How a Kenyan cowboy broke into safaris

After being forced off the family farm, Geoffrey Kent and his parents began with a solitary Land Rover showing tourists round Kenya's game parks. In 2004, he sold two thirds of his company for £133m.

Geoffrey Kent, now 66, shot his first elephant at 16; at the same age, he rode a motorbike 5,000 miles from Nairobi to Cape Town. With his background, it would be easy to dismiss him as just another feckless product of Kenya's high-living Happy Valley set. But that would be a mistake. "Do I do all those things? Yes," says the founder of luxury travel operator Abercrombie & Kent. "But I also work 12- to 13-hour days, seven days a week." And he's been working like that since 1962, when his family was forced off its 3,000-acre farm in the Aberdare Highlands of Kenya.

Despite being the son of a colonel in the King's African Rifles, "we had to leave the farm and go to Nairobi after independence. These days, everyone turns to the government for help. But back then we had no one to turn to but ourselves." So along with some safari veterans, he and his parents began driving tourists around the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in an old Land Rover. "I still remember the number: KBH482." Searching for a name that would be listed at the top of the Yellow Pages, they dismissed Aardvark "which dad said would have made a good logo" and came up with Abercrombie, "which sounded very posh". Hence, Abercrombie & Kent.

After a stint in the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards "I loved the army, everyone should do it" in 1966 he returned to Nairobi to build the fledgling business. "We had one Land Cruiser and turnover was $24,000." He travelled to the US, where he recruited wildlife author John Williams to do an invitational safari with him. Marketing himself as a "Kenyan cowboy/white hunter", in the first year he managed to sell safaris to 500 people through a tie-up with the clothes store Abercrombie & Fitch. Each tourist paid "$150 per person per day. And these were 30-day trips." Just 25, he suddenly hit it big with the slogan "shoot with the camera, not with the gun".

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By 1969, the company was turning over $500,000 driving safari-goers around in specially adapted Bedford trucks he'd bought at auction. In 1972, the company opened its first office in London, but it wasn't until 1977 that the big break came. Turning over $750,000 a year, the firm launched a new programme in the US and convinced British Airways to use Abercrombie & Kent exclusively for all its African holidays booked from North America. The group swiftly went from a few hundred customers a year to several thousand.

Kent then began expanding outside the company's traditional haunts of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, adding at least one new destination a year - "I just love finding new places." And he has never slowed down, even after a polo accident in 1995 which kept him out of riding for more than a decade. The firm is now building and developing a resort on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

After selling a 67% stake in 2004 for £133m, Kent has few financial worries. Business has dropped off recently "we're aiming to be off 20-30% this year" but as a long-time resident of Monaco, with one grown-up son, Kent happily counts himself among the relaxed folk "who've paid for their houses and don't have kids in the pool".

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.