Anybody who ran a car in Kenya during the 1950s or 1960s will recall the name ‘Hassanali,’ because that was the name of the Asian parts dealer in River Road, Nairobi. He sold large amounts of spare parts for motorcars at half the price the main vehicle agents sold them. The main agents advertised profusely to persuade car owners to buy only ‘genuine parts’ and reject the non-genuine, pirated parts. Most of the local new vehicle outlets in Kenya were owned by and affiliated to the overseas manufacturers and they insisted on employing expat parts managers assuming that African managers would succumb to Hassanali’s inducements to encourage them to buy locally from him. There were, however, parts mangers like myself who realized that Hassanali’s spare parts were not pirated at all; many were the identical part that went into the new vehicles.
Most of the British manufacturers like British Ford, Austin Morris, Vauxhall and the Rootes Group as well as many of the German, French and Italian manufacturers did not manufacture their own pistons, for example, and would all use Hepolite. It was Hepolite pistons that Hassanali bought. The overseas vehicle manufacturers marked up the cost price of their spares to ten times the amount it cost them to produce them. If anybody was mad enough to assemble a car from spare parts, it would literally cost them much more than ten times the cost of the vehicle! Nobody criticised the manufacturers from doing so. The main overseas agents stocking spare parts for their vehicles had to keep 100% availability to maintain the vehicle’s reputation. The slow selling body parts for example, might sit on the shelf for several years, taking that long for the company to turn over their investment. Hassanali only stocked the fast moving items and could therefore turn over his investment in three months.
A crazy situation developed in Nairobi where a person buying spare parts for their vehicle could buy the identical part for less than half the price from Hassanali than they could from the main agent. The local parts managers knew they would benefit their clients if they themselves purchased identical parts from Hassanali. The only thing it would harm would be the overseas manufacturer’s unreasonable profitability. Hassanali knew that the parts managers would refuse financial inducement and so the great Kenyan tradition of Christmas presents arose.
Every Christmas morning one of the Hassanali brothers would appear at the Nairobi parts managers’ houses to distribute a pickup-full of Christmas-wrapped bottles of Johnny Walker, Gilbey’s Gin and Three Star Brandy. They had even gone to the trouble of finding out which drink was the parts manager’s favourite tipple. As the Rootes Group parts manager, I received sufficient alcohol to keep our household in booze until halfway through the year. I maintained then as I do now that I acted morally correctly – or did I?