How CEOs of companies with foreign investments see their stay in Nepal in terms of career growth and business expansion
When Harkirat Bedi came to Nepal in 2007 as the Head of Sales and Marketing of Dabur Nepal, little did he know that the stint in the Himalayan nation will be a turning point in his career. Bedi, who already had spent six years with Dabur India was a bit apprehensive to come to Kathmandu as he didn’t know much about Nepal back then. Fifteen years down the line, Bedi, who is now the Business Head- SAARC Business of Dabur India Limited, says the decision to take on the responsibility in Dabur Nepal has given him an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.
The experience of Gopal Krishna, General Manager of Asian Paints Nepal, is different than that of Bedi. Krishna took the helm of Asian Paints Nepal in October 2021 after spending 25 years in Asian Paints India in various capacities. He says he had the advantage to observe Nepal from the other side as he was handling the entire marketing of the international business of Asian Paints.
It’s been a little over three years that Anirvan Ghosh Dastidar, Managing Director & CEO of Standard Chartered Bank (Nepal) Limited, has been working in Nepal. Dastidar came to lead SCB (Nepal) after spending 27 years in Standard Chartered banks in countries including India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brunei.
For Andy Chong, CEO & Managing Director of Ncell Axiata Limited, his journey in Ncell started in early 2015 when the Malaysian multinational conglomerate Axiata Group Berhad was preparing to acquire Ncell before re-joining Ncell Axiata Limited as the Chief Commercial Officer in January 2018.
For Amlan Mukherjee, CEO & Managing Director of Unilever Nepal Limited (UNL), his stint in Nepal is his first assignment as CEO. And, he took up the company’s responsibility in April 2020 when Nepal was reeling under the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is one common thread that binds Bedi, Krishna, Dastidar, Chong and Mukherjee together. Apart from being non-Nepali CEOs working in Nepal, they also lead companies with foreign investments that have contributed immensely to the Nepali economy.
Ever since Nepal embraced economic liberalization and a free-market economy in the early 1990s, the country has seen multiple multinationals entering Nepal and setting up joint venture companies. The decade of the 90s saw the likes of Dabur, Unilever, SBI Bank, and Punjab National Bank either establishing their subsidiaries or entering into joint venture partnerships.
The arrival of multinational companies in Nepal brought in corporate culture, introduced a new approach to business, and gave much-needed importance to human resources management.
The majority of these joint-venture companies had their Nepal country head deputed from their mother company. And, this trend has continued till now. The CEOs/Country Managers of joint ventures agree their Nepal stint has been fruitful, something that helped them to grow professionally as well as contribute to their organizational goals.
Enriching as well as Challenging Experience
According to the chief executives who talked to the HRM, their stay in Nepal has helped them to grow in their professional as well as personal lives in many ways. Over the years, most of them have worked during difficult times in business which has prepared them to face challenges in the future.
“My role in Dabur Nepal has been rewarding and enriching both at professional and personal levels,” said Bedi of Dabur Nepal. According to Bedi, he was handling the after-sales function in Kolkata looking after Dabur’s sales in West Bengal.
“I thought that coming to Nepal in the role of head of sales and marketing would give me a more diverse and holistic experience in handling the business. Marketing was something I’d never done before but was very interested in,” said Bedi. According to him, his entire stint in Nepal has helped him to prepare for higher leadership roles.
After joining Dabur Nepal as the Head of Sales and Marketing in 2007, Bedi got elevated to Country Manager in 2012. In 2016, he moved to India as the Business Head-SAARC, looking after a cluster of countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
For Gopal Krishna, there were no such apprehensions when he joined Asian Paints Nepal. “I was more excited to be taking over operations of a business which we call a ‘blue-eyed business’ of our international business. Among the countries we operate, Asian Paints Nepal is a star performer unit,” said Krishna.
In Mukherjee’s words, “I had hoped for a smooth settling down, but far from expectation the reality was that my first few months were nothing short of baptism by fire – as barely ten days into my role, the entire country and region came under lockdown because of the Covid pandemic.”
Chong of Ncell expresses that working in Nepal has been a very positive journey for him on the corporate front. “I have the best team of approximately 540 employees, which we refer to as Team Ncell, and who are all focused on delivering the company’s strategic vision of being a next-generation digital service provider,” he mentioned. While on the personal front, Chong says he is a nature lover and Nepal has a lot to offer for people like him. “I appreciate this country, its landscape, its people, the serenity of this place, and its simplicity,” he said.
Working in Nepal
All chief executives who talked to the HRM say that they’ve found Nepal as one of the best places to work and excel.
“Nepal is a country where relationship means a lot and plays a vital role in all sort of personal or business-related matters,” thinks Manoj Mishra, Country Manager of Kansai Nerolac Paints Nepal. Mishra, who is in the post since December 2015, observes that foreign nationals who come to Nepal to lead businesses, need to maintain a good level of people-to-people connection for achieving professional success. “People are convincing and accommodative, which makes things easier for any corporate to wade through and achieve desired results,” he said.
The CEOs, particularly those from India, feel that working in Nepal is no different than working in their home country. It is because of the ages-long geographical, historical and cultural proximities between Nepal and India. This has made their work easier as they can better understand consumers here and do not have to face difficulties in communicating with people. For Gopal Krishna, his Nepal stint has been ‘a natural extension of land’ with people of similar socio-cultural aspects, understanding, and behavioral traits. “Of late, I’ve started to understand Nepali history and heritage by visiting places such as Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares. This has helped me to have a deeper understanding of the similarities between Indian and Nepali cultures,” he said.
According to Bedi, professional culture evolving in Nepal ever since he came here. “There has been a sea change in terms of professionalism. There is a lot more focus today on results and delivery rather than purely spending hours on the job. So, organizations are pushing for results and delivery,” says Bedi.
Dastidar says as Nepal has a very young population, there is a lot of talent in Nepal’s youth and there is an eagerness to learn and grow which is very encouraging. While professional growth is still a bit constrained in Nepal given the limited presence of large corporates, multinational corporations, or a sophisticated services sector, Dastidar observes that startups and SMEs are thriving and there are brilliant examples of how Nepali entrepreneurs have done extremely well.
According to Chong, one of the main reasons why he decided to rejoin Ncell in 2018 was because of team Ncell, the team he had the opportunity to lead during his first stay in Nepal. “The humility of people in Nepal touched me and it remains,” he said.
Mishra finds that Nepalis are relationship-oriented and friendly, and it is very easy to convince them and unite as a team to accomplish any task. “The fellow feeling amongst the people is very high which creates an atmosphere of team unity as a family,” he said.
The first year in Nepal for Mukherjee as CEO & MD of UNL was quite challenging as the country along with the world was grappling with the Covid-19 crisis. However, he steered the company through the turbulent times with the support of his team. “My biggest strength at that point in time was my team and our robust product portfolio. I also cannot overstate the resilience and courage demonstrated by my team during this difficult time – and how every single person contributed despite the hardships and uncertainties introduced by the pandemic and the lockdown,” said Mukherjee.
Every crisis comes up with the opportunity. And, it came true in the case of Unilever Nepal which used the Covid-19 period to expand the product portfolio through local production, introduce technology in frontline operation, strengthen the local talent pool, invest significantly in our factory to modernize as well as bring in world-class efficiency in the production process. “My biggest satisfaction in this period is that not only we could bring the business back to its shape, but the fact that we bounced back even better than the pre-covid period,” mentioned Mukherjee.
Opportunities in Nepal
The chief executives agree that Nepal holds immense potential for economic development which offers foreign companies big opportunities for doing business in the country. With 15 years of handling the Nepal business, Bedi sees significant opportunities for growth with reasonable returns and a scalable business model for those involved in the FMCG business, especially if they have a manufacturing base in Nepal.
“From a demographic perspective, the country has a large young population, increasing urbanization with a highly aspirational consumer class, and growing internet penetration, thereby fueling consumerism. Given these factors, the demand for FMCG products is definitely going to increase,” opined Bedi. His point is improvement in road connectivity will help FMCG brands to have better market linkages across the country.
Krishna believes businesses are on the cusp of a transition after two and a half years of lying low. “Businesses are beginning to start to invest in many things. And I believe investing in people should be the first of those many things,” he said. The aspiration of Nepalis to own homes has triggered the growth of the paint market, according to Krishna. While the paint market did get impacted by the pandemic, Krishna says it will going to bounce back.
The changes in the Nepali market in the last 10 years in terms of size, value and quality have amazed Manoj Mishra of Kansai Nerolac Paint Nepal. “Nepalis have upped their demand in all sectors with a paramount focus on quality. With the increase in the availability of sources, Nepali consumers have become more selective without compromising on their requirements which is the basic change Nepal has seen in the last one decade,” he says.
While the growth of the mobile telecom market is nearing saturation with mobile phone penetration already exceeding 135 percent at present, Chong of Ncell is still optimistic about Nepal as a good telecommunications market with possibilities as the country has a sizeable growing youth market. “One lesson the pandemic taught us, and I am certain many business leaders across the corporate world is the importance of resilience via digitalization,” he said, adding, “The opportunities exist in terms of driving the digitalization journey, especially our customer value-chain – how we must be able to engage with customers not only physically but virtually.”
The CEOs say the job market is evolving and more efforts are being done for employee engagement and advancement opportunities. “I have seen growing diversity such as the increasing participation of women in the workforce,” said Bedi.
Giving the example of Dabur Nepal, he says, “Investments are now going towards training which is something we never did in the past. Priority is also given to different aspects of the work culture like teamwork and having a growth mindset.”
Dastidar gives credit to the team at SCB (Nepal) who takes pride in their franchise. “We have a fantastic team in Nepal who are extremely proud of our franchise. Working with Standard Chartered has been a matter of pride which is highly apparent in the collaborative nature of the team,” he said.
According to Krishna, as post-pandemic economic recovery is underway, people are going to really get many opportunities. “As an organization to retain talents, we need to have an engagement of a different level. At Asian Paints, we proactively work on benchmarking our salaries against the best in the industry,” he shared. Krishna agrees it is going to be a challenging time because there are a lot of opportunities, and people are going to get swayed by offers. “So, the organizations will have to really work hard to retain their best talent,” said Krishna.
Chong stresses that it is the people who make things happen for business and drive the company’s vision. “For a business, we are a team of only 500 members. It means every individual of Team Ncell has a significant role to play to deliver success, and this is what defines us as ‘One Company, One Family’,” he stated.
“There are significant opportunities for growth in Nepal”
Harkirat Bedi, Business Head, SAARC Business, Dabur India Limited
You came to Nepal as the Head of Sales and Marketing of Dabur Nepal in 2007 and have been working in various roles and responsibilities since then. How has this stay of 15 years been for you professionally and personally?
My role in Dabur Nepal has been rewarding and enriching both at professional and personal levels. I came here as the Head of Sales and Marketing in 2007 and got elevated to Country Manager in 2012. In 2016, I moved to India as the Business Head-SAARC, looking after a cluster of countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Professionally, my role in Nepal has been very good as it has given me an opportunity to grow. Personally, my family members were very happy when they were here. They assimilated very well into the local culture. We’ve found people in Nepal to be very warm, hospitable and welcoming. We have built some close relationships here. Also, Nepal is a beautiful, scenic and picturesque country with lovely weather. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and explore parts of Nepal with my family. Overall, it has been a wonderful stint, and that’s why I’m still here.
Were you a little bit apprehensive when you were given the responsibility in Dabur Nepal in 2007 as there was big political uncertainty and deteriorating industrial relations in Nepal at that time?
I joined Dabur Limited in 2001 and it was my 6th year in the company. At that time I was working in Kolkata and was a bit apprehensive because I didn’t have much knowledge about Nepal. But I was ready to take on the challenge and I think I made the right decision.
How has your stay in Nepal helped in your professional growth?
I was handling the after-sales function in Kolkata looking after our sales in West Bengal. I thought that coming to Nepal in the role of Head of Sales and Marketing would give me a more diverse and holistic experience in handling the business. Marketing was something I had never done before but was very interested in. I thought this would add another dimension to my overall work profile and career. My entire stint in Nepal has helped me to prepare for higher leadership roles.
How have you observed the growth of professionalism in organizations operating in Nepal over the years?
I have noticed professional culture evolving in Nepal since I came here in 2007. Today, there has been a sea change in terms of professionalism. There is a lot more focus today on results and delivery rather than purely spending hours on the job. So, organizations are pushing for results and delivery. Similarly, I have seen growing diversity such as the increasing participation of women in the workforce. As far as Dabur Nepal is concerned, we have a lot more employee engagement and advancement opportunities. It is because, if we want to retain people, we really need to productively engage them and make a lot of interventions to drive those engagements. Also, there are a lot of skilling and upskilling activities. So, investments are now going towards training which is something we never did in the past. Priority is also given to different aspects of the work culture like teamwork and having a growth mindset.
What challenges you’ve faced while working in Nepal?
Personally, there were no challenges. Professionally, I see challenges in Nepal have been the political instability which leads to frequent changes in policy, rules and regulations, making doing business difficult.
How supportive and collaborative have you found government agencies to be when it comes to addressing issues and concerns of companies like Dabur Nepal?
I have found regulators and people in the bureaucracy whom we deal with to be very collaborative. If organizations exhibit reasonable logic and case, they are open to new ideas and extend their hands to address your issues and concerns. If we want to meet the people in bureaucracy, they are welcoming. They might not be able to solve problems immediately, but they will listen and will work to address the issues.
Dabur Nepal is one of the first foreign FMCG companies to come to Nepal in the early 1990s. How do you see Nepal as an FMCG market? How is the sector growing?
In Nepal, there are significant opportunities for growth with reasonable returns and a scalable business model for those involved in the FMCG business, especially if they have a manufacturing base in the country. From a demographic perspective, the country has a large young population, increasing urbanization with a highly aspirational consumer class, and growing internet penetration, thereby fueling consumerism. Given these factors, the demand for FMCG products is definitely going to increase. The road connectivity in the country is also increasing which will help FMCG brands to have better market linkages across the country. In the meantime, the growth of the means of digital marketing will also drive the demand for FMCG products.
In February, the Investment Board Nepal (IBN) approved Dabur Nepal’s investment proposal of Rs 9.68 billion. What are the company’s plans to spend the money?
Dabur Nepal has big exports to India in juices which is a big market category. So, a big chunk of this investment will be going to upgrading juice plants and increasing juice lines. We will be installing higher speed machines to increase our production capacity. As far as consumer care is concerned, we will also be investing in revamping, diversifying and modernizing our product lines that range from health supplements, juices, digestives, oral care, skincare, haircare and home care.
“Nepal is on the cusp of transition after Covid-19 pandemic”
Gopalakrishnan G, General Manager, Asian Paints Nepal
After working for 25 years in Asian Paints in India in different roles and responsibilities, you became General Manager/Country Manager of Asian Paints Nepal in October 2021. How have been your 8 months of experience working in Nepal?
For me, it is more of a natural extension of land with people of similar socio-cultural aspects, understanding, behavioral traits and interpersonal skills at a very broad level. The food is a bit different in both countries. But that’s only about it. Beyond that, I don’t see much difference. Personally, it’s slightly different because I’m away from my family. Of late, I’ve started to understand Nepali history and heritage by visiting places such as Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares. This has helped me to have a deeper understanding of the similarities between Indian and Nepali cultures.
As the General Manager of Asian Paints Nepal, what things are different for you here than in India?
Things are different in terms of responsibility; accountability levels are on the bigger side. I think when you’re more responsible and accountable, one needs to be taking the overall context of things, rather than just working on certain aspects of decision making. But in terms of working with people who are from similar socio-cultural backgrounds, things are not much different. If I were to go to a country in the Middle East or Egypt, then things would be very different.
You came to Nepal at a time when the Nepali economy was struggling to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and things have gotten worse lately due to the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war. Were you apprehensive to come to Nepal? How are you facing the difficulties in terms of steering business operations?
I had the advantage to observe Nepal from the other side as I was handling the entire marketing of our international business. I have seen how this country rebounded from the impacts of the 2015 Earthquake. Nepal has also faced Covid-19 bravely and I also saw how authorities here have handled the spread of Omicron variant in January-February this year. We also saw how Asian Paints Nepal team responded to earlier waves of Covid-19. So, there was no apprehension for me, but there were some anxious moments. I was more excited to be taking over operations of a business which we call a ‘blue-eyed business’ of our international business. Among the countries we operate, Asian Paints Nepal is a star performer unit.
How have you found team members of Asian Paints Nepal? How collaborative have been people here?
There is a thread of organizational culture in Asian Paints that have been there for a long. And then there is the socio-cultural fabric of our people. I would say, for us, there is no dichotomy between those two. What we see in Nepal is a very high congruence in the way people are. When I say that, it’s about how people really work for each other success, the integrity people have and how they really are passionate about their work. All these things are very close to the way we as an organization work in the largest scheme of things. In Nepal, I think it made it only easier because people are more committed and resilient in terms of their responsibilities. So, it has been more of an easier transition for me to manage Nepali staff. And I don’t see any problem at all.
As you said, Asian Paints Nepal is a star performer among the companies of Asian Paints Ltd, how do you see Nepal as a market for paints? How is the paints market growing?
The paints market in Nepal has benefited from the economic and housing market boom in the last decade. So, it is not just Asian Paints Nepal, but the entire industry has grown in the last decade in double-digit compounded annual growth rates. We also believe that we have added value to Nepali consumers by bringing in the best products and services. Most Nepalis aspire to own homes. Even a person who worked for a couple of years in Dubai or Qatar in a blue-collar job will come back to settle down in his/her life. Their first aspiration is to buy land and build a home. I think this is what triggered the growth of the paint market. This got a little impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but I’m quite sure it is going to bounce back.
Which areas are you are looking for growth and expansion and what products and services you will be launching in the near future?
In the last decade, growth has been largely on bringing in state-of-the-art products and services. For instance, we launched products that come with a 10-year warranty in exterior and interior performance. We came up with the Safe Painting Service which really adds value to the discerning consumers who want a hassle-free painting experience. It has been our focus in the last 3-4 years which will continue in the coming days as well. In the last one and a half years, we have come up with bathroom fittings and accessories. We see a very strong congruence in both these categories. Moving forwards, we see that as a bigger opportunity.
How supportive and collaborative have you found government agencies in Nepal when it comes to addressing issues and concerns of multinational companies like Asian Paints?
From what I’ve heard and seen, I think there has been progress in terms of getting support from government agencies. But I still feel there are a lot of areas where the bureaucracy can ease things for doing business. There are certain areas we have received excellent cooperation from people in the government and there are certain places we have struggled due to constraints that are there in the system. I strongly believe with a little bit of political backing, and will, bureaucracy will do better. It is because now I see there is an intent towards helping businesses among the people in the government. Their intents are yet to be manifest into actual actions. If that happens, I think Nepal will only grow bigger as an economy and more international businesses will come to the country.
You came to Nepal during a turbulent time. How different do you think people management will be in the coming days?
I think we’re on the cusp of a transition after two and a half years of lying low. Businesses are beginning to start to invest in many things. And I believe investing in people should be the first of those many things. When there is a revival happening, people are going to really get many opportunities. As an organization to retain talents, we need to have an engagement of a different level. At Asian Paints, we proactively work on benchmarking our salaries against the best in the industry. We search for talents in colleges. We look for opportunities for people who have been in the system to take higher roles. As an organization, we pride ourselves on an employee-friendly organization. Yes, it is going to be a challenging time because there are a lot of opportunities, and people are going to get swayed by offers. So, the organizations will have to really work hard to retain their best talent. What I feel great about Nepali culture is people stick on to the organizations where they see the value.
“Nepalis have upped their demand in all sectors with a paramount focus on quality”
Manoj Mishra, Country Manager, Kansai Nerolac Paints Nepal
As the Country Manager of Kansai Nerolac Paints Nepal, what are your impressions of working in Nepal?
Nepal is a country where relationship means a lot and plays a vital role in all sort of personal or business-related matters. People-to-people connection is very important and is one of the keys to success. People are convincing and accommodative, which makes things easier for any corporate to wade through and achieve desired results.
How have been the experience of working with Kansai Nerolac Paints Nepal for you professionally and personally?
Kansai Nerolac has always been a professionally managed company with a human face that provides an atmosphere and platform for achieving professional goals with utmost care on the personal front. In my experience, it is a company where work-life balance is very easy and can be practiced easily by everyone.
What changes have you observed in terms of business culture, and market growth in the country?
I am amazed to see the changes in the Nepal market in the last 10 years in terms of size, value, and most importantly quality. Nepalis have upped their demand in all sectors with a paramount focus on quality. With the increase in the availability of sources, Nepali consumers have become more selective without compromising on their requirements which is the basic change Nepal has seen in the last one decade.
How have you found teamwork to be while working with Nepalis? How collaborative have been people here?
As Nepalis are relationship-oriented and friendly, it is very easy to convince them and unite as a team to accomplish any task. The fellow feeling amongst the people is very high which creates an atmosphere of team unity as a family.
What major differences have you experienced working here and in India?
Working here and in India is not much different as the culture, religion, food habits and societal behavior of the people of both countries are almost the same.
How do you see Nepal as a market for paints? How is the paint market growing?
The growth rate of Nepal in terms of paints business has been very high in comparison to other southeastern countries in the last one decade. With the increase in income group and resources, I can see tremendous growth potential for the paint industry in the next 5 years.
What major opportunities and challenges exist here for business growth and expansion?
In terms of opportunity, the biggest scope is the growing need of people which itself provides a big platform for any business community. As far as challenges are concerned, stable, protective, and business-friendly policies from the government will reduce the challenges for a better business environment.
How supportive and collaborative have you found government agencies to be when it comes to addressing issues and concerns of companies like Kansai Nerolac Paints?
We, as a company, have always received the fullest support and cooperation from all government agencies whenever required without any hurdles and obstructions. We are thankful to all for this sort of assistance and support.
What hurdles do the regulators and the government need to remove so that companies like Kansai Nerolac Paints can operate smoothly across the country?
The basic need for any business is protection. Whether it is in terms of intellectual property, trademark, or any other issues related to business. Another need is to create an atmosphere for increased business interests, which is possible only when the government comes out with different schemes and works for promoting the domestic manufacturing sector. The formation of government policies should be based on the basic need of the country and the business community.
“There are brilliant examples of how Nepali entrepreneurs have done extremely well”
Anirvan Ghosh Dastidar, MD & CEO, Standard Chartered Bank (Nepal) Limited
After working for 27 years in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brunei for SCB in different roles and responsibilities, you became the Managing Director and CEO of SCB Nepal in March 2019. How have these three years in Nepal been for you professionally and personally?
Nepal has been quite a surprise. On the personal front, the school for my son, who has special needs, has turned out to be a blessing. As an Indian national, living in Kathmandu is easy, people are extremely nice, and as a family- we love the outdoors, the treks, mountains -all these have formed an amazing experience for us. Professionally, it has been a stimulating experience running a publicly listed franchise for Standard Chartered in a market that is still evolving.
A year after you came to Nepal, the Covid-19 pandemic caused a big economic upheaval. What challenges were there for you in leading the bank during the height of the pandemic? How did you overcome those challenges?
Everything is a first-time experience and that was too unexpected. Running a bank during a lockdown was a big learning. It’s amazing to see how people evolve to their best in terms of ideas, resilience and come together during a crisis. This is what happened with our teams which rose to the occasion and supported each other, our families, clients, and kept the bank running.
How have you found Nepal in terms of work culture and professional growth?
Every market is different with its own strength and areas which are developing. Nepal has a young population, there is a lot of talent in Nepal’s youth and there is an eagerness to learn and grow which is very encouraging. Professional growth is still a bit constrained in Nepal given the limited presence of large corporates, multinational corporations, or a sophisticated services sector. However, startups and SMEs are thriving and there are brilliant examples of how Nepali entrepreneurs have done extremely well.
How have you found teamwork in SCB Nepal? How collaborative people are in the bank?
We have a fantastic team in Nepal who are extremely proud of our franchise. Working with Standard Chartered has been a matter of pride which is highly apparent in the collaborative nature of the team.
What major challenges exist here for business growth and expansion for a foreign bank like SCB Nepal?
We are a global bank and our participation model in Nepal is distinct and unique given that we bring the international network to Nepal. We believe that the banking industry and the regulator acknowledge and recognize that; we cannot be everything to everyone in Nepal.
How supportive and collaborative have you found the regulator and other government agencies to be when it comes to addressing issues and concerns of organizations like SCB Nepal?
Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) is an extremely supportive regulator. Our experience with NRB continues to be very enriching and we find our regulator determined to make Nepal’s banking industry sound. They are willing to help and listen to our ideas as we bring in international best practices.
What hurdles do the regulators and the government need to remove so that organizations like SCB Nepal can operate smoothly?
There is a need to develop and reform Nepal’s financial market faster as the country seeks to attract more foreign direct investments.
“Working in Nepal has been a very positive journey for me”
Andy Chong, CEO & Managing Director, Ncell Axiata Limited
You are with Ncell since January 2018 starting as the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) and then as the company’s CEO/Managing Director. What are your impressions of working in Nepal over these four years?
My journey with Ncell started in early 2015 from the time of preparations of the Axiata Group to acquire Ncell and has continued up till – just the roles were different during the journey over the last seven years. This must be a clear testament that I am enjoying what I am doing here.
Every market has its own pros and cons and as a leader of one of Nepal’s largest corporate entities, our aim is to capitalize on the potential of the business whilst reducing risks at the same time. So, on the corporate front, working in Nepal has been a very positive journey for me. I have the best team of approximately 540 employees, which we refer to as Team Ncell, and who are all focused on delivering the company’s strategic vision of being a next-generation digital service provider. Whilst on the personal front, I love nature and Nepal has lots to offer – I appreciate this country, its landscape, its people, the serenity of this place, and its simplicity.
As a professional who has over 32 years of experience in telecom and IT sectors, how have you found Nepal in terms of work culture and professional growth?
One of the main reasons why I decided to rejoin Ncell in 2018 was because of team Ncell, the team I had the opportunity to lead during my first stay in Nepal. The humility of people in Nepal touched me and it remains.
I found people in Nepal are generally humble, kind-hearted towards others, and professional team players who are keenly focused on adding value to the company in one way or the other and that is what matters the most to the company. After all, it’s people who make things happen for our business and drive the company’s vision. For a business, we are a team of only 500 members. It means every individual of Team Ncell has a significant role to play to deliver success, and this is what defines us as ‘One Company, One Family’.
How have you found teamwork in Ncell? How collaborative are people in the company?
We are one of the top brands and the leading telecom private telecom operator in Nepal connecting almost 16.9 million subscribers across the country. Therefore, our primary function as a business is to ensure uninterrupted connectivity to our subscribers which in my opinion, will not be possible without excellent teamwork and a collaborative approach. The same is the case with adapting to new changes in technology and driving digitalization, which has been a trigger during and post Covid-19 pandemic.
At Ncell, we are leading the way in setting an industry standard in terms of people, culture, teamwork and ways of working, and many more. One thing the pandemic highlighted to every business leader in the world is the importance of resilience. Business environments are always dynamic and require some level of adaptability. The pandemic further tested and proved the resilience and agility of Team Ncell and how as a team we kept our most important asset, our customers, connected, ensuring our service is always up and running despite the diverse adversities.
How do you see Nepal as a market for telecom services? How is the telecom sector growing?
Nepal is a market of approx. 30 million population and with mobile phone penetration in Nepal already exceeding 135 percent, the mobile telecom market here is nearing saturation. We already have two operators with over 97 percent of the subscriber market share. There is minimal to no price difference between the two operators, giving consumers multiple choices from a quality, price, and products and services perspectives.
The telecom sector has made a significant contribution to Nepal’s economy. Ncell’s contribution to the national GDP in the last fiscal year stood at 1.4 percent, and our tax contribution accounted for 2.5 percent of the total tax revenue of the government in the last Fiscal Year 2020/21.
However, in terms of the growth of the overall mobile telecoms sector, the narrative is less optimistic. If you look at the mobile telecom development of the last three fiscal years, from a total market size annually of Rs 100 billion in 2019, it has shrunk to Rs 75 billion with revenue pressures on both mobile voice and mobile data, especially after the pandemic.
What major opportunities and challenges exist here for business growth and expansion?
We are still optimistic about Nepal as a good telecommunications market with possibilities as the country has a sizeable growing youth market. One lesson the pandemic taught us, and I am certain many business leaders across the corporate world is the importance of resilience via digitalization. The opportunities exist in terms of driving the digitalization journey, especially our customer value-chain – how we must be able to engage with customers not only physically but virtually.
As an FDI company, we expect the government’s support in the overall ecosystem for conducting business in Nepal. Ease of doing business within the country has to be facilitated and there needs to be political stability, infrastructure availability, facilitation from government, bureaucracy, and the overall political climate must be supportive for foreign investors. The development that we have witnessed in the sector today is the result of free-market policy and FDI in the telecom sector. FDI is crucial for any market and there should be good treatment to investors and ensure a return for what they invest with a friendly policy.
We invest Rs 32-35 billion annually in capex and opex investments that directly or indirectly drive the economy. Infrastructure such as telecom has strong links to growth, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. It is good that in Nepal, there are many laws that aim to promote FDI such Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act, the Industrial Enterprises Act, Special Economic Zone Act and Public Private Partnership and Investment Act. Private companies such as Ncell require a transparent and stable level playing field to ensure consistency of quality of service at affordable prices for consumers. The telecom sector in Nepal is highly regulated similar in some ways to the banking sector. And to ensure the quality of services to our customers, we need to remain current and have access to new technologies that are being developed in the telecom sector. For that, we need support from the government to allow for faster implementation and adoption.
What hurdles do the regulators and the government need to remove so that companies like Ncell can operate smoothly across the country?
Contributing to the vision of Digital Nepal and the development of the country’s economy and infrastructure, Ncell is contributing to building best-in-class networks and communications services for people living across Nepal. The government/regulator are key drivers of our ecosystem and they have a significant role to play when it comes to delivering the best-in-class service to customers. Leadership supported by relevant frameworks and policies that supports in-principle level playing field and applied consistently and transparently is critical for Ncell to deliver the nation’s aspiration of Digital Nepal. Success in the digital space is a lot less about technology and a lot more about people as going digital relates to the mindset.
“Nepal has every ingredient to be successful”
Amlan Mukherjee, CEO & Managing Director, Unilever Nepal Limited
You took over as the CEO and Managing Director of Unilever Nepal (UNL) in April 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic was creating a big economic upheaval. How have been these two years staying in Nepal for you professionally and personally?
This was my first assignment as CEO and initially, I had to rely only on my theoretical understanding of the role and the responsibilities to steer the position I had stepped into. Given the circumstances, I had hoped for a smooth settling down, but far from expectation the reality was that my first few months were nothing short of ‘baptism by fire’ as barely ten days into my role, the entire country and region came under lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. That was an unprecedented time, and I must confess the landing was not the smoothest.
What helped me, however, was my experience in management and the fact that Unilever had trained me well to handle the crisis. My biggest strength at that time was the team and our robust product portfolio.
Personally, the most significant moment for me was when after nearly two years I could meet my son and pray at Muktinath temple together. Four of us, along with my wife and daughter, could behold the magical beauty of Rupakot when the sun rays on the seven peaks mesmerized us. We agreed, that this is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
What challenges were there for you in leading the company during the height of the pandemic? How did you overcome those challenges?
The topmost priority, as well as challenge, was to ensure the safety of our people including our employees under direct and indirect employment. We also felt that it was our responsibility to stand by and support the country and the authority wherever possible and we tried to do this to the best of our abilities. For example, three Unilever businesses from across the globe arranged nearly 200 oxygen concentrators to be transported to Kathmandu and we handed over the machines to the government of Nepal and the Nepal Army. Our global scale helped us in this regard.
Another challenge was also to bring back the business to normalcy. I must acknowledge the contribution of our factory colleagues to restart the operation almost in no time. Our frontline team was also noteworthy. We have our distribution system which caters to the interiors of Nepal, and it was our duty to put back the essentials on the shop shelves. We went through huge challenges of procuring the raw materials and packing materials, ensuring an optimal supply chain to finally reach the products to the consumers. It was difficult but not insurmountable. Finally, while the input cost was going up, we took a call that for the essentials we will not raise the prices of products for the initial period of the pandemic. As Nepali consumers trust the Unilever brands and that was our biggest advantage to bring the business back on track.
How have you found teamwork in UNL? How collaborative are people in the company?
At UNL, the word ‘collaboration’ got a new definition during the Covid-19 crisis. Earlier it was all about working together physically as a team, sharing each other’s responsibilities, leading by example, handling crises by rushing to the spot, etc. The new agile way of working during the crisis period unveiled a new way of collaboration which is sharp, precise engagement, more focus on the solution, and openness to trust each other’s expertise and ability without getting into other’s shoes often.
How do you see Nepal as an FMCG market? How is the sector growing?
The per capita consumption of FMCG products in Nepal is the lowest in South Asia, whereas the Nepal consumers are young, educated, connected to the world and aspiring. Also, Nepal homes one of the highest ‘Beauty Quotient” consumers in this region. The penetration of smartphones and digital media is higher than in lots of other comparable countries of the world. These all are prerequisites for big opportunities and indicate huge headroom in the country for growth. Nepal is a growing economy with aspiring consumers. In the future, if remittance coming into the country is coupled with industrialization and local employment, this market will surprise the world.
The recent government initiative of “Make in Nepal” augurs well for the industry and us as we will be able to provide more and more world-class products to the local consumers at an affordable price. This will in turn bring in more consumers in emerging categories like skin care, hair care or even matured categories like fabric wash or personal wash with exciting new formats. We need to realize that basic FMCG products are no longer luxuries.
What major differences have you experienced working here and in other countries?
As part of one of the largest global MNCs for more than three decades, I have worked in different markets. Nepal to me is more like my motherland. We have similar culture, similar approaches and most importantly the strength of middle-class values which keeps us grounded and ready to face adversities. I was surprised during my recent interaction at a startup festival when I spoke with the local young entrepreneurs. I was surprised by the quality of their thoughts. Nepal has every ingredient to be successful. Nepal needs to realize its potential which to my mind is the only thing lacking. There is no dearth of ability, it needs application. That is the difference between Nepal and some other countries I worked.
What role Unilever Nepal plays in society?
Our philosophy and approach are very simple; we believe that what is good for Nepal is good for Unilever Nepal. For nearly 30 years we are producing in Nepal, serving the consumers, and creating livelihood and are proud to be a listed entity which makes us a local company that has created significant value. We live our purpose which is to make sustainable living commonplace.
In Unilever Nepal, we follow the same philosophy and try to protect and regenerate nature. We want to remove as much as possible, waste from the environment. We are investing significant resources behind this endeavor, trying to support the capability to deal with waste, most precisely the plastic waste from society and reprocess the same. Our mountain cleaning mission is just an ode to the Nepal heritage, but we do it at a much larger scale which makes a real difference.
Helping pave the way for an inclusive society is also one of our ambitions. Our recent campaign on Dove is one such effort where we encourage society to “Un-stereotype Beauty”.
What hurdles do the regulators and the government need to remove so that companies like UNL can operate smoothly across the country?
Nepal is welcoming foreign investments and at the same time taking steps to promote local industry. For any industry to thrive, it requires a suitable regulatory environment which is a mix of both progressive and enabling regulations as well as strong enforcement mechanisms. In Nepal, certain laws relating to consumer protection, food business, intellectual property, etc. need to be revisited in close consultation with the industry as per global standards and national requirements. Also, the different units of the government should work in close coordination on pertinent issues. The outcome would be a regulatory mechanism that enables ease of doing business.