Nepali Times
Strictly Business
"Corruption and insecurity"


Volker Kleinn is a retired European executive who worked in senior management positions in companies such as Apollo Computer, Autodesk and PSInet. After retirement, he has worked as a business volunteer in Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and Nepal. He was in Kathmandu in November as a consultant to Himalmedia and other companies. Below is an extract of a conversation I had with him.

How did you get started on advising private businesses in developing countries?
Volker Kleinn: When I retired in 1999, I registered with the German Senior Expert Services (SES) and with the Swiss Senior Expert Corps (SEC), a branch of Swisscontact. These organisations offer an opportunity for retired professionals to share their experience and expertise with companies and individuals in developing countries on a voluntary basis. The 'veterans' offer their time free of charge, the German or Swiss tax payers contribute to travel expenses and the organisation that is asking for advice is supposed to cover expenses for accommodation and meals. My first assignments were in Bosnia in 1999.

What are some of the 'evergreen' business problems in developing countries?
Because of my experience and background in general management, I normally work with the CEO and his team on business processes, organisation and strategy. One topic that is always 'recurring' is measurement. It is my conviction that you can only manage what you measure, and measurement is only possible if there are goals and plans in place. Most of the companies that I have worked with in developing countries did not have formal budgets and goals, neither for revenue nor for expenses.

How would you evaluate the dynamism or lack thereof of the Nepali private sector?
Based on my experience over the last six years, I have observed a deficit of entrepreneurial behavior in Nepal. One of the prerequisites of management is initiative and drive. These attributes are underrepresented in the companies I have worked with. Furthermore I have experienced a reluctance of managers to subject themselves to measurements. This leads to a lack of accountability within an organisation.

What have you seen as Nepal's challenges for entrepreneurship and business growth in times ahead?
In all developing countries there are two major obstacles for development, investment and business growth. These are a) corruption and b) insecurity, unreliability and unpredictability of the legal system. These two hurdles make the life of entrepreneurs very difficult in Nepal as well. The result has been a withdrawal of foreign investment from the country. The main challenge of the private sector in Nepal will be to pressure the government to put an end to corruption and to provide assurance that the legal system will enforce the law.

Businesses are under attack in Nepal. How should Nepali businesses communicate what they do to the public?
The current demographic data suggest that many young people will enter into the 'working' age over the next few years. The public needs to understand that companies can only offer jobs if they are profitable. Profitability is an economic sign of health for a company. A company making losses will go bankrupt sooner or later and destroy jobs. Only in a positive business environment will entrepreneurs invest in order to create jobs.

You've worked in Asia, Europe and America. What differences have you found in these three regions when it comes to doing business?
One of the major differences I have observed is the time horizon. In America, the business is driven with a very short term view, ie to produce results this quarter. Although a lot of European companies are following this trend there is still a somewhat long-term view in European businesses. In Asia, especially in Japan, business people take a long-term view in their expectations of results. In addition, I have noted that the business environment in America is very homogeneous in comparison to Europe and Asia. This is amongst other factors due to which the US is one country with one language and one currency. Europe and Asia are much more diverse and heterogeneous.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)