Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Uphill all the way



LOOK WHO\'S BOSS: Padma Jyoti of the Jyoti Group receiving the boss Lifetime Achievement Award from Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat on Wednesday.

Big businesses are rarely celebrated in Nepal. First, there's the perception problem. Most are seen, often without good evidence, to be corrupt and discomfortingly close to those in power, and to most educated Nepalis in non-private sector jobs, the phrase 'big businessmen' unfairly conjures up images of smooth-talking hustlers or middlemen who make money by fleecing innocent customers and producers.

And second, while almost all political parties are quick to announce various job-creation policies, they remain incapable of understanding that greater good can only come about if the government is confined primarily to the role of enforcing the existing rules fairly, while allowing many competitive small and large businesses in all sectors to play out their sagas under the watch of a fearlessly independent business press.

For the past six years, the boss monthly magazine has worked hard to change the negative perceptions surrounding members of the business community. It has chronicled the success of Nepali entrepreneurs, bankers and managers, giving the next generation of businesspeople role models they can look up to.

On Wednesday, the monthly hosted a well-organized and well-attended 5th Business Excellence Award in which Nepali businesspeople, entrepreneurs, CEOs and management students, judged best in their respective categories, were given trophies.

But besides these perception problems and stories of excellence there remain two major constraints which are likely to hinder the growth rate of most Nepali companies in times ahead. One is the shortage of middle managers. The other is the rise of militant unions.

Shortage of middle managers: Most big Nepali businesses are family enterprises which are slowly learning the value of hiring professional management talent. While senior managers remain much in demand, there is a severe shortage of middle managers who can carry out day-to-day functions without much supervision.

The result is that instead of chasing opportunities with potentially high payoffs, senior managers have no choice but to spend time on crossing the T's and dotting the I's on routine tasks. Indeed, it appears that, in the last seven years, most potential middle-managers have left for other countries as either graduate students or professionals, and, as a friend joked the other day, are now found only on!

Some companies are trying to address this shortage by increasing the intensity of their in-house training programs, and by holding on to the productive employees that they already have, but it remains an issue.

Rise of militant unions: These days, almost any sector of Nepali business has one or more labour unions, often affiliated to political parties. True, in many cases, shoddy management practices made it timely for these unions to come up to defend labourers' rights.

But now, drunk on the success of some of their earlier victories, most union leaders could not care less about good or bad management practices, and spend more time building up their own power base. Lip-service for Lenin and Mao masks personal designs, and union leaders view themselves at a rank equal to that of a company's senior management. Needless to say, they are not hesitant to use brute force to get what they want.

Some Nepali companies have tried pleading with their militant unions; others have tried ignoring them. Some have shut down altogether after incurring losses to accommodate union demands.

In times ahead, whatever else happens, learning to engage positively with the unions in an open, fair and communication-intensive manner will remain a challenge for senior management in many Nepali businesses.

Bad perceptions can be overcome by visible success stories. Besides those present at the boss awards, these are still too rare in this country. We can only hope there will be more examples for others to emulate in the future.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)