MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
"My family background is in agriculture and in that respect, I am a first generation entrepreneur. Fourteen years ago, when we set up Buddha Air, we didn't have any equity and hence we started with debt finance.
Looking back, the determination that we had then was key. As a middle-class family, opening up an airline company was a joke for everybody else, even our relatives. We mocked ourselves, saying, "We didn't have five thousand rupees in our pocket but we were forwarding a project worth three hundred million rupees."
But there were many factors that made it possible, and all along we have stuck to our core values of diligence and integrity. Other lessons we have learnt are:
Respect your staff. We have around 600 staff and they are our strength. If we do not help and respect them, we cannot be a profitable company. There is a union in Buddha Air but it is not political. The union understands that if staff members make a mistake, it hampers the entire team, so we are free to take action if necessary.
In 2001, the aviation industry wasn't doing great. There was extremely unhealthy competition in the aviation sector and to make matters worse, we were in dire financial straits. We called a meeting of all our staff and decided to cut salaries by 30 per cent to sustain the company, something everyone was ready to bear. In the end, we didn't have to resort to this, but it demonstrated our ability to handle even that kind of situation. On the other hand, we have been able to justify our profits as well and have provided bonuses to all our staff members.
Be transparent. We have transparent accounts and we pay our taxes. The main importance of transparency in accounts is that we can diversify from the legal savings we have made. One of my proudest moments was when the government called me to say we would have to pay 10 per cent on our income to date under the voluntary disclosure of income source (VDIS) scheme. Due to the transparency we had maintained, I was able to tell them that if they wanted 10 per cent, they would have to return 15 per cent of the 25 per cent of our income we had already paid for all those years as taxes.
Focus on core competencies. One of our major strengths is that we focused on one business. The International Finance Corporation and the World Bank told us in 2009 that we were among the five airline companies in the world that had generated a net profit. We have remained focused on our core competency for 14 years, even though there have been opportunities to diversity.
Never compromise on quality or safety. Every year we spend hundreds of millions of rupees to train our staff. Our pilots go to America, Bangkok, etc. for simulations and our engineers go for training every year. We have a huge amount of spare parts and we have not compromised a bit in training our staff.
Questions for Buddha's Basnyet
For me, CSR is my responsibility to my staff. We have an understanding between the union and the management regarding salaries being reviewed every two years. Last year, salaries were increased by 40 per cent and we have provided facilities like health care, a provident fund, job security, etc. Before being of service to society, first we should fulfil the expectations of our staff. Let's see if we can get to a position where we can really invest in CSR in Nepal.
What scope do you see for Nepali management graduates at Buddha Air?
Buddha Air is 100 per cent managed and staffed by Nepalis. We have very little staff turnover. One of our policies is to make our staff managers and decision makers according to their growth.
We do not place new staff in higher positions and we have never created a new managerial band. We have in-house training for those who want to move up to the managerial band. So definitely there is a lot of scope for those students in Buddha Air.
Are there any opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to invest in the growing aviation sector?
There are many technologies required in our industry like ticketing, accounting, etc. There is no e-commerce in our industry and we have not been able to sell tickets through credit cards. So if anyone can develop the technology, there is always an opportunity.