Nepal's noodle king shares his recipe for success
You can make it here too, founder of an empire built on a snack tells impoverished countrymen
Agence France-Presse in Kathmandu
Run by Maoist revolutionaries and plagued by poverty, Nepal is not an obvious place to make big bucks. But Binod Chaudhary, its first billionaire, sees no reason why his breakthrough shouldn't inspire other success stories.
"I am proof to the younger generation that you can accomplish things here," Chaudhary said, as he surveyed a smog-choked Kathmandu from his penthouse, which is decorated with classical Nepalese art and wood carvings.
"Nepal has the potential to make a quantum leap within a very short period of time," said the entrepreneur, who turned his family's import-export business into a global conglomerate.
The 57-year-old industrialist heads the family-run Chaudhary Group. It has diverse holdings spread across several countries, and has interests in hospitality, real estate, finance and cement. He is best known for his flagship brand Wai Wai noodles, which he launched in Nepal in the 1980s. Manufacturing expanded to India in 2005 and they are now sold in 30 countries.
Earlier this month, the married father of three sons became the first Nepalese to be named in Forbes magazine's billionaire rich list - a recognition he likened to winning a Nobel prize.
"Today's economy is one of ideas, and there's no monopoly on ideas in rich countries, they can come from Nepal too," said the fan of Indian spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whom he cites as a role model.
According to the Asian Development Bank, the average annual income in Nepal is less than US$600 and surveys regularly place it in the top 10 per cent of the world's poorest countries.
It is only five years since the Maoists toppled Nepal's monarchy, reviled for their ostentatioun and wealth. Although a caretaker government is now steering Nepal towards elections, the former rebels still call the shots.
While its influential giant neighbours China and India have made huge strides in the last two decades, Nepal has seen its development stall.
A 10-year civil war hardly helped but Chaudhary says Nepal's location has also fostered a wariness about wealth creation.
Chaudhary's wealth has ballooned largely because of his foreign investments and operations - despite a Nepalese law that prevents its citizens investing abroad. The former member of parliament internationalised in part through his sons, who moved initially to Singapore and the US, and now Dubai.
Chaudhary's grandfather, Bhuramull, was a textile trader who migrated from the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan in the 1930s to Kathmandu and soon began supplying goods to Nepal's ruling family.
His father launched export operations to the US and Europe, and imported goods from Japan and Korea. Chaudhary junior never attended university and joined the family business at the age of 18. After a period as a member of parliament, Chaudhary says he is now looking for "a new role to serve and develop Nepal", a country of 27 million.