Ever wonder why there is a shortage of Nepali managers at the top, decision-making levels in many Nepali-owned big business houses?
You may say, rather uncharitably, that most Nepali managers are not good at managing their own careers. They tend to jump back and forth between the same old companies without ever acquiring depth or a track record. Or you may add that most seem to lack the quiet aggression, the polished professionalism, the business know-how and even relevant social networks to be the kind of profit-spotting managers that today's competitive marketplace demands.
You may further conclude that since almost all big business houses are run by old-line families anyway, there's no point for other Nepalis to aspire to top positions as long as the families boast of "command-and-control" sons (and increasingly, daughters and relatives) who are more comfortable working with non-Nepalis who they can shout at than with Nepalis who may be seen as internal rivals or even eventual spies for competitors.
Nepal's set of rigid labour laws that have been stuck in a time-warp since 1992-refined with further socialist hues in 1997-also slows down Nepali managers. As a result it's cheaper and even easier to hire, retain and fire non-Nepali managers on renewable contracts for seven years than develop Nepali employees into trustworthy long-term staff .
Take, for instance, the legally mandated hiring practice. The laws instruct Nepali businesses to automatically make new hires permanent after only eight months on the job. Such employees are further entitled to annual incremental salaries and perks, regardless of how their own firms fare in the marketplace. If profits go down, the already struggling businesses pays generous compensations to employees they let go. As lawyer Tanka Dulal of Institute of Law and Development in Anamnagar says, "Much of business strategy in Nepal is centered on tiptoeing around the labour laws to hire and fire people without inviting legal troubles."
Anything less, and the trade unions start raising hell, further damaging the bottom-line. Faced with such unprofitable prospects and a legal system that spells out instructions in excruciatingly prescriptive detail, is it any wonder that most Nepali big business houses prefer to give the laws a short shrift and continue to bring in non-Nepali managers and get on with business as usual?
The spirit of the labour laws is to protect workers and employees . But as those laws stand in Nepal today, they serve neither party's interests. However you look at it, it's clear that for bodies such as the Management Association of Nepal (MAN) nurture and develop enabling conditions for Nepali managers, the work ahead can only be started by making Nepal's labour laws friendly to the market conditions. Who knows, one pleasant consequence could well be that more and more Nepalis may find it easier to climb up the corporate ladder through results that are awarded by the market than play the usual union politics on the shop floor.
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