Success after a rather rough start
Norkun Intakes Limited is a respected engineering consultancy in Kenya today. But as Managing Director Eng. Ikundo Muhoro told CR., the beginnings were not rosy.
The world of engineering is constantly evolving and each new project comes with a new element of sophistication. This is the reality that engineers who want to remain relevant must acknowledge. Indeed when Eng Ikundo Muhoro watches the captivating Megastructures documentary on National Geographic, he admits the field of engineering is today about innovations and breathtaking projects. “It is exciting to see the cutting edge innovations. They open your mind,” says the Managing Director of Norkun Intakes Ltd.
For Eng Muhoro, cutting edge innovations is the sphere that defines Norkun Intakes, one of the leading electrical and mechanical engineering consultancies in Kenya. Since establishing the practice together with two other directors, Eng Muhoro was cognisant of the reality that to compete for huge jobs, Norkun Intakes had to be a practice that set the pace in innovation. “Engineering is about innovation. It is about providing solutions at the right price and in a sustainable manner,” he states.
This is the mantra that drives Norkun Intakes. Founded in 1998 but incorporated as a limited company in 2003, Norkun Intakes is the brainchild of Eng Muhoro together with Peter Kimani, the Technical Director, and Jane Waithera, the Finance and Human Resource Director. The consultancy has over the years evolved from a small practice to one of the most preferred engineering consultancy firms in the country.
Today, Norkun Intakes is involved is some of the largest projects in Kenya, some of which are transforming the landscape of the capital city while others, particularly in the ICT sector, are driving the economic transformation of the country. Among the signature projects the firm is currently involved include the UAP Tower (today the tallest building in the country), Avic Complex, The Mirage, Thika Greens and Longonot Gate gated communities.
While these are current projects, Norkun Intakes has in the past delivered jobs like the IBM headquarters, Extelecoms House, Professor Nelson Awori Centre, Morningside Office Park and relocating PricewaterhouseCoopers from Rahimtulla Tower to Delta Towers. It also oversaw the landing of fibre optic cables TEAMS, EASSY and Lion 2 and undertook major upgrades of Safaricom MSR. Norkun Intakes has also undertaken projects for over 60 per cent of commercial banks.
“We are distinguished as a consultancy because of out innovativeness and professionalism,” explains Eng Muhoro. He adds that in most of the jobs, the firm has been involved from the design stage of the project to implementation. In some projects, the firm has been forced to rise to the occasion in terms of it abilities and capacity to deliver due to their magnitude and scope. In all instances, Norkun Intakes has delivered beyond expectations of the client.
For Eng Muhoro, becoming an engineer was a dream he aspired from a tender age. While growing up in Nyeri in Central Kenya, Eng Muhoro developed a liking for science subjects at an early age. After attending local schools for his primary education, he joined Mangu High School and that is where the seventh born in a family of nine resolved to study one of the three fields of engineering – electrical, mechanical or civil.
Yet after completing high school and serving the one-year mandatory National Youth Service duty, he was disappointed to be admitted for a Bachelors of Commerce degree (Accounting option) at the University of Nairobi. He reported to Lower Kabete campus and after attending a few lectures, he realised he was in the wrong place. “I discovered the course was so simple for me yet I wanted something that was challenging,” he says. He adds that without influence from anybody and due to his love for sciences, he pushed for a transfer to pursue a Degree in Electrical Engineering. “I loved engineering because it was challenging and back then it was also prestigious,” states Eng Muhoro whose parents were farmers and business people.
Upon graduation, Eng Muhoro worked for various firms and the government in the Ministry of Public Works and Housing before leaving to establish Norkun Intakes. The timing was not very perfect. This is because after walking out of employment and founding the consultancy, Eng Mohoro realised there were very few jobs in Kenya. At the time, the construction and building sector was on its knees while the country’s economy was in a state of stagnation. “There were not many jobs in Kenya because the governance structure did not encourage private practice,” he explains. He added that to get any job in Kenya, paying bribes was the order of the day.
The situation in Kenya forced Norkun Intakes to engage the survival mode gear. Though its operations remained in Kenya, the firm went hunting for jobs in neighbouring Tanzania. Luckily, Tanzania proved to be a welcoming market albeit with its own teething challenges. In Tanzania, Norkun Intakes landed two projects that would mark the beginning of its road to success. The two projects were the construction of Impala Hotel and Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge both in Arusha.
According to Eng Muhoro, although the two projects were akin to baptism by fire for Norkun Intakes, they happened to provide the breakthrough the practice was longing for. “It was a challenge because we had not done another job and here we were starting with a 5 Star hotel,” he recalls. While Norkun Intakes was undertaking the electrical and mechanical aspect of the projects from design to implementation, the firm found itself being involved in many other aspects. “For me it was more than engineering because I found myself on top of a tractor uprooting coffee bushes,” he reveals.
The success of the two projects significantly opened doors for Norkun Intakes after it decided to shift focus to the Kenyan market after the building and construction industry started booming and the economy started expanding.
With 20 employees, 16 of whom are engineers, Norkun Intakes has the capacity to handle any kind of job irrespective of scope or magnitude. Apart from Kenya and Tanzania, the firm, which is also ISO Certified and strives to benchmark with leading engineering firms across the globe, has also undertaken projects in South Sudan.
While Norkun has delivered numerous projects, Eng Muhoro explains that some were quite challenging mainly because of external factors. For instance, when the firm won a World Bank contract in 2002 to implement the Garissa Water Supply Project, the firm was forced to change the design of the project to accommodate a generator because Garissa was not connected to the national power grid. Another project that provide complex was a 15-storey building in Juba (the tallest building in South Sudan). Because the country lacks reliable power and water supply, the firm was tasked with coming up with a permanent solution and it did so by incorporating diesel generators for power supply.
According to Eng Muhoro, the engineering profession has significantly evolved over the years and today Kenya is respected across the globe as a country with engineers and technologies capable of delivering any project. “In Kenya we have skilled manpower. We can deliver any job,” he observes. He adds that the amendment of the Engineers Act, 2011 and the resultant establishment of the Engineers Board of Kenya that is mandated to accreditation of learning institutions and registering of engineers has been a major milestone in streamlining the profession.
Married with three children, Eng Muhoro’s typical day starts at 6.00 am when he wakes up and watches international news for 30 minutes, prepares, takes the children to school. He then heads to the office where as the MD his job is to oversee the overall operations of the practice although each department has its own head. Apart from watching science and technology documentaries, his other hobbies include swimming and going to the gym. Eng Muhoro plans to retire in the next 15 years.