--BY BIJAYA LAXMI DUWAL
Any transition from the old generation to the new comes with both opportunities and challenges. In a family-run business, this becomes more evident due to the complexities in managing various aspects such as maintaining the values of the family, incorporating ideas of the new generation, and most importantly the succession planning, factors that are considered essential to the success of the businesses and for charting their direction for the future.
At a time when management of these critical factors has become a complicated affair for many business houses in Nepal, ICTC Group is going through a relatively smooth transition. The group is observing the young generation of the family coming to the fore and taking it towards a new direction of growth with a focus on pursuing emerging business opportunities. The synergetic efforts of the third-generation members of the family – Dije Lal Shrestha as Executive Director, Jayadin Lal Shrestha as Joint Executive
Director, Dija Shrestha as Director, Ryan Lal Shrestha as Director and Rivan Lal Shrestha as Assistant Director- has strengthened ICTC Group’s current capacity, thus paving a pathway to attain new heights in the future.
The experiences of the ICTC Group’s Founder and Honorary Chairman Ram Lal Shrestha and his three sons Dinesh Lal Shrestha, Suresh Lal Shrestha and Rajesh Lal Shrestha, who are the group’s Executive Chairman, Joint Executive Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively, have been the guiding principles for the young blood of the conglomerate.
A Humble Beginning
Forty-five years have passed since Ram Lal along with his sons Dinesh and Suresh laid the foundation of ICTC Group as a stationery mart at New Road, Kathmandu in 1974 with a capital of Rs 100,000. The clientele of the stationary, which mainly catered government and semi-government offices, gave him the leverage to start the Inter-Continental Trading Concern in 1975 to work in the area of providing service of representation and liaisoning to foreign firms seeking business opportunities in Nepal. During the initial years, the company tasted both success and failure. Its business diversification drive in the form of the Himalayan Brick Factory and Premier Electric Industries (an electric bulb production plant) were unsuccessful attempts. The year 1978 marked the formation of ICTC Pvt Ltd. In the same year, the company stepped into the energy sector with its first project – the Lower Marshyangdi Hydropower Project which introduced ICTC to a world class engineering firm and electrical equipment manufacturers
By the early 1990s, ICTC Group embarked on the journey of business diversification. It started diversifying into a range of business activities but kept its focus fixed on five business sectors – services, engineering and construction, energy, consumer products and ICT. Within these sectors, the Group has a presence in business areas including insurance, beverages, hospitality, hydropower and real estate development, trading, marketing and distribution of consumer products alongside IT related services including communications, software development and business process outsourcing (BPO). Today, the estimated total turnover for ICTC Group is approximately Rs 11 billion from all of its affiliated business entities.
New Generation, New Focus
Taragaon Regency Hotels (Hyatt Regency Kathmandu), Premier Insurance Co (Nepal) Ltd, Highland Distillery, ICTC Energy, ICTC Real Estate and ICTC Pvt Ltd (representation services) are some of the most significant business ventures of the group at present. According to new generation members of ICTC, the group has only taken on bigger challenges in business to excel over the years and to achieve the position it commands today, and they will continue to do so. However, they are aware not to simply ride on the success of their elders. “We need to be humble about our situation so that we can better prepare ourselves for the responsibilities as well as cope with the challenges that naturally come along in terms of doing business,” mentions Jayadin. “But to go one step beyond and to prosper and grow further, ICTC’s new generation is determined to adhere to its privileged position and use it without having any second thoughts about it,” he adds.
The new generation members are working in different capacities across the business spread of the group. All members are specifically focused on one or two sectors maintaining a general knowledge of all business areas. Particularly, they have taken over the full business responsibilities in ICTC’s traditional representation business and the new engineering ventures. Dije, who joined the family business in 2007, is engaged with ICTC Pvt Ltd, Upper Solu Hydro Electric Company and CEMAT Consultancy, an engineering firm with over four decades of expertise acquired recently by ICTC Group. Likewise, Jayadin, who also joined the group in 2007, is currently working in ICTC Pvt Ltd and CEMAT Consultants. He is also engaged in an upcoming steel manufacturing plant which will be a joint venture between ICTC Group, an affiliate of Golchha Organization and HAMA Group. The project, which is currently in the planning phase, is estimated to require an investment of Rs 4 billion, according to Jayadin.
Having joined the ICTC Group in 2013, Ryan is active in the liquor and ICT businesses of the group. He is currently engaged in Highland Distillery, United Liquors, Avinash Distillery, Prime International and Infocom Solutions. Similarly, Dija Shrestha, who got into the family business in 2003, sits on the board of Taragoan Regency Hotels. Besides, she operates two fitness clubs - Happy Mamas and Fitstop Fitness- as her personal ventures. Meanwhile, Rivan, who joined ICTC Group in 2015, is active in the areas of representation (ICTC Pvt Ltd), real estate (ICTC Real Estate), ICT (Infocom Solutions) and engineering (CEMAT Consultants).
Overall, the process of taking responsibilities and handling various businesses have been quite natural for ICTC Group as it has encountered several challenges, failures and successes in its 45-year journey. “I don’t think there is any other option available for anyone that decides to start or maintain a business. If everything goes smoothly, we are probably not taking enough responsibility to notice the bumps or will probably suffer when things do take a turn for the worse,” mentions Dije. At present, the group is moving ahead according to succession planning which is deemed essential to smoothly operate family-run businesses in a more structured and organised way.
Entrusting Responsibilities to New Generation
For any family-run business, handing over responsibilities to the new generation means an opportunity to continue its legacy alongside exploring existing and emerging business prospects. In this context, ICTC Group is moving ahead by consolidating experiences of the older generation with the ideas and energy of the new generation. In doing so, members of both generations have been learning from each other.
The sharing of experiences and the exchange of ideas within the family circle is only strengthening the bond between the old and new generation members. This has been quite helpful for the group to take critical decisions in business. “Harmony among the members has helped us to take decisions in business diversification,” shares Dija.
It is the vision, hard work and ethical business practices of the old generation that has played a key role in making ICTC Group what it is today. The elders of the organisation expect the young blood to continue this legacy. “To the new generation I say, there is no substitute to hard work. Combine it with some amount of smartness and ingenuity, the only result can be all-round success and happiness,” Dinesh Lal Shrestha, executive chairman of the group, points out.
Drive for Business Diversification
The members of ICTC Group have accepted that the people and the businesses that refuse to adapt to changing circumstances can be left behind. This is why diversification of business has been one of the major focuses of the group for long. Past instances show that ICTC gradually explores and invests in multiple sectors while scaling up its businesses. The group has been actively promoting and investing in at least eight major sectors including manufacturing, representation service, ICT, banking and finance, engineering and construction along with energy and real estate. Though few companies of ICTC in different sectors have shut down in the past, the majority of its businesses are performing well so far. The participation of both generations has reinforced the group in terms of capacity enhancement for business diversification.
For the last many decades, ICTC has focused on the representation business, which remains a major area for the group. However, this focus has shifted in recent years. “Undoubtedly, over a period of 44 years, ICTC’s representation business has been in existence for the longest period and still manages to be relevant today. This business has probably been the most profitable within this period,” says Dije. According to him, the focus on the representation business was mostly during a time when the group had limited capital and exposure, and the country was too unstable to allow for investment and prosperity in anything other than trading businesses. “With the current maturity and enhanced capability of ICTC along with the gradually improving economic situation in the country, other companies within the group such as liquor manufacturing are proving to be more profitable,” he expresses, adding, “The majority of our diversification activities have been successful, and the group maintains its presence in each of these sectors through at least one company. This has given the ICTC much expertise as well as exposure on a wide range of sectors and also helped propel its growth.”
Nepal is still underdeveloped, ICTC sees a lot of potential for development and investment. According to Dije, the members of the group believe that the country’s economy requires investments and reinvestments for collective growth and prosperity rather than the accumulation of resources simply through savings.
“Creation of jobs and opportunities is the best and most basic form of fulfilling social responsibilities as a business organisation. For these reasons, diversification plays a major role in the growth of ICTC Group which also contributes to the economic development of the country,” he says.
The ICTC Way of Management
Talking about the management of several businesses within the group, ICTC aims to professionalise the management of each of its companies. Taragaon Regency Hotels, Premier Insurance and Upper Solu Hydro Electric Company are already run by professionals with the family members being proactively represented in the boards of the companies.
ICTC has been targeting to achieve a certain level of stability in the businesses before it can look to professionalise each of them.
According to Jayadin, the full generational transition of management in all businesses will still take a few more years to complete. “We have huge expectations of growth for the group. Among our existing companies, we see there are still some entities that have not achieved or fulfilled their full potential. Similarly, some companies are still in the process of being established and ready for growth. Our main focus and attention currently is in establishing these companies so that they can achieve growth organically since there is so much scope in the market,” he says.
He sees the first step to attain growth of all companies within the group is to be aware of what is required to be done and how to do it. “While we are very clear on the strategies for some of our companies to achieve growth, others require better government support and a more favorable business environment,” he mentions. “Other plans to achieve growth can come through constantly being aware of new ideas, developments and possibilities. We try our best to get out of our comfort zones and meet people from other sectors with different ideas so that we can expand our exposure and understanding,” he adds.
Thriving Liquor Business
An incessant marketing drive has always buoyed ICTC's liquor business since the starting days of Highland Distillery. The group under the leadership of Rajesh Lal Shrestha has been producing several high-quality liquor brands from Highland Distillery, United Liquors and Avanish Distillery.
Virgin deluxe blend, a product of Highland, has remained as the largest selling brand for ICTC’s liquor visions for the last many years. Around 600,000 cases of liquor products including Virgin are shipped to the market per year. In recent years, the group has been expediting its presence by launching new liquor products. In September 2017, Avanish Distillery launched the Emperor Scotch Malt Whiskey and Emperor 24 Carat Scotch Malts recently, whereas Highland launched Highlander London Extra Dry, Highlander Pure White to a great anticipation in the market.
“We are going very aggressively in the liquor business, launching exciting and innovative brands and products every four to six months,” says Ryan, adding that the group’s product portfolio provides premium quality options for all categories of consumers in Nepal. According to him, their liquor division has already doubled its production capacity from around 5.4 million litres to current 11.25 million litres per year. “This was possible with the establishment of United Distillery as our second distillery and the acquisition of Avanish Distillery in 2016,” he mentions. All these factors have enabled ICTC to address market demand and introduce multiple products in various segments. The increase in production capacity has also helped the group to explore all kinds of potential collaboration opportunities. Meanwhile Prime International, ICTC’s distribution arm, has been supplying liquor products throughout its countrywide network.
The Focus on Hospitality
Managing the hospitality business optimally has been another indispensable part for ICTC Group in a bid to contribute to Nepal’s tourism sector.
Keeping this in mind, Targaon Regency Hotels (TRH) has aimed to open high-end hotels in each of the seven provinces of the country. Established in 1991 as a joint venture between ICTC and the Yak and Yeti Group, the government and Asian Development Bank under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model which is the first of its kind in Nepal. The company started operating Hyatt Regency Kathmandu in 2000.
“Apart from renovating the rooms, restaurants and other major areas, TRH has been planning to expand its activities within its current area of land by opening an international standard exhibition centre with a car parking capacity of 1,000 and a separate 4-start hotel property with 150 rooms primarily catering to Chinese tourists. Similarly, Taragaon Village, a unique Boudha-based cultural market project to cater to the growing and evolving tourism sector is also being planned for investment,” informs Dija. According to her, the design and planning for all these projects are completed, and construction will commence as soon as the company receives clearance from government authorities.
in Financial Sector
ICTC Group’s financial sector presence is marked by its investment in Premier Insurance Co (Nepal) Limited (PICL). Founded in 1994, PICL is one of the major general insurers in Nepal providing several types of reliable insurance products and services ranging from vehicles to livestock insurance to its clients nationwide. The company has been charting new heights in the insurance business after ICTC became the promoter of PICL in 2003. Currently, Suresh Lal Shrestha, joint vice-chairman of ICTC, serves as the chairman of PICL. It is the first insurance company in Nepal to receive an ISO certification (ISO 9001) for its quality management system. Now, the company is expanding its services by establishing a network of 57 branches across the country and four regional offices at Birgunj, Biratnagar, Narayanghat and Pokhara. The company claims to have the most secure reinsurance arrangements to cover all kinds of claims settlement.
Besides PICL, ICTC Group had a stake in the Nepal Bangladesh Bank in the past that it divested a few years ago.
Further Exploration in the Energy Sector
Over the years, the ICTC Group’s footing in the energy sector has strengthened. In 2009, the Department of Electricity opened up eight projects including the 23.5MW Upper Solu Hydro Electricity Project for bidding process as an immediate measure to address the impending energy crisis. ICTC won the bidding and was granted the license to invest in the project. As a result, Upper Solu Hydro Electric Company (USHEC), a special purpose vehicle (SPV), was established with the lead of ICTC Group along with its associates. USHEC also acquired the survey license for the 2.8 MW Sisa Khola Hydro Electricity Project located in Kerun and Tinla VDC (formerly) in the Solukhumbu district in the same year. The group estimates a turnover of Rs 700 million from the Solu Hydroelectric Project after it starts commercial production around May-June of 2019.
ICTC Energy Pvt Ltd, the group’s energy sector arm, has garnered vast experience working with international investors, developers, contractors, engineering companies and equipment suppliers for the construction of hydropower and transmission line projects. “In the energy sector, while there are still some issues related to being able to connect our current project to the national grid due to the slow construction of the transmission line by the government, we are already exploring new projects, collaborations and services. We are very much in tune and aware of the opportunities in this sector, and our activities and efforts will continue to grow in this sector as well,” says Dije.
ISO QMS and TRACE Certifications
ICTC claims to be the first organisation in Nepal to receive ISO and TRACE certifications for representation business. It has been accredited from ISO 9001:2008 for quality management system (QMS) and from TRACE International, a due-diligence certifying organisation, for its ‘value-added representation service’. For the group, ensuring quality services has to do mainly with having the right culture within an organisation. “We ensure quality services by maintaining clear standards and practices within our organisation that are well documented. Such standards and practices are enforced through constant monitoring systems that we have developed,” notes Rivan. For instance, ICTC staffs are given special attention and groomed to provide better services. From the time of recruitment, the selected staffs are mentored to have the right attitude for enhancing better professionalism and quality services. “While we have this system in place, in order for it to be practiced successfully, the management, as well as the staff, needs to have the right attitude and work ethic,” says Rivan. Presently, about 1,200 people are being employed by ICTC affiliated companies with all entities managing their human resource independently.
New Investment Sectors
There are various areas of interest that the group has set its sights upon. For the time being, investing in the upcoming steel plant together with Golchha Organization and HAMA Group is a top priority for ICTC. Its acquisition of CEMAT Consultants in 2018 also indicates the group’s push for investing in new areas. Likewise, ICTC is also in the process of reviving some of its IT sector activities and making major investments in the real estate sector for future development. “ICTC Real Estate is a fairly new company which is investing substantially in land assets in strategic locations across the country. The company is tailored towards developing large-scale real estate projects with an aim to deliver pristine, state-of-the-art urban centres and townships that meet the requirements of the everyday modern community,” says Rivan, who is looking after the real estate business of ICTC along with his grandfather Ram Lal Shrestha.
Opportunities and Challenges
The group sees many opportunities for investment in the country, primarily in the energy, construction, engineering, tourism, IT, e-commerce as well as the banking and finance sectors. “With the current political breakthrough of the government in formulating a new constitution, we are seeing that the government is now trying to focus on economic development. A few years down the line, we see opportunities for more sophisticated sectors including energy trading,” explains Dije. “Currently, there are also a lot of opportunities in different sectors including the insurance sector too as we understand that only about 5 percent of the potential for insurance has been exploited in the country,” he adds.
Despite the significant strides made, establishing and successfully operating a business in Nepal is still fraught with challenges. Jayadin is of the view that it is only natural for a country to go through a learning curve in terms of having the right policies, culture and business environment. “Going through this learning phase is, in fact, a necessary part of creating the right environment based on our unique situation and needs. The only unfortunate thing for our country is that we are going through this phase at a very late stage in comparison to many other countries that have by now reached a more advanced stage than us,” he expresses.
He says that some of the challenges investors currently face in investments include lack of clear and consistent policies, over-commitment of time and energy on government bureaucracy, delays and inefficiencies rather than spending the same time on being productive and innovative, lack of adequate qualified human resource due to migration etc. “Besides, there are challenges regarding the availability of limited resources, which must be utilised in an optimum manner,” observes Jayadin.
The CSR Priority
All entities associated with ICTC are actively engaged in activities to help the communities through various means. Premier Insurance, for example, regularly organises philanthropic activities such as providing educational items for children and food distribution for senior citizens living at old age homes.
Similarly, Hyatt Regency Kathmandu has also been contributing to the community through the ‘Hyatt Thrive Initiatives’. This include activities such as annual donations and monthly birthday celebrations for orphaned children at the non-profit organisation- The Buddhist Child’s Home, regular blood donation with Nepal Red Cross Society, organising a joint volunteering programme with the Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes for the 2015 earthquake affected families. Similarly, Hyatt also has the Youth Career Initiative (YCI) programme for providing skills, training and classroom-based learning to empower children/teenagers living at SOS Children’s Villages Nepal. Besides, the hotel is actively engaged in many other community service programmes.
ICTC also takes its CSR earnestly by providing for disaster-affected communities and families through substantial contributions through various NGOs, INGOs, as well as the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.
“Our distilleries take pride in the conscious efforts of empowering women in various communities through active employment and cultivation of women in all three of our factories,” says Ryan. According to him, female employees make up the majority of the total factory line-workers in ICTC’s distilleries.