Synonymous with the word, Leadership, Gaurav Sharda is the Director at Sharda Group and has been leading the Group for the past 16 years. Here goes the conversation with one of the versatile leaders, Gaurav Sharda.
1. How would Mr. Gaurav Sharda introduce to someone who doesn't know about him completely?
It generally depends on the place where I need to introduce myself. In a professional world, I would generally introduce myself with my key credentials which can consist of my education and experiences, and a brief introduction about Sharda Group and the various verticals we operate in and the businesses that I look after.
2. Can you tell us about some of SHARDA Group's business investments and how you think the group has contributed to the country's general economy?
We have played a vibrant role in the development of the nation's economy, with investment which spans diverse products and services, as a business group we have the most diverse manufacturing business as compared to any other business house of Nepal, in manufacturing, we have interests in Noodles, Biscuit, Non-Alcoholic Beverages, Steel, Cement, Plastic, Alcoholic Beverages, Wires, Cables, Switches, Cattle Feed, Soaps & Detergent, Edible Oil, staples like Atta, Maida, Dal. We also manufacture Oxygen & Nitrogen gas and are the only manufacturers of CO2 gas in Nepal.
Our group also represents a host of international brands in Nepal and we have a strong presence in the Automobile, Mobile, and IoT devices, Electrical & Electronic items, Construction Equipment, etc. As we are a family run family managed business, my family has been doing business for over 140 years here in Nepal and with time has invested in new industries and services. We employ close to 9000 people directly across our operations and make huge contributions to the government through direct and indirect taxes.
3. What have been the group's strategic priorities over the last decade, and what will they be in the next decade?
We have always believed and made investments with our business expansion across verticals and this diversification always keeping in mind the long-term perspectives. As we know that the future is going to go digital, thus we have also put a foot in eCommerce with our e-commerce market place www.yescart.com
4. We also happened to know about your election as a President of the Young Business Executive Forum - YBEF. Can you tell us more about this forum and your role in it?
I helped start YBEF and I’m the Charter President of the forum which has been formed under the aegis of Nepal Foreign Trade Association which is a 50-year-old trade body.
The strategic initiative to form YBEF was taken recognizing the hopes, aspirations, and dreams of the younger generation as well as their zeal to excel and make a difference, to bring together young business leaders, and give them a forum to groom them to be the next generation leaders of Nepal. With a focus on learning and educating ourselves on the various laws, regulations, and the basics of doing business. The main objective of this Forum is to help its members realize their potential, so that young entrepreneurs can contribute towards innovative ideas, fellowships, and advocacy. We shall also attempt to address the bottlenecks through continuous policy advocacy with active industry consultation and Government support.
5. What impact did Covid-19 have on Sharda Group's businesses? What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome, and how did you overcome them? or Is it something you've already overcome or something you're still working on?
As we all know, most businesses got adversely affected by the pandemic, we too were impacted by the pandemic. The biggest challenge for us was to keep our manufacturing units up and running while making sure that our people are working in a safe environment with all the safety measures in place. We have been largely successful in keeping a safe workspace environment, and taking care of our people and their families when they were affected by the pandemic. When most businesses were laying off employees, we decided not to lay off, and this decision has been one of the best decisions that we took and has paid us back. It has been a big learning experience for all of us to turn adversity into an opportunity to accept and adapt to any situation more promptly and continue working, taking adversity in its stride.
6. Can you tell us about some of Sharda Group's corporate social responsibility, youth, and women empowerment initiatives?
Businesses cannot be successful when the society around them is failing, thus we at Sharda Group are very serious about giving back to the society. Our family constructed and donated a 20-bed hospital to the government which is located in Lahan, we have also established a public guest house in Lahan - which is my family’s home town. We also run scholarship programs at various schools across Nepal. Every year we promote a skill lab for reducing the gap between corporate requirements and academics. We have donated multiple phones and TVs for education purposes during the pandemic.
During the times of national crisis like earthquakes and the current COVID Pandemic, we played active supporting roles to the various initiatives taken up by the government and private organizations from setting up isolation centers with the local government at Lahan and Duhabi in East Nepal, to offering free oxygen and medical equipment through various NGO’s and associations. We also participated in one of the biggest Private-Public partnerships in setting up a COVID hospital in Biratnagar.
We are building a culture of equality and inclusion at the workplace. We take pride in being a gender-inclusive organization. We already have a healthy men-to-women ratio in our organization.
7. We'd like to reference one of your LinkedIn postings where you provided some of the employees' bios who have been working in the group for over 20 years in relation to Talent Retention. What has been the Group HRM Strategy when it comes to talent acquisition, development, wellbeing, and retention?
Very frankly, the cost of turnover is extremely high; it's estimated that losing an employee can cost 1.5-2 times the employee's salary. Depending on the individual's level of seniority, the financial burden fluctuates. If you have people coming and going too frequently, and especially in key functions, it tends to be a very big hindrance for growth.
Given the size of our operation and multiple products and services that we deal in, if we have a very high employee turnover, it would be a big burden financially and also for our growth. We take immense pride that we have people who have been with us for 35+ years in key roles, who have been with Sharda Group even before I was born and they still work with us. In fact for a few of them we have been the only workplace, it is our honor to retain people who perform, because we are in multiple verticals, it becomes important that we retain these talents within the organization otherwise we will have to educate them, train them, which is a big cost. So, it’s always better to have people who stick around of course with the right set of talent and skill sets.
Our elders have taught us the importance of the people who run our businesses and how to manage people. Money is not something that drives all human beings, it is one of the aspects but having the right work environment, friendly work culture, having an accessible boss, I think are extremely important factors and this is what I have learned from my elder generation too. I try to be as accessible to my people as possible and they know my door is always open, they can walk in and share any issues, problems, ideas with me directly.
8. Have you had the opportunity to learn about Nepal's startup culture for the last 5 years? How do you feel about the startup culture?
Startup is the buzzword across the globe. There have been fantastic examples across the world of startup doing good business. Even if we see in our neighboring countries, there have been brilliant examples of successful startups. If you read the news, there have been a few startups in India which are going into IPO as we speak and raking in good valuations, the buzz has also caught us here in Nepal. There have been a few startups that I have been looking closely in the Fin-tech category which have taken time to get rolling, they have failed multiple times but now look at them after nearly 8-10 years of their existence, they are a force to reckon with. A lot of the success stories you hear in Nepal, they are at least a few years old. They fail multiple times and finally succeed. But a few of them are bizarre and their product/service does not have a strong revenue model.
There is a potential for start-ups. You have to be ready to be unsuccessful, to fail because that’s the whole idea of being a startup. You can afford to fail. But then there are a few startups that do not make any sense. Given our population size, we have a population of about 30 million people or even less given that a lot of Nepalese live and work outside Nepal. Even YBEF is a young organization. I chartered it with my team and we are not even six months old now. So we are also closely looking at startups and how we can incubate and work with a few of them.
9. Where do you believe aspiring entrepreneurs in Nepal are making mistakes? What three bits of advice do you have for them?
You can’t copy Uber’s story and try and replicate it here in Nepal. Not having an original idea, just aping and copying what has already been done successfully somewhere else in the world. Of course, we have to keep in mind our geography, our limitations, and our requirements as well. Having just a fantastic idea is not going to help. It needs to be realistic as well. As I said, we have a very small population, so either it has to be an idea that can be scaled up and taken across the world or has to be sustainable with the limited population in Nepal.
One of the biggest challenges in Nepal is “Bhed Chaal”, multiple people are doing the same thing. People just say if they are doing it, why not me? Another big issue I feel is people are underprepared, it’s not only about having a ‘Eureka’ moment of getting a brilliant idea, you need to do the leg work, the groundwork. You need to understand what the customer needs. So, I think it’s a mix of all. There are a few brilliant startup ecosystems that are here in Nepal. Few are not making money but I assume if they keep working and plan to scale up, they will see success. We, as Nepali people are very entrepreneurial and are not risk aversive. We try to take risks, startups involve a lot of risks. It’s about having the right kind of product, the right kind of solutions, and doing little groundwork, not copying, aping, but finding what is suited to our requirements.
Sharda Group is also open to investments. We have also started an e-commerce platform, www.Yescart.com in September. It got delayed due to COVID but we have a young team leading it this e-commerce marketplace. We are beta testing in Kathmandu as of now, but there is a plan to scale up and go outside the valley. So, we are actively working on setting up our delivery partners outside the valley as well. The USP of this platform is we are selling genuine products with a warranty that comes with an invoice and has paid taxes in Nepal. We work with people who are doing genuine business with genuine products.
10. Finally, what is your message to the nation's youth who look up to you?
There are tons of opportunities here in Nepal. It is relatively easier to start a business here than in most of the countries around us in the neighborhood and I speak out of my experiences of working in India.
Frankly speaking, I am really worried about the migration of the youth out of Nepal, this brain-drain needs to stop. Our skilled youth is more than willing to get a DV and fly off to the US or get a visa and go to Australia rather than stay back. My message to the youth is ultimately, this is our country and it’s our responsibility to ensure that we become a better country and we cannot blame anyone else. The moment is ours. We cannot blame our predecessors, our elders. The time is ours to make & build our Nepal, to make it a better place for our coming generation so that they wouldn’t have plans to migrate out of Nepal. There will be challenges and that is a part of life. Accept those challenges and move ahead, it’s our nation and it’s our responsibility to build it.
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