One of the most respected hospitality experts in Sub Saharan Africa

“I am trained at Utalii and I am very proud of the College”.

Although Gerson Misumi, Managing Director Tamarind Group, is one of the most respected hospitality experts in Sub Saharan Africa, he joined the industry by accident. “Before Kenya Utalii College, like many Kenyans at the time, I was not aware there was a career in hotel industry. I knew I would end up as a lawyer or accountant. I was good in both.”

He had studied French in high school and in 1971, just before finishing secondary school, got a job at the first All African Trade Fair at Jamhuri Park, to act as an interpreter for the OAU. He was approached by a lady telling him that he had made a positive impression on someone who wanted to meet him. “It was the legendary Jack Block, owner of Block Hotels. My first encounter with Mr. Block was totally mesmerizing. He had seen me work and thought I had what it takes to be a good hotelier.” Garson Misumi received a reference from Mr. Block, to attend the only hotel training school, based at the Kenya Polytechnic in 1972. “From there to where to where I am today; it’s been one milestone after another.”

The reality of studying at the Polytechnic was very different. “Kenyans then did not understand why people needed training to make and serve tea, which was the general perception about the industry. Where I have come from, cooking is the preserve of women. If a man was found cooking, that was grounds for divorce.” Students had to fight against many stigmas associated with the trade and help others realize there was much more to being a good hotelier. “One had to be good at accounting, HR, marketing, planning and organization. The Swiss lecturers came prepared, though, instilling in us all a profound pride in being everything from a waiter, a front desk operator to a tour guide.”

Gerson Misumi recalls training at first being very challenging. Planning by the lecturers helped to introduce students to a new world. “Their commitment and uncompromising demand for discipline simply set us up for greatness. They took us through etiquette lessons, helped us prepare foods we never thought we could. We even sampled wine.

It was at Kenya Utalii College that Misumi learnt the art of being a gentleman. “You could tell the difference between students of KUC and other colleges because of how we carried ourselves”

He remains impressed by the College’s good contacts with the big hotels, allowing for visits which helped to immerse them into the hotel business. The atmosphere of healthy competition at the school was encouraged by the lecturers, the objective being to mold the best students who would be able to integrate in the process of Kenyanization.

Like many other students at KUC, a big incentive for their hard work was the merit based system providing the opportunity for the best to go abroad. “In 1973, I was the top student and I was offered an attachment I a hotel in Switzerland.” He remembers being the only black student there and having to work twice as hard. “My success at graduation was aided by the strong background I had as a student at Kenya Utalii.

Gerson Misumi returned home and joined the first Kenyanization program as a lecturer. He became Head of Administration until 1986. “I set a personal challenge to try out the theories I had taught practically.” His first job at the Tamarind group was to prepare their operating policies. “It was like returning fish into water. I had been Head of Policy at KUC which had given me a strong foundation.” His commitment to his work pushed him from Assistant training Manager to lead the Tamarind group as the Managing Director post he holds today.

Gerson Misumi considers the impact KUC had o his life as permanent, which changed him ito a refined, focused, disciplined and committed individual. “It was there that I learnt about integrity, consistency, discipline, respect and attention to detail.

The hands on approach to teaching he experienced at Kenya Utalii College is reminiscent in his management style today. “As a Managing director, I can be an extra waiter taking orders from customers or in the kitchen cooking with the chefs. Once you divorce yourself from the core of your business, that’s the beginning of failure.”