Chaudhary’s father Lunkaran Das built on that foundation and expanded the family’s business beyond their popular textile store at Juddha Sadak in Kathmandu. After establishing international-trading houses and a construction company that won major contracts, in 1968, he also started a high-end retail store called Arun Emporium, which, according to the author, was also his father’s most successful enterprise. Like many young men from similar backgrounds who get their first professional experience running errands for the family business, Binod Chaudhary started out by helping his father at the Emporium, showing imported sarees to the affluent and nouveau-riche customers of Kathmandu.
But Chaudhary’s first independent business venture came in 1973: a discotheque called Copper Floor, which was one among many such clubs that were part of Kathmandu’s growing nightlife. In a chapter titled ‘The turning points,’ Chaudhary explains the origins of this enterprise, which he started in partnership with a Kathmandu hotelier named Kiran Sherchan. On making acquaintance with Sherchan, Chaudhary writes, “I started to adopt his ideas and mingle with his friends” – friends who also happened to be members of the social elite who “were close to the seat of power in one or the other way”, including the royal family. For the barely 20-year old, these new contacts, along with young tourists mostly from the West, formed a natural pool of disco patrons who were “eager to spend their money on a good night out”. Copper Floor was a success and thronged by some of the city’s rich and the powerful, a group whom Chaudhary learnt early on to seek out and cultivate relations with. This proximity to power is
a consistent motif in the book, especially when the author is writing about the crucial points of his career.
Inevitably, as an aspiring scion of a business family who was operating in Kathmandu’s narrow corridors of powers, Chaudhary came in working contact with the country’s political class. In 1979, Chaudhary landed a deal with the Japanese electronic firm National Panasonic – his first multinational collaboration – to import their parts to assemble and manufacture radios in Nepal. All he needed was a license from the government. Incidentally, around the same time, the then Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa had sought financial assistance from Chaudhary and his father, “to fund the campaign for the retention of Panchayat regime” in the impending
referendum between Panchayat system and multiparty democracy. They decided to support the campaign, and soon enough, Chaudhary received the license for the importation, as well as for two different enterprises he had been lobbying for.
But a sudden downfall of Thapa from the government ensured that Chaudhary had to look for new political patronage. He soon found that in Dhirendra Shah, King Birendra’s younger brother and an acquaintance from the Copper Floor days. With Shah as a business ally, who brought with him all the advantages and immunities that came with a royal background, Chaudhary
could successfully start several projects, including a steel plant, unimpeded. But once again, with the change in political guards following the 1990 popular movement for democracy, he built close links with the parliamentary parties. His proximity to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leftist (CPN-UML) is particularly curious, which involved him working on their draft of economic policy in 1994 to being a member of the Constituent Assembly nominated by the party in 2008. Chaudhary calls himself “basically a non-political person” and more than once protests about getting caught in a web of political intrigue. But by his own account, these affinities with political actors appear to have been quite profitable for his business. For a book written by purportedly the most financially successful businessman in Nepal, however, it is rather sparse when it comes to explaining the strategic reason behind his entrepreneurial successes. To be sure, Chaudhary spends a good bulk of the book detailing numerous episodes of his accomplishments. But in most cases, all one can glean from the presented narrative is that having close business and personal ties to the right set of people gives you lasting dividends. This is true whether Chaudhary wants to start an instant-noodle manufacturing plant in Sikkim (India), attempts to retain his shares at Nabil Bank, or even make the government revoke its previous decision and award his firm a hydropower contract. Perhaps in response to this excess focus on personal connections, Chaudhary enumerates a few business ‘mantras’ in the manner of a self help business book. These include such gems as “Do not give in,” “Nothing
succeeds like success,” “Keep yourself updated,” and even the more prosaic ones like “Market astuteness” and “Cost cutting.” Significantly, even as Chaudhary notes in the book’s acknowledgement that this is also “Chaudhary Group’s autobiography [sic],” he forgets to address the role of other individuals who have made significant contribution to the enterprise. The most glaring of this omission involves his two siblings, Basant and Arun, who initiated and presently spearhead some of the important companies that fall under the Group. Since the book doesn’t clarify these internal divisions of control and ownership, it risks giving an exaggerated
picture of Chaudhary’s role in the Group. There are two notable exceptions to this absence of details on operations. First of this occurs during the “war of instant noodles” (p. 141), when the
entrance of several competitors slashed Chaudhary Group’s most famous product Wai Wai’s monopoly in the Nepali instant-noodle market. In response, the group launched their own set of publicity campaigns, highlighting their new prize schemes. More interestingly, the Group started producing brands of cheaper noodles – also called “fighter brands” – to compete with
those brands that had price advantage over Wai Wai. Another area where Chaudhary provides structural understanding of his business is in describing his foray into international investment. The existing laws in Nepal bar its citizens from investing abroad, but Chaudhary managed to employ a loophole in the laws which allowed a non-resident Nepali (NRN) – legally meaning any Nepali national who had lived outside the country for over 183 days in the last year – to make investments abroad.
Fortunately for him, there were no similar restrictions on Nepalis receiving shares of a foreign company. These facts allowed Chaudhary to start Singapore-based Cinnovation in 1990, the international wing of his business conglomerate. But the mode of investment was much different than before.