In Dubai, Binod Chaudhary blends in as one of many businessmen with stakes in iconic projects, such as the man-made group of islands, The World. But 3,000 kilometres away in the Himalayas, Chaudhary is a national icon.
Recently named the first Nepalese billionaire by Forbes magazine, the 58-year-old has risen to superstar status as president of family company Chaudhary Group and chairman of its international arm, Cinnovation. Based in Nepal and Singapore, respectively, the companies have a total of 93 businesses and 50 brands across food and beverage, real estate, hospitality, power, cement, retail and electronics. It also employs 7,500 people.
Chaudhary Group is probably most well known worldwide for its dried noodle brand Wai Wai, which annually sells a billion packets in 35 countries. The group’s investments span from Africa to the Maldives, including a partnership with India’s Taj Hotels Group, a stake in Asian luxury boutique chain Alila and a controlling share in Nepalese-based Nabil Bank.
When news of his billionaire status broke out in March, Chaudhary was in Dubai checking up on Cinnovation’s $100m worth of investments in the Middle East and staking out new opportunities as he prepares to treble the company’s portfolio in the region. The emirate is the company’s regional hub for distributing fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) such as Wai Wai noodles, other processed foods, soft drinks and tetrapaks. It also owns one of the islands in Nakheel’s The World development.
When Chaudhary meets with Arabian Business, he appears not to have a care in the world, perhaps buoyed by his new title: billionaire.
“I feel very good,” he says. But it’s not self-pride that emanates from this astute businessman; it’s the simple pleasure of bringing honour to his rarely-acknowledged country. The internet is awash with the name Binod Chaudhary but none of the news stories and social media postings fail to mention his home country.
“I think this is the single biggest event that has happened in Nepal in recent history, which suddenly lifts Nepal and places it on the global map as an indication of global-level prosperity, so everybody is associating,” Chaudhary says.
“They all associate this with the self-respect and honour of the country; it’s not a question of Binod Chaudhary. One Nepalese has made it to that level, otherwise who thinks of Nepal as a country where you have a world-class corporate. I feel I’ve been able, to a large extent, to pay the debt that I owe to the country for giving me the identity that I have today.”
Chaudhary Group has evolved over more than a century. Chaudhary’s grandfather Bhuramal Chaudhary was a textile trader in Rajasthan, India, before migrating to Nepal in the nineteenth century and opening a small textile store that supplied goods all the way up to the king and queen. Taking over, aged 23, Chaudhary’s father, Lunkaran Das, then showed his own entrepreneurial spirit, expanding into importing and exporting. He later converted the textile shop into Arun Emporium, Nepal’s first department store in Birgunj, on the border with India.
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