mr Saroni planned to convert into a dormitory to take advantage of accommodation needs for students at the neighbouring University of Massachusetts, Lowell campus.
He is in the process of liquidating part of his shareholding in the building.
The second misadventure, he said, was a co-investment in the Holden Home Care company which, he said, had grown to a 300-employee service firm with a $100,000 weekly wage bill at its peak.
Owing to what he referred to as “billing differentials”, he withdrew his interests from the firm last year.
Asked if he had any regrets over the two deals, Mr Saroni said: “It does not make business sense to hang on to an investment whose fundamentals are shaky. After realising my business miscalculations, I worked out on an exit strategy to concentrate on more rewarding ventures. I am very comfortable with the direction I am taking,” he said.
Following the merger, Premier Educational Group projects to grow its operating revenue with an additional $100 million from its current $270 million in the next five years.
While he will sit on the board, Mr Saroni will oversee the implementation and running of the nursing programme at all the 50 institutions.
Commenting on the fate of his employees, he said there was no risk of redundancy, adding that the creation of a nursing department at Premier will open more employment opportunities.
He said the new deal was a blessing for his employees who will move into a larger institution with better terms of service including retirement and health insurance packages.
Mr Saroni’s story is one of the success of a self-made man who has worked his way up from very humble beginnings. He attended Kimana primary and secondary schools in Kenya.
Mr Saroni arrived in the United States of America in 1996 and lived with his aunt whom he helped with household chores.
In 1997, he enrolled for a course in Microsoft Certified System Engineering and bagged the certificate in the same year before enrolling for an online Masters in Business Administration in 1998.
From the humble beginnings at Holden Quality Staffing, a nursing staffing agency he started in 1999, Mr Saroni has built an empire in health care provision.