When the founders of Mitchell Cotts brought the firm to East African shores nearly a century ago, little did they know that they were birthing what would become one of the region’s foremost logistics firm.
Back then, the firm was established to service East Africa’s first railway built a century ago and nicknamed the Lunatic Express. Mitchell Cotts was the supplier of the coal used to run the steam engines.
“Our history is well inter-twinned with that of the formation of modern Kenya. The modern economy was first established on that railway which to date connects the East African hinterland to the coast and to the rest of the world,” said Mitchell Cotts Managing Director Daniel Tanui.
As the years rolled on, Mitchell Cotts grew from a coal provider to expand into other areas.
“When they came, they quickly moved into agriculture. They invested in tea estates in Nandi Kenya, Toro and Tiara in Uganda. And they also had a manufacturing arm which was phased out and a shipping unit which has still remained in Mombasa. That is the genesis of Mitchell Cotts,” said Mr. Tanui.
In 1989, the bigger Mitchell Cotts sold off their interest all over the world. The Kenyan company was then acquired by First Chartered Securities, a local investment bank.
The firm has expanded to include all aspects of logistics from shipping, freight, warehousing, distribution, heavy lift haulage and air freight. The firm has also expanded its geographical footprint. In Uganda, it trades as Upstream Ltd and as Mitchell Cotts in Rwanda and South Sudan.
The history of the railway seems to shape that of Mitchell Cotts. Since its establishment a century ago, Mitchell Cotts has been headquartered in Mombasa.
Last year, they moved their headquarters to Nairobi. The move was a strategic relocation given the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway which has altered the world of logistics. But in fact, the intended shift had begun ten years before and the new HQ sits at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport where the firm has just opened a first of its kind Air Cargo Terminal built at a cost of $25 million and capable of handling various types of perishable cargo.
For Mitchell Cotts, the sky is the limit: The new Air Cargo Terminal, also hosts a solar power plant that is meeting 30% of the facility’s energy needs.
To move to the airport, the planning had to be meticulous. The levels of agreement required are intense in detail given that the business was moving to an international airport which is governed by strict rules and regulations that span internationally.
“As part of our strategy 10yrs ago, we knew we had to be here to complete the infrastructure of logistics. When SGR came in, it hastened our decision-making. We knew we had to move swiftly to Nairobi,” said Mr. Tanui. “We realized and appreciated the fact that the way cargo was going to be moved was going to change – 70% was going to come by air so we had to be here. Given that we have other facilities handling container cargo, it then made sense that we bring our headquarters here so that we manage everything from here. As I said, railway brought us here to Kenya in 1926… the same rail brought us to Nairobi.”