MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
The 53-year-old head of the Chaudhary Group (CG) says this is the reason he agreed to become a UML-nominated member of the Constituent Assembly along with other businessmen.
"This is why my colleagues and I joined the assembly. We now want to make sure that the economy takes centre stage," Chaudhary said in an interview after being selected as the Nepali Times Company of the Month for July.
Binod Chaudhary has a lot to be proud of: a third-generation Nepali Marwari business family that has become Nepal's first multinational with over $500 million in assets and revenues that Forbes Asia recently called 'among Nepal's richest non-royals'.
Chaudhary's Cinnovation group with its hotel division has invested in tourism, manufacturing and trade, owning hotels in New York, Malaysia, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The group is still in full expansion mode with partners to set up luxury hotels in Singapore, Thailand and Bali.
But Chaudhary still sees Nepal as his base. "You have to have a certain mindset to be a global player," he says, "but our roots are here and I get the greatest satisfaction from being able to invest and create new jobs in Nepal."
Indeed, ever since taking over from his father Lunkaran Das Chaudhary and starting a department store in New Road in the 1970s, CG is now the biggest business player in Nepal literally 'Touching Life Everyday', as the company's motto has it. CG's WaiWai instant noodle is a recognised and established brand not just in Nepal but in 20 different countries. CG's trading wing sells LG electronics and Marutis.
"Entrepreneurship only really took off after the Panchayat, but even through the difficult period after 1990 there has been dramatic growth in business in Nepal," says Chaudhary, "in fact, if there were right policies and proper governance, Nepal's economy could really take off."
Chaudhary says Nepal should now concentrate on core areas like manufacturing, hydropower, financial services and tourism and would like to work to make investment possible in these sectors as a member of the CA.
In fact, CG itself is investing in a 2 million ton annual capacity cement plant. Nepal consumes 2.6 million tons of cement annually, and this is expected to grow at 15 per cent a year.
Chaudhary also sees no other alternative but to invest boldly in hydropower in a big way to reduce Nepal's growing balance of payments gap with India. His group alone is involved in studying several projects in the
5 MW-600 MW range totaling 1,700 MW. Investment in cement, tourism and hydropower alone could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
"If there is one job that is really easy in the world, it is to raise capital through mutual funds, venture capital. All you need is a track record and a good idea," he says. Chaudhary is confident that with proper support there is no reason why up to 10 other Nepali businesses can also expand their overseas investments.
Chaudhary is not as pessimistic as others about a new government led by the Maoists. He says the regime change is an opportunity for Nepal to be more focussed on private sector-led growth, provide an investment-friendly climate for domestic and foreign investors and allow industries to spread their wings in an unfettered way.
Chaudhary has one pet-idea that he says could immediately increase national income: train 50,000 workers waiting to go abroad in English and basic skills to double their monthly income. This, he says, will have an immediate impact on remittances.