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i) Noodle king Nepal’s first billionaire By 'Manesh Shrestha, 16 Feb 2013 The Times of India
ii) How tycoons from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka built thriving business empires
Moinak Mitra, ET Bureau | Mar 14, 2014
Nepal has just thrown up its first billionaire in ‘noodle king’ Binod Chaudhary. The 57-year-old owns Wai Wai, the popular brand of instant noodles.
In a country with a per capita income of $735, this has come as the best bit of news in a while. Chaudhary says he not only wants his noodles to be eaten in India but has plans of setting up Wai Wai factories in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and China.
“After Kenya there could be more possibilities in Africa,” he says, adding that his conglomerate these days has interests in trading, hospitality, packaged foods, real estate, financial services, infrastructure, and in countries as far as Cambodia, Philippines and Mozambique. In India, he already has manufacturing units in Uttarakhand, Assam and Sikkim. Chaudhary will soon have one in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
The journey of Chaudhary, who is now officially the world’s 1,342nd richest man in the Forbes list of billionaires, has been long and arduous. His grandfather had trekked from Shekhawat (Rajasthan) to Kathmandu sometime in the late 19th century, looking for work at a cloth merchant’s shop in the valley. In 1968 his father opened perhaps Nepal’s first departmental store, in the heart of the capital city.
What helped business was the fact that moneyed Indians who came to Kathmandu to gamble in its casinos would also shop at his father’s Arun Emporium. “Foreign goods were not available in a closed Indian economy then,” he re members. “It’s different, of course, now.”
In Nepal, his company is also the dealer of Maruti Suzuki cars, the leader in that country, and he has shares in Taj Hotels whose properties once overawed him so much that he couldn’t rustle up the courage to enter their premises. He recalls an incident.
“During my first visit to Mumbai as a 16-year-old, stood gaping at the Taj Palace My guardian, who was ac companying me then, told me that the durwan would slap me if I tried to step in. Now when I stay at the hotel always make it a point to stand for a while at the spot where I had stood transfixed many years ago.”
Nepal has been in the crosshairs of Maoist insurgency and seen 22 governments in 20 years. But that hasn't deterred Binod Chaudhary from carving out a billion dollar noodle-to-hospitality conglomerate spanning 12 verticals across 21 countries. When Chaudhary invested in Sri Lanka, the ongoing war made the country out of bounds for the investment community. But Chaudhary felt it was the best time to enter. "Otherwise, why would a group like Taj partner with somebody from Nepal?" he asks.
Today, Chaudhary even operates a wing of his business in the hostile shores of East Africa. For him, the driving force is clearly the opportunity to develop a network as a prime mover. A Marwari from the Shekhavati region of RajasthanBSE 1.80%, Chaudhary, prefers being first among equals. He traces his business roots to his grandfather who landed in Nepal 125 years ago and set up business wherein he used to import textiles from Surat and Ahmedabad for the royal Rana household in Nepal. His father expanded the family business remaining confined to textiles and even started dealing with Japan.
Like Muhammad Abul Hashem of Bangladesh and Dhammika Perera of Lanka, Chaudhary too has had political affiliations. The Kathmandu-based entrepreneur was a member of Nepal's Constituent Assembly until it was dissolved in May 2012. And like Perera, Hashem or even Mian Muhammed Mansha of Pakistan, he believes in delegation, not actively involving himself in day-to-day company affairs.
Perhaps, it is the distance that gives such frontier leaders a longer term horizon. Or, maybe, it is the the political leverage. Whichever be the case, while some still maintain a rock-solid India connect, others seek virgin opportunities in difficult geographies just to make the prime mover grade. At any rate, the conversation goes far beyond the suite at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel.