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A charmed life

FEB 08 - Having worked within the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) for almost seven years between 1997 and 2003, I figured myself to be well-versed in the workings of Nepal’s private sector business. But after reading the recently-published autobiography of one Binod Chaudhary, better known as the man behind Wai Wai noodles, I feel like I need to revisit, or at least rethink, my understanding of the private sector businessmen in this country and their modus operandi. The book, Atmakatha, neatly divided into four parts, speaks insistently of the rise and expansion of the Chaudhary family business, and skims over their failures and setbacks.

The first part of the book deals with Chaudhary’s childhood and family life, and his entry into the family business, as well as his personal interests and hobbies. He writes that his first taste of business came in the sixth grade with an assignment set out by his teacher, Mrs Jalpa Pradhan, which required the class to open a shop within school premises. This school project, he says, introduced him to the world and the rigours of bookkeeping, cost prices, sale prices, profit margins and turnovers.  

In the second part, Chaudhary writes about the key turning points and new ventures in his business operations, comprising some of the book’s most exciting bits. He speaks of his professional rivalries, political hobnobbing, and his rise in and eventual fall from the FNCCI, which led him to establish the parallel-running Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI). There is, in fact, an entire chapter devoted to FNCCI politics, at the end of which, referring to the CNI-FNCCI conflict over the sharing of revenue from the issue of Certificates of Origin, he writes, “The fight to establish our rights and status is continuing.” Going by the book, Chaudhary seems to have taken personally his second-term presidential electoral defeat within FNCCI. At some point, he recalls that if he had not lost the elections, he would not have made the decision to go multinational, implying perhaps that he went looking for successes outside to compensate for his failures inside Nepal.

Part three revolves around his multinational ventures, where he talks of business operations in the US, Singapore, Thailand and Qatar, among other countries. And the book would’ve been incomplete without the Wai Wai story—where the fortunes of the Chaudhary Group rest—and which, thankfully, is gone into detail here. Chaudhary divulges his wish to expand the noodle business into a billion-dollar multinational venture, spread over 35 countries—hugely ambitious given how when Wai Wai was first being introduced in Nepal, 30,000 packets per day was assumed to be far more excessive than the market demand. Currently, production is 1.5 million packets per day in the country. Wai Wai also occupies 20 percent of the Rs 1,200 crore instant noodle market in India.

In the concluding chapter, Chaudhary lists 10 business mantras, commandments for success, topped, expectedly, by high ambition. However, on page 144, he contradicts that statement and writes, “We are the citizens of such a country where, to make it big, you do not need to have big ambitions; you only need to well connected with big people.” Obviously, the ‘big people’ in this context were Nepal’s royals, and for Chaudhary, the person happened to be the then crown-prince Dhirendra, killed in the Narayanhiti massacre on June 1, 2001. But there is still something that Nepali people have not yet understood—in spite of the partnership between businesspersons and members of the royal family in Nepal, when the Shahs left, where did all their wealth disappear? This question will be asked again and again.Chaudhary’s autobiography is ultimately a volume that is worth picking up, particularly for students of business management, economics and public administration, who will find Chaudhary’s success story—starting as a small-time cloth trader to the handler of multinational conglomerate enterprises—highly inspirational. The tycoon appears to have picked a professional ghostwriter to pen this volume, because it is a major improvement over his previous book, Uddhyami Ka Aankha Ma Arthatantra; there are anecdotes, exciting climaxes, all written in a style that is engaging and keeps you glued to the page from start to finish.

Posted on: 2013-02-09 09:29

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