Keshav Nepal is a renowned name in the Nepali internet service business. He is the CEO of WorldLink Communications Limited and has over two decades of experience in the internet sector. From starting as a school teacher to leading one of the biggest internet companies in the country, Nepal has come a long way in his professional life. In a conversation with the HRM, he talked about his early days at the job, the lessons he learned, and how the experiences helped to shape his career. Excerpts:
Q: What was your first job? How did you get into the job?
I started as a science teacher in a boarding school in Butwal. However, my first real job was working as a contractor to build a ferro-cement water tank of 10,000 liters in a village called Daugha (currently Chhatrakot-6) in Gulmi. It was in June-July of 1993 and I was waiting for my SLC (now SEE) results. My mom asked me if I would be interested in supervising a construction project. When I said yes, she managed to get the contract from the government. She had registered a contractor firm back then. The contract amount was approximately Rs 100,000 and the project had to be completed within one month. The existing contractors who were given similar tenders were not completing the work on time; so our firm got the opportunity. The work had to be finished before the end of the running fiscal year.
How difficult or easy was it for you to start the job?
Once we were assigned the task through the formal contract, I accompanied the government engineer and overseer to the site. We walked the whole day from Tamghas to reach Daugha. The next day, I was shown the site where the tank was to be built. I did not have any experience and that was a huge challenge for a 16-year-old person. To be honest, I didn’t even know where and how to start. I sat down on the site and started to jot down what would be needed to complete the project. The government had provided us with a design and bill of materials, and I had my task cut out to assemble the workforce, acquire materials and execute the construction work.
What challenges did you face in the beginning? What doors of opportunities does the job open for you?
I had to hire a few skilled masons, and interviewing them was tough as all of them were seniors to me in terms of age and experience and I had no clue how to assess their masonry skills. I, therefore, relied on their reputation in society. Due to my lack of negotiation skills and experience, I ended up paying more than the market rate while hiring masons and laborers. This overpayment continued in the transportation of materials and the cost of local materials as well. All day I would sit next to the construction site and observe the work. If something was needed or some problem came up, I was the one who took the initiative to solve it. Each day when I saw the progress of the project, I gradually gained confidence that the work would get done on time. This gave me hope and further motivation.
What were the major lessons from the first job? How did the experiences help in shaping your career?
I realized that skill was secondary to sincerity and hard work, and that skills could be hired or acquired. If you serve the people you are required to supervise, you gain respect and once you gain respect, it is much easier to get things done. One day, the laborers announced to stop working day because there were no soya chunks in their meal menu that day. The disturbance was instigated by one particular laborer who had quite an attitude. I talked to him and told him that I will get the soya chunks by the evening and that they can expect to have it in their evening meal. He warned me that if there are no soya chunks, it won’t bode well for the construction work. The nearest market where I could get soya chunks was four hours away from the project site. I traveled eight hours to and fro to get two kgs of soya chunks. From that day, no one doubted whatever promise I made to the team. I learned that incentives really drive people.
Q: What major achievements were there for you professionally and personally?
We were able to complete the construction in a record 26 days whereas others had taken more than six months. The site was located in a remote area which was difficult to reach. We had carried out the project as per specifications and the consumer group report verified that the work was outstanding. We were able to save Rs 26,000 despite completing the project fast and maintaining the highest quality of work. I would love to go back there one day and see how the water tank we built is doing compared to other tanks constructed at the same time.
You are with WorldLink Communications for 22 years. How have the years been for you as an internet service professional?
There was always one challenge after another. We are a vision-driven company and while pursuing our vision, time just flew by. If we consider what we have achieved over these years, I feel proud to have been a member of a team that has been instrumental in bringing about a digital revolution in Nepal, especially in the domain of broadband connectivity.
After setting numerous milestones in the Nepali internet service business, WorldLink is on its way to expanding its services to every nook and corner of the country. How is the company working in this regard?
WorldLink has a vision to cover 70 percent geography with fiber by 2026 and we are continuously expanding to rural areas and going deeper into the hinterlands. We have set up a five-year plan and are rigorously working on all aspects and dimensions to achieve our goals.
How do you view the prospects of growth for graduates seeking to build their careers in different areas of internet service business?
Internet service is an interesting business as we deal with connectivity. The technology keeps on changing rapidly and so do the user needs. If we keep a learning mentality and keep on continually innovating to solve customer pain points, then we have a greater chance of success.
What advice do you have for them to become successful industry professionals?
The industry keeps on changing; so my advice might be outdated in a few year time. I would like to borrow my school Principal’s statement to answer this question. He used to say, “Knowledge is invaluable. But knowledge without character is dangerous. For it leads too easily to pride and vanity. Knowledge must be applied wisely in values such as truth, honesty, humility, love, kindness, and respect for authority and others. These are the hallmarks of a good character. But character cannot remain alone. For it must be expressed in tangible ways and this is seen in acts of service.”
I would strongly urge all aspiring professionals to stick to their own core values throughout life, whether it be in times of success or times of failure.