First Nepali billionaire tips his hat to Singapore

Tycoon, who set up his group's HQ in city state, lauds its high efficiency and pro-business policies

He calls Japan his unofficial B-school, but Nepali tycoon Binod Chaudhary's success story may be incomplete without a mention of Singapore.

The city state features in a big way in Mr Chaudhary's steady rise in the business world, where he is now part of the billionaires' club with the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

In March, Mr Chaudhary, with assets worth US$1 billion (S$1.29 billion), became the first non-Indian South Asian to be included by Forbes Asia in this elite club, a recognition that has come with admiration and accolades, adding personal satisfaction to his prosperity.

"Singapore is the role model for any country to follow, when it comes to supporting and enabling the right kind of environment to do business efficiently," Mr Chaudhary said in an interview with The Sunday Times last week while on a business-related visit.

"The country knows how to respect talent and entrepreneurship."

Mr Chaudhary's Cinnovation Group has its headquarters in Singapore. From here, it runs over 48 companies with more than 4,300 staff across the globe. The group owns Alila Hotels & Resorts here and Zinc Invision Hospitality in Thailand.

The parent company Chaudhary Group (CG), Nepal's biggest conglomerate, has been around for more than 140 years, with interests in food and beverage, education, real estate, financial services, cement, and hotels and resorts.

CG's prolific resume is a result of the hard work of its president whose life story has been oft-repeated in the Asian press in the last four months.

Mr Chaudhary, 58, comes from a line of traders - his grandfather, Mr Bhuramal Chaudhary, was a textile trader who migrated from India to Nepal. His father, Mr Lunkaran Das Chaudhary, expanded into other businesses and set up Nepal's first-ever department store.

Mr Binod Chaudhary took the plunge into the arena at 18, putting his plans for higher studies on the backburner. He started the country's first discotheque, but that was not his only first. He also introduced National Panasonic, Suzuki and Toshiba to Nepal, importing these brands from Japan alongside the textiles for his family business.

The three months he would spend every year in Japan was also a time to learn the tricks of the trade by observation.

Just then, a fledgling city state came calling in the early 1970s. The young country of Singapore was fast turning into an international trade hub, and was inviting entrepreneurs to set up businesses in the Republic.

"Products from all over the world were available in Singapore," he said, adding that high efficiency, minimum red tape and investor-friendly policies made importing goods from Singapore more lucrative.

As Nepali constitutional provisions made foreign investments difficult, Mr Chaudhary again chose Singapore in 1990s to start Cinnovation CG.

There has been no looking back for him since, although high costs have taken some gloss off Singapore's shine.

"It's expensive," he said, "but conceptually its profile, image and efficiency still make it stand out."

With his three sons now handling the business, he said: "The future of my company is in good hands."

However, he is far from done. Joining politics and making a difference in his own country is next on his agenda.

"I have a duty towards my country," Mr Chaudhary said, believing that Nepal can be transformed if the politics is right and economy-centric. "What happened in the Asean region in the 1980s can happen in Nepal in five years."

His earlier stint in Parliament from 2008 to last year was with the Communist Party of Nepal. With elections due in November, Mr Chaudhary wants to jump into the fray to serve his country.

"That is the only wish that remains unfulfilled," he said.

rupsk@sph.com.sg

Read more on Binod Chaudhary's success story on STAsia Report at: http://www.stasiareport.com