They left Nepal around the time when the country was turning a major historical corner – 1990 mass movement for restoration of democracy. Epic street protests against autocratic regime of King Birendra raged daily. Future had bleak prospects. Life was tough, and opportunities hard to come by. So, as did tens of thousands others, they left Nepal for a distant land.
Fast forward two decades, Shesh Ghale and Jamuna Gurung are now cited among Australia’s richest. They have continually secured their position in the prestigious BRW Rich 200 list for several years now. With a combined portfolio of $335 million, these high-achievers were the 150-151st wealthiest Australians in 2014.
This is a quantum leap from being mere business studies students in early 1990s.
Now there is hardly anyone in Nepal who has not heard of them. There is possibly no Nepalese abroad who may not know them. But there is absolutely not one member of the Nepalese community in Australia that does not draw inspiration from these humble architects of Melbourne Institute of Technology (MIT). In a word, Ghale and Gurung have become a matter of pride for the Nepalese Diaspora in Australia.
On 21 October 2013, this affection for Shesh Ghale saw him elected as the president of Non Resident Nepalese (NRN), a global body of Nepalese living across the globe.
There is no doubt Ghale and Gurung went through their share of hardship and challenge before they made it to the BRW 200 Rich list. Empires are hardly built on bed of roses. But the couple, married for 37 years, seem to be blessed with a well-functioning chemistry.
Gurung is focused more on business side of their portfolio and is the managing director of MIT while Ghale is its chief executive and looks after the finances. In an interview with BRW in 2013 Gurung had said, “I thrive on challenges. Shesh is the other way around and does well when everything’s normal. That’s why we work well together.’’ She is apparently someone who is very engrossed in work to the extent that sometimes she does not get to see her husband for days on end.
On the other hand, people who know Shesh Ghale on a personal level know him as a rather soft-spoken and easy-to-approach sort. He is humble in his dealings and without an iota of arrogance that often accompanies multi-millions. At the same time, he is tenacious in his endeavours and does not lose sight of his business objectives once. It is for this reason that he is where he is today.
His tenacity of character was proven well when he bought historic Argus building in Melbourne despite its asbestos-ridden reputation. The building was originally used by The Argus newspaper which was closed in 1957. La Trobe University had bought it for $8 million in 2004 to use as its city campus but it could not finish the project due to astronomical costs. Ghale always had interest in the building and so did not hesitate a moment to own it for $15 million in 2010 when it re-appeared in the property market. MIT now proudly hosts over three thousand students in that building. Thanks to his entrepreneurship The Argus now is the state of the art site of education and training.
Despite being rooted deep in Australian corporate world, Ghale and Gurung have not forgotten their home country of Nepal. They have taken philanthropic as well as business initiatives focused mainly on aiding their home country.
The couple recently commissioned construction of Sheraton Kathmandu Nepal with investment of $75-80 million (NRS 8 billion). The hotel is expected to provide employment to some 450 locals when completed, not to mention a massive employment generation during the construction phase. The hotel will be completed by 2016. It is expected to promote Nepal’s all-important tourism industry (Nepal relies heavily on tourism for foreign exchange generation) as Sheraton has presence in over 70 countries and is a globally visible brand. It is for these reasons – employment generation and foreign exchange generation for Nepal – that the couple chose to build a hotel instead of investing in commercial property in Kathmandu. On the sidelines of this business venture, the couple recently announced a charity of one billion Nepalese rupees, approximately AUD 12.5 million.
Excerpt from Ghale’s charity speech on 9 Jan 2015 in Kathmandu:
“Today is the happiest day of our lives. My wife, Jamuna and I feel glad to be giving back to society a small portion of what society has given us. We owe what we have and who we are to Nepal. Although we have been involved in various philanthropic activities through different organisations in the past, we felt we needed to coordinate and consolidate it for greater impact. MIT Group Foundation is the result of years of preparation under which my wife and I will invest a portion of our earnings for the development of health and education sectors in Nepal. Both my wife and I know what it’s like to go through life without resources. We were both born in rural Lamjung to poor families. Even though our parents were uneducated, they understood the importance of education and enrolled us in schools. I remember the hard work my father had to put in to send me to school. And, it was only because of the available scholarships that we got a chance to study further. I studied engineering on a scholarship and moved to Australia in search of better opportunities. If it wasn’t for a fair system of rewarding those with merit we wouldn’t be where we are today. We plan to invest in education so students in remote parts of the country do not have to drop out of school to earn for their families. We will provide financial aid to students from economically weak families as well as help schools with infrastructure and resources. People in remote areas of the country still don’t have access to basic health care services. I know how it feels to lose a family due to lack of health services. Rs 1 billion is not enough, but we will add more resources as we go along and in partnership with other organisations. We will be fully transparent and the selection and impact of the project will be done as per international standard.”