Ronald Karauri: The School Dropout that Launched East Africa’s Largest Betting Company
Ronald Karauri, CEO of SportPesa and former Kenya Airways pilot, never imagined himself as the man who would take SportPesa from a failing startup to East Africa’s largest betting enterprise.
As the son of a former Tigania Member of Parliament, Ronald, 44, has lived in the fast lane due to his affluent background.
Ronald Karauri is following in his father’s footsteps in politics. In February, he announced that he would run for the Kasarani constituency Member of Parliament position in the forthcoming August 9, 2022, General Elections in Kenya.
He’ll compete against incumbent Mercy Gakuya, who has already expressed her desire to maintain her position and veteran rapper Jackson Ngechu, better known as Prezzo.
Karauri was ranked 22nd on the Choiseul 100 Africa Economic Leaders of Tomorrow in 2022.
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The Early Days
Ronald Karauri was born in Meru County to Matthew Adams Karauri, a Kenyan minister. Due to his father’s work, he relocated to Nairobi to study at Harambee Primary School in Buruburu.
He did extraordinarily well in school and was accepted into Mang’u High School for secondary schooling and was later accepted into the University of Nairobi to study Mechanical Engineering.
In his third year at the university, he dropped out when a training opportunity with Kenya Airways emerged, which was the first advertisement the airline made for a course.
Karauri, who had a passion for flying at that time, applied for the course. Luckily he was one of the few that was selected.
“As I was doing mechanical engineering, the opportunity for Kenya Airways opened up. It was the first time they were doing initial pilot training. So, I dropped out of university in my third year of mechanical engineering and started flying with Kenya Airways,” he says.
He began his pilot journey in 2004 and stayed for 11 years. He worked as a co-pilot for six years and a captain for five.
Within 11 years, he was flying the largest planes in the Kenyan airlines fleet at the time.
Karauri sees his rapid climb up the captain ladder as being at the right place at the right time. The expansion at Kenya airlines at this time made more aeroplanes available and caused a shortage of pilots.
He was a Kenya Airways pioneer class member who went to Ethiopia for pilot training.
He explains, “we are the only people who went to Addis. After returning and recounting our hardship to KQ, they shifted the training to South Africa.
Our conversion was quite difficult at Ethiopia Airlines since they used the American system and their exams are much simpler compared to what we come to find in Kenya.”
Leaving Kenyan Airlines for SportPesa
Karauri had tried his hand at a few enterprises before SportPesa came calling; the most noteworthy was the Skylux Lounge, a famous club in Nairobi’s Westlands district.
He claims that when he was persuaded to leave KQ, there were just three initial Bulgarian stockholders at SportPesa: Guerassim Nikolov, Gene Grand, and Dick Wathika.
“I was given the opportunity to come to SportPesa because I realized that if you are not a part of the functioning of that business, you may miss out on a lot of things,” says Ronald Karauri.
“The rest of the shareholders joined later. Some joined even after the business had started operating.
“After sitting and seeing the potential, I decided this is something I wanted to risk. So, I sold a small piece of land and decided to put all the money in. It was a very expensive investment at the time,” he adds.
The initial investment was $5 million, which converts to around Sh543 million at today’s prices.
“It was a big risk but if done properly we really believed that it could take off,” he says.
Ronald Karauri’s efforts were rewarded handsomely when the betting firm secured multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals with prestigious English Premier League clubs such as Arsenal, Southampton, Hull City, and Everton.
The youthful CEO is among Kenya’s highest-paid, with a salary of almost Ksh12 million, minus incentives and allowances.
However, explaining to his family that he was switching from flying planes to gambling was difficult.
Karauri recounts, “It was a tough decision. I remember trying to explain to my family and friends, they thought I was a mad man. I was now at the peak of my pilot’s career. But I was ready to take the leap of faith and to move to the other side.”
Crimes surrounding SportsPersa
In 2019, SportPesa shut down because the government refused to renew its operating license due to outstanding taxes totalling more than Sh15 billion.
The company had recorded revenue of about Sh150 billion in 2018, making it Kenya’s second-largest corporation by revenue after Safaricom.
Later, the Bulgarian investors and Ronald Karauri re-entered the local gaming market under the name Milestone Games Limited, to which they transferred the SportPesa brand.
Business directory firm, Pevans East Africa Limited, sold the prized SportPesa brand to Sportpesa Global Holdings Limited (SPGHL) for £100,000 (Sh15.1 million), and then to Milestone in a series of transactions that began on June 2, 2020.
Wife and Children
Ruth Karauri is the mother of Karauri’s three children: a son and two girls. Ruth, whom Ronald met at the flight school, was a captain at Kenya Airways.
Ronald Karauri’s Hobbies
He has a passion for poker, high-end vehicles, basketball, and cycling. He plays the games in his spare time.
He also enjoys spending time on his PlayStation, playing NBA2K. Ronald also touts himself as a car enthusiast, with the Range Rover Overfinch being his favourite model.
“I am a car fanatic and I love driving different models, but my favourite is the Range Rover Overfinch. I love it because it’s comfortable and it has off-road capabilities,” he disclosed in an interview with a national news outlet.
Ronald Karauri enjoys listening to hip-hop music, with Jay-Z being his all-time favourite musician. He also enjoys Nigerian music, particularly Tekno and D’ Banj’s.
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