Some brands and names are recognisable just by their jingle or the brand colour and in recent years some companies have been keeping the audience hooked with their catchy jingles and hoarding boards that are everywhere. Among a few Nepali companies that have invested heavily in the advertisements, Ambe Group is unmissable. Behind this rigorous and aggressive branding of Ambe on televisions to online portals in recent years is Shiwaj Neupane.
As the director of Ambe Group, a growing business conglomerate that is leading the construction material industry in Nepal, Neupane in his new leadership has made some cashable decisions that have profited the already popular companies. “The company greatly benefitted from its early marketing campaign that featured MaHa Jodi (Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya). But it had not invested in the marketing much after that. But then, I decided to invest in various handpicked mediums. The marketing continued during the Covid-19 situation too and it paid off well.”
Just 31, the young leader certainly faced some ups and downs as his decisions would invite more doubts and a lot of struggle within the company. “A lot of times, I would be questioned and doubted, but I saw opportunities and I invested in them. And, so far, they have all rewarded us well and even increased our revenue. Not just the revenue, we have seen a great change in the brand value and brand recognition among our customers.”
Shiwaj Neupane, the son of Ambe Group founder Shovakar Hari Neupane, first started as a manager in the family’s factory and made his way up as managing director of Jai Ambe Steels, the factory in Nepalgunj. Under the new leadership, the company has been embracing new ideas and a new way of working.
But before the Ambe Group started changing its course, it was Shiwaj Neupane who first experienced the change in his life. After completing his undergraduate in 2014 from the US, he came to Nepal for a break. But, he then decided to stay here for good.
“When I came here, I got the opportunity to join the company. But rather than staying in the city office, I worked in the Butwal factory. I got to closely work with the people there and saw how the dynamics could change among people within the hierarchical chain. Managing the factory gave me that much-needed insight on how to handle the people and designate responsibilities for optimum results.”
“But after working here, I had a big decision to make. Either continue working here and take the company to new heights or go back to the US and build something from scratch. The US certainly would have given me independence and autonomy, but the opportunity I had here was on a much bigger scale. I was already in the deep water here, but I also saw that I could make a difference. So, I chose to stay here and work.”
“There were days I spent all my hours from dawn to dusk here at the office and even burnt the midnight oil. There were decisions to be made all day, every day. And my work kept me busy.”
Apart from the credit for Ambe’s group’s newfound market presence, the young leader in Shiwaj Neupane has left his mark in the Nepalgunj-based factory that functions directly under his management. “I believe that when people are at their best, they can perform their best. So the factory has a routine cleaning mechanism and the staff quarters are all equipped with hot water for them to wash up. When they feel clean and fresh, their motivation level is different.”
Apart from that, the leader also has shown that he is a visionary. “The factory has adopted a wastewater management system. The factory outputs are not mixed in the water resources but rather recycled. I always had the thought to set up a separate plant, but for now, it has been limited to our factories.”
What started as the trading business of electronics and garments in 1982, Ambe Group today has a yearly turnover of over Rs 35 billion (USD 300 million) and employs over 4,000 employees. The steel market alone generates over Rs 15 billion of revenue yearly.
Ambe Group started to diversify in 2004 with Ambe Cement. Since its first product, the company started seeing impressive market reception and a loyal customer base. Soon after, it ventured further into the market with Ambe Steels, in Butwal, and rose to the top with the base it had already garnered. Over the years, it has also acquired up to 10 subsidiaries and expanded its market with a second factory, as Jai Ambe Steels in Nepalgunj.
And yet again, Shiwaj Neupane faced a lot of doubts for the completely unprecedented move. Nevertheless, he took the risk and gambled in setting up the new factory. “The location itself was the first point of the doubt for everyone, but it is because of that location, the company today has a stronghold in the market.”
The consistent market can be credited to two things, he says. “First is the quality we have maintained in all their products regardless of the situation or demand. And second is our approach to connect with the end-users, our customers.”
Contrary to what people might think, Shiwaj Neupane says the construction market is pretty volatile in Nepal. “The market is full of ups and downs. A simple change in the monetary value of the raw materials can topple the market drastically. Because we deal in tonnes, a change in one rupee, between the purchase of the raw materials to the point it reaches the market, can change the balance sheet.”
But, this has not stopped the new-age businessman from stepping into the market. “After the 2015 earthquake, seeing how the market changed, people thought that there was money in this market and joined in. The new companies overflooded the market with the supply and this hugely hampered the business of the others as well.”
After 2015, there was a high demand, yet the company could not supply accordingly. “This was when we went forward with the expansion project and made preparations to start the new company in Nepalgunj with a 1,000-tonne capacity. After this, we now hold a capacity to produce 1400-tonnes of steel a day and 400,000 tonnes a year,” informs Shiwaj Neupane.
For Ambe Group, the market is pretty saturated in the western part of the country. “The west covers almost 90 per cent of the revenue. The Terai belt is where the market has been focused. But in the last couple of years, we are slowly shifting our focus to the valley too. We rank in the top two of the Terai belt but we are not even in the top five within the valley and we intend to change that very soon.”
But under Shiwaj Neupane’s leadership, the group aims to claim the number one spot all over Nepal. He knows the same vision and marketing and advertising skills work in the upcoming days too.
“After we have conquered the national market, the plan is to go global and set up a factory network in Singapore to expand.”