Height of luxury

Africa’s first Capital Club, with its 452 members, has opened its doors in Nairobi. Msafiri took a tour of the luxurious trappings of power and affluence

CapitalClubNairobi is ready.” That’s the conclusion that was arrived at in a swanky cigar bar in Dubai’s Capital Club – Dubai’s premium private business club. Sitting around a table, burning cigars, imbibing exorbitant single-malts were a few of the senior Kenyan business elite who looked around and asked rhetorically why Nairobi didn’t have a club like that. Multinationals had their head offices in Nairobi, the city was growing fast, and the country had the advantage of a more stable political environment than most of its neighbours. Nairobi was open to business, so why not? With a proposal in hand they approached the Signature Clubs International, the private club company that owns and manages premier private Clubs in major cities in the world. The rest is history.

At last the Capital Club Nairobi is open for business. It’s been open for a few months now, owned by Imperial Bank and a consortium of business owners. It’s perched on the top four floors of the Imperial Court building in Westlands Road, Westlands, one of Nairobi’s fastest-growing business districts.

“Most of the ex-British colonies in the region have clubs fashioned around the traditional old British culture, like the Muthaiga Golf Club,” says Andrew Christon, the General Manager: “We needed a modern club that wasn’t too stuffy – a place where members could use their mobile phones and Internet and talk business.”

Andrew, whose twenty years in the business has seen him work in hotels such as Claridges and Le Meridien before moving to the exclusive private members’ clubs, has worked in London, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand and Japan. He has opened and led the Capital Club, the spectacular Meydan Beach Club in Dubai and Canton Club in China. “The reception of Nairobi’s Capital Club has surprised even myself,” he says.

So far, the club boasts 452 members, mainly the business elite of Kenya. Membership, which includes spouses, is by invitation only. The Governors of the Club lead the process in the early stages, assisted by the shareholders. As members join, they also have the privilege of proposing suitable colleagues, friends, family members and business associates for membership. Members’ nominees must be approved by the Membership Committee.

“While nine out of ten companies or individuals who join a Capital Club will do so by invitation, applications are also accepted by the Club,” says Andrew. “Applications are considered by the Membership Committee, after careful screening by the Membership department, when references have been taken up.”

The current Chairman of Board of Governors is Bob Collymore, Safaricom’s CEO. The new Board of Governors includes Hadeel Ibrahim (daughter of Dr Mohammed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim, entrepreneur and billionaire) and Robert Devereux (Founder of Soho House Clubs in London and Richard Branson’s brother in law).

The member list literally contains the who’s who in the top echelons of business, finance and government in Kenya and East Africa. The Club’s membership has a balanced mix of African, Asian and international business leaders and professionals. Ninety per cent of the members are Chairmen, Founders, CEOs, Managing Directors, Directors and Partners in their organisations. The rest are senior executives.

All the members are pampered at the Capital Club with the benefits that the membership accords. The Club has employed three Italian chefs, two who are Michelin-starred, and a South African sommelier.

The concept really is three clubs in one: a business club, a social club and a health club. The club was designed by the renowned Australian designer Kristina Zanic and features a bold swathe of contemporary elegance and comfort. Where the ceilings aren’t high, the mood is manipulated by sensual lighting, thick carpets and a tasteful selection of art. The very sexy cigar bar seats suited men, smoke rising from their faces, talking shop in slow drawls. There are nine intimate meeting rooms with fresh flowers and superfast video conferencing technology. There are a gym and spa and two restaurants, one modern Italian fine dining and a grill.

Their real magic is reserved for upstairs, on the rooftop, which is the Roof Terrace Bar and Lounge that overlooks a stunning skyline of Nairobi by night. There, members get to order the US$85 bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne and listen to a live jazz band every Thursday.

Since it’s inception a number of VIPs have made courtesy calls at the Club. There was Mark Mobius, named by Bloomberg’s Market’s Magazine as one of “The 50 Most Influential People”, Sandro Rosell, former president of FC Barcelona, Maurice Hennessy of the Hennessy family, and Jeffry Immelt, CEO General Electric, ranked number 25 on the Forbes 2013 list of the world’s most powerful people.

Capital Club Nairobi is enjoying rave reviews and the parent company, the Signature Club, are developing more Clubs in Lagos. There is talk of developing a Club in Johannesburg as well as talk of new brands of Forbes Clubs coming soon – a joint venture with Forbes magazine.