‘Best thing to do is to ignore people who are critical’

Bikram Pandey Kaaji
Tourism entrepreneur

There are various ways in which people define leadership but for Bikram Pandey Kaaji, who prefers to call himself a tourism personality rather than assigning any designation to his name, a true leader is someone who can uplift the people around them. “It is not about giving people money or feeding them. It is about sharing and teaching what you know to enable people to become capable of leading a good life,” he says.

Though Pandey has been responsible for introducing innovative tourism products like the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon which is one of the most-awaited events on the tourism calendar, he is very modest talking about his achievements. “Others should be talking about your achievements, not you. But here I would like to say everything I have achieved is due to my inquisitive nature, my desire to learn,” he shares.

Reminiscing about his early days building a career, he reveals his first job was as part-time worker in Yeti Travels which was the number one tourism enterprise of the country in the 70’s. “It was due to the desire to become financially independent that I took up that job,” he shares, “But as I was working, I realised the massive potential that tourism has and decided to devote my life to it.”
Today, Pandey is credited for a number of innovations in the tourism industry and is also the brain behind the Mayadevi Maternity Route in Lumbini. In this edition of Business 360, we spoke to Pandey about his perspective on what it entails to be a good leader. Excerpts:

How do you define a leader?

I was educated in a community type of public school and grew up in a joint family and the values that I have imbibed due to that environment all deal with the concept of ‘giving back’, sharing knowledge and skills that I have acquired. The cultural value that I grew up in was to give back to the family which has now translated to society, which we could, in a way, call a bigger family. A true leader should be able to uphold the values of mankind and humanism of love and affection, to live in a community in the spirit of come together, live together, a self-perpetuating ecosystem.
Today, I can confidently say that true leadership is about upholding the value of humanism among the diverse communities we have, by giving back something. A leader is not a leader if they only take and make themselves rich by talking sweet and exploiting the masses. Unfortunately, this is what we see in Nepal these days.

I firmly believe that a leader creates opportunities for their fellow countrymen. It is about uplifting society towards new heights of growth and prosperity. For me, leadership is when you can take along other people with you and progress together. A true leader will always make sure to also make people around him capable of reaching greater heights.

A leader is not a leader if they only take and make themselves rich by talking sweet and exploiting the masses. Unfortunately, this is what we see in Nepal these days.

Is leadership ‘in-born’ or ‘acquired’?

Some learned people say that leadership is ‘in-born’. That may be true for a low percentage of people, but I personally think it is the exposure to the wider society that gives the strength and inspiration to the birth of a leader. When a person starts to see the world through multiple meanings and ethical values, then they can form an opinion and create logical dreams to achieve something in life. Like what they call in America ‘a dreamer’. When a person has a dream and can inspire others to join them to achieve a goal for a common purpose then this, I believe, is the birth of leadership.

Who comes to your mind as ‘an ideal leader’?

There are actually two people who come to my mind whenever anybody puts this question across – John Lennon of The Beatles and Dev Anand from Bollywood. I think they have been inspirational for millions of people regardless of their caste, colour, creed, nationality and origin. They have inspired generations to add value and purpose to life for peace and tranquility in the world. For instance, the film ‘Guide’ in which Anand has played the lead role inspired me to be involved in the travel tourism sector. I am being honest when I say the movie completely transformed me. It is not necessary for a leader to actually meet people to motivate them. There are various ways through which a leader can actually inspire people to dream and work on realising that dream.

Having been part of the tourism sector of the country in various capacities, what changes do you feel are needed?

It would not be apt for me to talk about the changes that are required in the tourism industry in a personal capacity. It is the people’s choice; like how in politics people either choose capitalism or socialism. Any changes that are ushered in will have to ultimately be what the people desire.

However, if I have to say and work on them, I would emphasise on responsible tourism and eco-tourism. The benefits derived from the industry must be shared with the rural communities and the less fortunate. If we dream of creating a civilised society, then my emphasis is we should uplift our fellow brethren from lesser fortunate communities as they form the foundation of society. That is what I mean by responsible tourism. Eco-tourism meanwhile is about being in sync with nature, caring for the plants and animals. This is of utmost importance in this modern world where the buzzword has been climate change and its adverse effects on the planet.

Any incident that has tested your leadership ability?

There have been many occasions when not only my opponents but also some close friends have tried to create problems in my work out of jealousy. Even when I first started a part-time job I faced this problem, it somehow seems to be like a perennial problem in life. I always tried to do things through a logical perception so as to be able to achieve far-reaching dreams. I never realised at the time that they had labelled me as a low-level intellectual who would never be able to do great things in life for his society and country. I have been through many such bad incidents during my career but these very episodes have shaped my character and guided me along the path to my destiny. You have to learn to take such incidents with a pinch of salt; if you have a positive outlook then there is so much to take from even the worst events in life. In any sphere of life, you will always meet people who will be critical about other people’s life and progress. So, the best thing to do would be to politely ignore such types of people but at the same time learn from those experiences.

How important is it to have a good team to work with?

This is the most important factor, but what I would like to clarify here is that teamwork should not be an outcome of any religious rules or society created customs and rituals. If I were to lead a team, I would first define a purpose, vision and logical dream. I would then do all that is within my capacity to inspire like-minded people to join the team to achieve a common goal for the benefit of everybody.

When should a leader hand over the leadership position?

A leader should hand over the leadership position only when the entire team is ready and the structure is fully matured. You cannot hand over leadership like how kings hand over their reign to their sons or some business people to their younger generation. Handing over of leadership is justified when the leader has created true leadership qualities among his deputies. Sadly, this doesn’t happen in the Asian society.

For some, a leader may be someone who has been successful in leading a business enterprise or a political party. But my definition of leadership is to be able to uplift societies.

What do you consider your most significant accomplishment as a leader?

I would like to call whatever I have done or accomplished in life a success achieved by a common man, not as a leader. I have always done everything with equal passion, and have tried being an innovative tourism entrepreneur as well as a passionate Nepali tourist. Whatever I do or whatever I have achieved, it is for a purpose, for all my close acquaintances who have been supporting me throughout with the same dream and aspiration which I have created for them as well as for myself.

I actually do not care what the Oxford University or Harvard University says about leadership qualities. In my opinion, human societies evolve by human instinct and the message they receive from their inner selves to carry the society forward with a positive purpose and towards a meaningful destiny.

For some, a leader may be someone who has been successful in leading a business enterprise or a political party. But my definition of leadership is to be able to uplift societies.

How can a leader prepare for the unknown?

From a business perspective, the best way a leader can prepare for the unknown is by saving things in stock which they might need for any unknown situation such as an unexpected disaster or natural calamity.

What major challenges has Covid 19 brought to your line of business?

The Covid pandemic has brought about many challenges for literally all the sectors not only in Nepal but globally because nobody was prepared for it. Honestly speaking, we can’t speak about preparation too because no person, even from the medical fraternity, had anticipated the virus, let alone the damages it has caused in the last two years. However, I feel travel tourism has been one of the most affected industries. To put it in simple terms, tourism is all about travelling, so when travel restrictions are in place it affects everything that is associated with travel. The major challenge for us today is we have to revive tourism and the economy related to it so that all people can benefit from it. Tourism being one of the major contributors to the country’s gross domestic product reviving the sector is the most important agenda for all of us today and for the government of Nepal.

You are involved in so many areas. Where do you derive your motivation from?

I do multiple things to bring multiple colours to enrich my life. I am a happier person when I am doing multiple interesting activities. This makes my life more meaningful and gives me immense pleasure. I get motivation from myself, because I am a very passionate person. I enjoy the positive aspects of everything that God has created for us on this planet; from good food to good friendship, from good clothing to good formal uniforms, from good projects to good assignments, for the good purpose of life to good dreams. In essence, I enjoy every bit and piece of everything that I deal with in my life. I leave all the negative sides of everything to the mercy of learned men and the national leaders of the country.

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Anurag Singh Verma

Anurag Singh Verma has been involved in journalism for the last two decades and has worked in various capacities over the years with leading publication houses of Nepal. He enjoys meeting people and sharing ideas and experiences. Verma is more focused on writing on economic issues and strongly believes in the concept of free market economy. Besides, Verma also loves travelling which he believes allows us to see things in different perspectives.

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