Binod Chaudhary feared that his life was running aground when his father’s illness forced him to abandon his dream of becoming a chartered account and join the family business at the age of 18.
But forty years later, he doesn’t have any regrets. His Cinnovation/Chaudhary Group has grown into a sprawling empire with more than 90 companies spread across 19 countries, and his Wai Wai brand of noodles has carved out a position in the competitive Indian market.
Last month, Forbes listed Chaudhary as Nepal’s first billionaire with a net worth of $1 billion — a significant achievement for someone operating from one of the world’s poorest countries. India’s northern neighbour has a per capita income of $742.
It’s been a long journey for a man who was once a DJ at a Kathmandu discotheque and whose family started out importing cloth from India.
SELLING FABRIC TO KINGS
Chaudhary’s ancestors belonged to Shekhawati in Rajasthan. More than a century ago his grandfather Bhura Mal came to Nepal in search of livelihood. He began his career as an assistant to a cloth merchant in Kathmandu. But soon started his own business and began supplying fabrics brought from India to the Ranas, the then rulers of the country.
Chaudhary’s father Lunkaran Dass (91) was born in Nepal. Nobody from the family lives in Rajasthan any more. Even the ancestral home is in ruins and the plot usurped.
“I am trying to buy it back and have put somebody on the job,” Chaudhary said in an interview with HT at the group’s headquarters here.
Bhura Mall’s first big break came after the great earthquake in 1934 when he was allotted a shop by the then Prime Minister Juddha Shamsher at Kathmandu’s New Road.
His son Lunkaran consolidated the business, opened Kathmandu’s first cloth emporium and started other businesses including construction, hosiery and making steel utensils.
They soon diversified into imports and started bringing essential items from Japan. The big leap took place in the ’80s when Chaudhary started manufacturing instant noodles Wai Wai with the technical know-how from a Thai company.
“We had a biscuit manufacturing unit and a flour mill to supply raw material. But since only 20% of the flour was being used to make biscuits, branching out to instant noodles happened,” Chaudhary recalls.
Today over a billion packets of Wai Wai are sold in 30 countries annually. “The brand is recording 50% annual growth and is the second most popular instant noodles in India after Maggi.”
Having tasted success with Wai Wai, the group branched out into various sectors — from energy and telecom to biotech and tourism.
But even this was too ‘little’ for ambitious Chaudhary as now he started to dream of spreading wings outside Nepal. But it wasn’t easy as the country’s laws prevented citizens from investing abroad.
This problem, too, was overcome as Chaudhary soon became a “notional” non-resident Nepali and started Cinnovation, the Singapore-based arm of the group, in the ’90s.
“If artificial walls are created on my way, instead of abandoning the journey I believe in jumping over them,” he justifies the move —Cinnovation accounts for 80% of the group’s turnover now.
While Chaudhary’s eldest son Nirvana is in charge of the businesses in Nepal, his other sons Rahul and Varun manage Cinnovation, which dabbles in hotels, resorts, real estate, food and beverage, financial services and cement.
Despite the success, the former singer of Radio Nepal and DJ at Copper Floor, one of Kathmandu’s first discotheques, doesn’t believe much has changed. He doesn’t have an expensive lifestyle and likes to unwind with golf, movies and music.
Once a year he goes on a trek to the Himalayas.
“I lead a very balanced life and my personal needs are limited. My day starts at 5.00 am and my work is my passion,” says Chaudhary, whose autobiography has become a bestseller in Nepal with a fourth edition getting printed.
A former MP, he also has ambitions of plunging into serious politics one more time with the aim of changing Nepal’s economic destiny much like the way he did for his group.