Saurabh Jyoti will contest the elections at FNCCI for the position of Vice President. He is widely recognised for his business acumen, honesty, forthrightness and the ability to embrace change.
Deeply passionate about innovation in business and the importance of tradition, will he deliver on this role if he wins? Does he deserve your vote?
Text: Dibesh Dangol
Saurabh Jyoti is the Director of Jyoti Group of Companies and the Chairman of Syakar Trading Company. Jyoti Group was started by his grandfather Maniharsha Jyoti, followed by his father Padma Jyoti. The business interest are now led and looked after by Saurabh Jyoti and his brother Suhrid Jyoti. “Since it is a family business, our history is long and is diversified into many businesses. Primarily, we are into manufacturing, trading and service businesses,” shares Jyoti.
Some of the notable businesses of the organisation in the manufacturing sector include Himal Iron and Steel which is 54 years old and the first steel plant in Nepal; Himal Wires, also the first wire plant of Nepal; and Himal Oxygen which has three factories for making medical oxygen and is also over 50 years old.
In terms of trading, Jyoti Group has been in the sector through its companies Syakar Trading Company and Bhajuratna Engineering and Sales. It is the authorised distributor of Honda cars, motorcycles, scooters and power products, Philips electronics, DJI drones, TAFE farm tractors and farm and agro implements, Usha, Esab and Fenner. Jyoti highlights that these industries and companies show the contribution Jyoti Group has made in the industrial and trading revolution of Nepal. He adds, “We are proud of this legacy and we have continued it.”
Due to the recent digital industry and economy boom, the Group has established a new company, White Hat, which focuses on digital marketing, e-commerce and logistics platforms. White Hat provides training, classes and courses in digital marketing in various universities and colleges. “We need to take advantage of the digital economy and develop skilled manpower in these areas. At White Hat we have different verticals that are looking after the digital marketing aspects. It is a new company through which we want to take advantage of the digital boom,” states Jyoti.
Jyoti Group also has investments in hospitality, health, banking and insurance, power and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). It has investments in Hotel Aloft, Grande International Hospital, Sagarmatha Insurance, Butwal Power Company Limited and Baskin-Robbins. About Baskin-Robbins, Jyoti says, “It’s the new line of business and we are still working on developing this because we see the potential. Right now we are importing but we are also looking at the feasibility of production.”
“Influences keep changing at various points in life,” states Jyoti pointing to the book he is currently reading by Robin Sharma called The 5 AM Club: Own your morning. Jyoti however maintains that overall it is his grandfather and father who have been a constant source of motivation for him. “Their influence has always been there no matter at what point of life I am in.” He highlights that his grandfather was a visionary, knew what he wanted to achieve and they are still following his vision, core principles and philosophy at the Jyoti Group. “He was a dynamic personality, hardworking and disciplined. That is something I look up to, and also for the person he was.”
Similarly, Jyoti acknowledges his father for being a big influence on his life. “He is calm all the time and deals with people with the same respect and humility no matter if it is the head of the state or an employee. That is something I have always admired,” he emphasises. Jyoti also commends his father on the way he managed the business and helped him, his brother, wife and sister-in-law transition into their roles by grooming them to independently manage the companies.
Jyoti says that it was a natural choice for him to come back and join his family business after completing his studies in Industrial Engineering and Management from BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore, India. He recognised the potential in Nepal for new ventures and innovative change. Jyoti started working as a marketing officer in Himal Iron and Steel in 1999 and gradually progressed to his current position having gained experience in marketing, production, and expanding into new ventures like Philips and Honda.
Jyoti takes pride in the consistency and continuity of the old businesses of Jyoti Group. He stresses, “There is a lot of hard work that goes into delivering good quality products consistently and being the best brand in the market.” He also highlights other business contributions like Bhajuratna Engineering and Sales towards the agriculture sector of the country.
He talks about Nepal as a country with the highest internet connectivity in South Asia and says ‘Things of the Internet’ should be where investors and entrepreneurs should focus. “Internet penetration in Nepal is is 44% whereas in India it is just 37%. And mobile penetration is 110% in Nepal. These are enabling environments and where there are these enablers, we are investing because it is where we see the future and growth,” he emphasises.
To be successful, he says one has to be disciplined, “Consistency, continuity, dedication and discipline are four major pillars of success.” He elaborates that success doesn’t come by focusing on oneself only, but by making sure that people around you also succeed and grow.
In recent years, Saurabh Jyoti has taken on leadership roles in many organisations. He is the past president of Nepal Automobiles Dealers’ Association (NADA) and Nepalese Young Entrepreneurs Forum (NYEF), past president of Young Presidents Organisation (YPO). He has served for four terms (12 years) in FNCCI in which he has been the chairperson of the National Excellence Award Forum, chairperson of National Productivity and Quality Committee, chairperson of Tax and Revenue Committee and is currently serving as the chairperson of Bank, Finance and Insurance Committee.
Saurabh Jyoti represents the face of young business leadership in the country. He is recognised for his dedication, humility and ability to embrace change. He will be contesting the upcoming elections of the FNCCI for the position of Vice President. Excerpts from an interview with Business 360:
What is the competitive advantage of Honda?
Honda is a company that has been in Nepal for over 50 years and for a long time was synonymous with motorcycles. Since then we have always thrived on providing the best mobility solutions to people. We believe that we don’t just sell motorcycles, we sell mobility solutions. And not just the product but we try to deliver experiences to our customers with best value, quality and excellent after-sales service because selling is one point but after selling we need to meet the customer many more times. We try to build a lifetime relationship with our customers. After-sales service is very important for us. At the same time, we are also building our network. We have more than hundred retail points for sales, service and spare parts throughout the country. These approaches are why we have such a good reputation in the market and we have consistently been able to hold the title of highest-selling motorcycle brand in Nepal over the years.
What have been some of your biggest challenges when you joined the company and what is it now?
When I joined, since Jyoti Group is a large organisation, there were a lot of people who had been working with us for generations. I still have people who have been working in our companies for over 30-50 years. They have been working with us for three generations; my grandfather, my father and now me, which is why our employees are part of our extended family. At the same time, as these employees are getting older, the company has to integrate younger people. This situation of having to manage the mix of the new and older generations has always been a challenge. We are still trying to find balance. However the teams performance has not been compromised. We are always investing in trainings and skill development of our staff because it is challenging to get the right people for the right job.
We used to try to seek new people but we have realised that it’s not the solution which is why we have a policy where we train and re-train all our employees and develop them to take on the newer responsibilities in the company. We have spent a substantial amount of resources in trainings, towards implementing new systems and practices, and teaching and improving the skill sets of our employees with the latest management practices and skill sets required for the job whether it’s in sales, services or management.
As for the external environment, it is very volatile and fluid here in Nepal so it keeps changing and there is no certainty. But we try and prepare ourselves for these circumstances. We think that we are our own competition. If you look at the organisation, we don’t compare our products and services to others in the market. We compare with our own products and services because we strive to better ourselves all the time so that we can improve and sustain no matter how the market is. We improve on ourselves and deliver to the best of our ability to our customers and try our level best to keep them happy so that the impact of the external environment which is beyond our control makes minimum impact on our business. But of course, this also has to be managed which is why I devoted a lot of my time and effort and work with various organisations and think tanks like FNCCI, NADA, NICCI, SAARC and NYEF. Through these organisations, think tanks and lobby bodies, we try to manage the external environment where we work with the government to provide a positive business and investment climate in Nepal.
Where do you see the automobile industry ten years from now in terms of manufacturing and assembling of vehicles in Nepal?
We have been doing the study for assembling motorcycles so this project is in the pipeline and is one of our priority projects. We are still doing a lot of studies and if there are benefits to customers, adds value to us and is feasible; we will be going ahead with it. We are looking at it but there is currently only a minimal benefit in local assembly because of the policies and taxation system in our country. We never look at the short term impact. Currently the investments to be made for the local assembly industry is quite high and in the short term it doesn’t make sense because the benefits and incentives by the government are minimal. But if you look at the long term, we feel there will be a significant impact and it will be beneficial to enter manufacturing. So we are working towards establishing an assembly industry here in Nepal.
How do you assess the investment climate in Nepal?
This year has been difficult. Remittance is going down, the real estate sector is facing various problems, and the automobile sector has also been slouchy. We have frequent liquidity crises that lead to shortages of funds. Investment and cost of doing business is increasing because of high interest rates. Overall, it’s a very challenging situation we are in. This has been one of the most challenging years in quite awhile. I am still optimistic despite the downturn in the market in various sectors. We hope that the government will realise and make suitable corrective measures to encourage and boost economic activities.
If you look at Nepal, it is not a small country. Everyone says it is a small country but 29 million people are living in Nepal and 60% of the population is comprised of young people who are huge assets. There are so many potential areas for investments in Nepal and even the World Bank’s report two years back stated Nepal as the third fastest growing country in this region after Ethiopia and Uzbekistan. There is no doubt that in the long term the country will witness growth and development. But, there has to be clarity in terms of our priorities and the directions we are taking. We have to prioritise the economy, promote the private sector, and engage certain sectors on priority to deliver whether it is through job creation in industries, tourism, services, power or agriculture. The government needs to focus creating suitable policies that support priority sectors so that we can generate jobs and wealth and contribute to the economy and economic development of the nation. Regulations are necessary to formalise businesses and industries in Nepal because there are lots of businesses and industries in Nepal that are informal. But, these have to be done gradually and systematically by taking all stakeholders in confidence so that businesses can make that transition smoothly.
What are the major obstacles to improving investment in Nepal?
Security, respect and recognition for the business people and business community is of paramount importance. People have to feel secure doing business in Nepal. Personal security as well as security of their investment has to be ensured by the government. Also, due respect and recognition needs to be given to businesses for the contribution they are making as job creators, wealth generators and drivers of the economy. Also we need stable and investment friendly policies. Not ones that change with the change in the government, not the ones that look good on paper but ones that are implementable, policies that are long-term and policies that can be given continuity despite the changes in the government and are sustainable. Another important priority is the focus on infrastructure development which is still lacking. No matter how hard we work and struggle, we can have only limited growth if there isn’t proper infrastructure. The private sector can be involved through the PPP model for the development of infrastructures projects too.
How did you get involved with FNCCI?
Before joining FNCCI, I was involved in NYEF which is a platform for networking and connecting all the young entrepreneurs of the country. It was a platform for learning and development of members as well as offering support to promote youth entrepreneurship. The organisation had Nepal Youth Business Foundation under its wing through which we provided collateral free seed capital loans to entrepreneurs to start businesses. Almost 100 entrepreneurs have been helped through this programme. The third objective of NYEF is to lobby for the policies that enable the youth by working with the Ministry of Youth. These were also my objectives when I was in NYEF for almost six years. After I served as the President of NYEF, I went to FNCCI as an executive committee member where I have now served for four terms – 12 years – within which I have chaired various committees.
Can you comment on the works completed and those which remain unfulfilled by the past presidents and executive committees of FNCCI?
I think each of the Presidents I have had the privilege to work with, I have learnt from each one of them. Each leader has an individual leadership style. All the presidents have worked to strengthen the private sector, develop the private sector, address the needs and challenges of the private sector, and create an environment conducive to investment. Each leader has made contributions in their own ways. Even my father is a past president of FNCCI. When he was the president of the organisation, he worked extensively for the Nepal-India Trade Treaty Agreement. When Suraj Vaidya was the president, the organisation worked on improving the investment climate and strengthening FNCCI relations globally. In his tenure we had very good networking internationally and he was even the president of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I worked with him during the SAARC CCI forum. During Kush Kumar Joshi’s presidential tenure, the country was in turmoil and in the midst of a civil war. Despite the poor business environment, he took the lead when we used to have 30-40 days of strikes and curfews, united the private sector and rallied to end the strikes and long bandhs. And currently, I have the privilege to serve under the first woman president of FNCCI, Bhawani Rana.Each of them are true leaders in their own right.
As for the unfulfilled work, the business environment is very fluid and evercharging and new challenges keep arising. So, FNCCI needs to keep working continuously and consistently to address the challenges and work tirelessly for the betterment of the business community.
You are contesting for the position of Vice President in the upcoming election of FNCCI. What are the issues or agendas as the Vice President of Associate that you want to lobby?
I am contesting for Vice President from the Associate sector. We have around 961 member companies in this sector. One of the specific roles as the Vice President of Associates is to chair the Labour Committee which has the responsibility to reach tripartite agreements between the government, trade unions and the private sector related to labour laws and minimum wages. So my responsibility involves dealing with issues related to the labour laws and dealing with various trade unions and to maintain cordial relations with them at the same time maintaining the right balance between the employers and employees and ensuring a fair dealing whether it is regarding minimum wages, rights of employers and employees, and work towards creating a good, efficient and productive working environment for all parties. These will be my primary responsibilities.
As for my other responsibilities, it will be working towards improving the business climate, addressing and resolving challenging issues and problems the private sector is facing, and making the right suggestions to the government for a more positive investment climate.
Are there any issues or agendas of personal interest that you want your executive committee or FNCCI to lobby for?
Firstly, as Vice President or an Executive Committee member of FNCCI we are sworn in to work for the betterment and in the collective interest of the private sector and not to pursue our individual or personal interests. Nor are we allowed to use our position within the organisation for our personal benefit. We are there to serve the members of FNCCI and the private sector. All our agendas are for the collective benefit of the business community and the nation at large.
Currently, there are issues regarding lack of clarity in the transition from the provident fund to the social security fund. There has to be more clarity on this issue so that we can transition smoothly and comply with new regulations. Also we are facing a dire situation where there is slowdown across multiple sectors be it in real estate, industries, automobiles or FMCG business sectors.
Bank interest rates are peaking higher and higher and regulations and compliances to get loans from banks and finance institutions are getting more and more stringent. This is affecting all businesses and the economy at large with businesses suffering.
Government spending is at an all time low and this will affect the liquidity in the market over a period of time.
The FNCCI has had a lot of successes and milestones behind its legacy, what can its members and the business community expect from the new elected leadership? What do you think the key areas of focus should be?
I feel the new team will be more objective driven and focus on result oriented agenda for promoting the agendas of the private sector.
Also a more professionally run organisation and strengthening of the secretariat is an important agenda for the new leadership. This is essential if we want to deliver on what we promise, and this is also the key to effective and efficient functioning of the organisation.
To work towards addressing the increasingly challenging business environment, we will need to work together as a team and be more inclusive and involve all stakeholders of the private sector to push our agenda as a united business community.
Why is it important for you to win? And what do you bring to the table as an individual?
I have a proven track record, I having served the organisation in various leadership capacities for the last 12 years. Now I feel that I am ready to lead the organisation as Vice President and can deliver. I am there to serve the members and work towards creating a better business environment by addressing the challenges of the private sector and working with the government to facilitate forward thinking, long term policies to encourage more investments, create more jobs and inclusive growth.
Bottom line is that I am there to serve the needs of the members and the business community to the best of my abilities. I am not looking for personal gain from the organisation in return.
With the complexities of the federal structure yet unresolved, how do you view the overall business climate?
We are a new federal country and it will take some time to settle down to get things in order and for the federal systems and governance to start functioning independently as envisioned. So we need to be a bit patient but at the same time lobby with the central and state governments for effective, efficient and transparent governance that a federal structure government has promised to deliver on.
Also we need to ensure clarity in the roles, authorities and systems on how a federal structure is to work. We need clarity of policies of the central and state governments not just in policies on paper but in actual implementation and practice of those policies so that the cost of doing business doesn’t increase but rather comes down with the new federal structure.
Another important aspect is to ensure clarity on the taxation structure of who is to collect what taxes on various fronts and ensure there is no double taxation between states or between state and central government.
With clarity of the above, I am optimistic that the new federal structure will bring about more investment opportunities, job creation via establishment of new industries, and a more vibrant economy that will bring progress and prosperity for all.