The Sun Sets on an Epoch

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Prabhakar SJB Rana lived an exemplary life of dignity, honesty and transparency as a businessman.

Prabhakar SJB Rana, chairman emeritus of Soaltee Hotel Ltd, a name synonymous with transparency and professionalism in the Nepali business fraternity, breathed his last on May 31 in a hospital in New York . Rana, a pioneering hotelier, tourism entrepreneur and a renowned businessman, passed away at 84 due to a heart attack. He had undergone an unsuccessful spinal surgery last year in New York; it confined him to bed rest for almost a year.

Grandson of the 10th Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher, Prabhakar SJB Rana was born to Nara Sumsher Rana, Nepal’s second inspector general of police, and Uma Rajya Laxmi, at Singha Durbar in November 1935. He did his schooling at Durbar High School, Kathmandu and St Joseph’s College, Darjeeling before earning his Bachelor of Arts degree (first class with honours) from Patna University in 1959.

Despite being born with a proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, he contributed to society in a variety of ways, including the development of hospitality and tourism, trading, hydropower and automobile sectors.

With the establishment of Soaltee Hotel in 1966 by prince Himalaya Bikram Shah and Princep Rajya Laxmi, Rana’s vision of hospitality and tourism development began to take root. In a February 2017 conversation with NewBiz Editor-in-chief Madan Lamsal, Rana said that he got into the business by chance, as there was nobody besides him in the country to run a 104-room posh hotel property during its initial stage. Rana is also credited for bringing the first international hotel chain in Nepal that set new standards in terms of customer service and corporate culture in the domestic hospitality business which at the time was in its infancy; in 1969, The Oberoi Group of India, took over the operational management of Soaltee. Rana’s vision and leadership made Soaltee Hotel a model of sustainable practice in business in Nepal over the last five decades.

He was involved in founding the Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), the umbrella organisation of Nepali hoteliers, in the same year Soaltee Hotel was instituted. In 1975, his initiation led to the establishment of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter, where he served as President from 1975 to 1984.

After the remarkable success in the hospitality industry, Rana focused on business diversification with the establishment of Sipradi Trading Pvt Ltd in 1982, which became the exclusive distributor of the Indian company Tata Motors Ltd for Nepal in the same year. During his lifetime, Rana always prioritised utilisation of the resources available in the country. In a 2013 video cast interview of the think tank Nepal Economic Forum (NEF) Rana had said, “I believe that Nepal has three edges with a competitive advantage - tourism, water and power, and high-value agriculture - even with our two big neighbours.”

In 1986, he ventured into the manufacturing sector with the establishment of Surya Nepal Pvt Ltd, a Nepal-India-UK joint venture company which is engaged in manufacturing and trading of cigarettes, safety matches, incense sticks and readymade garments.

In 1996, Bhotekoshi Power Company was added to Rana’s group of businesses to construct the 45MW Upper Bhotekoshi Hydroelectric Project, Nepal’s first privately funded and run-of-the-river power project. Rana regarded political stability detrimental to foreign investment, business growth and employment creation. During the NEF interview, he had said, “While constructing Upper Bhotekoshi, we passed from three governments; but there was consistency, irrespective of the political ideologies of the ruling parties. The changes in government didn’t even matter to construct the project as there was a political will to do this.” Besides, hospitality, automobile business and hydropower, he had also invested in Himalayan Goodricke (formerly Himalayan Tea Estate) and Amravati Travels.

With his astuteness and leadership qualities, Rana became a source of inspiration to many Nepalis. One such individual is Sujeev Shakya, author of Unleashing Nepal, who worked with Rana at Soaltee Hotel from 1989 to 2008. “His values are a stark contrast to the current Nepali business world of cartels, blurred ownership and management structures, myriad of conflicts of interest and nexuses between business and politics,” he reminisces.

Shakya recalls how Rana used his vast network of contacts in Nepal and overseas for the national interest. “Truly global by character, he can be regarded as one of the few Nepalis who traversed the world and provided opinion on global affairs,” he states.

Rana was a trustee of the American Himalayan Foundation and a global member of the International Council of the Asia Society, New York. Recognising his exceptional leadership and vision, the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) revered Rana with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. PATA honoured him in October 2018 for his contributions to the development of Nepal’s tourism sector.

Rana is survived by son Siddhartha and daughter Maya.

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