By Ram Khatry I 27 March 2020 I While many of his fellow Rich Listers may feel inclined to use government’s social-distancing advice to recuperate from taxing boardroom sessions, Australian-Nepalese billionaire Shesh Ghale unfortunately does not have that luxury.
Day and night the Nepal-born billionaire worries about the 4,000 odd students who are in Australia for one and only reason – Melbourne Institute of Technology (MIT).
The college that Mr Ghale and his wife Jamuna Gurung founded in 1996 attracts students from across the world including from mainland China and hence, a direct hit the massive academic institution has been taking since the scourge of COVID-19 began months earlier.
Speaking to southasia.com.au, the former president of the Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) said the current crisis reminds him of his youthful days in the former USSR where he undertook his Master of Civil Engineering from the Kharkiv National Automobile and Highway University.
“It’s a strange coincidence and reminder but the way we are hankering after toilet rolls and basic necessities of life today, it reminds me of my uni days in Russia,” Mr Ghale remarked in a jocular vein, “We would always, always carry plastic bags in our bag, ready to be used at any moment.” Mr Ghale and Ms Gurung spent nearly a decade in the former Soviet Union where life was a far cry from what they command today from the MIT Group headquarters at the heritage-listed Argus Building.
Before this scribe could quiz “But what were the plastic bags for?”, came the easy explanation from the ever-humble Melbournian.
He explained that the plastic bags were ever ready in their backpacks so that they could jump in the moment they saw people queuing up for merchandise.
“Worry later what the queue was for; first, just queue up!”
“We wouldn’t care what the queue was for! We would just queue in without wasting a second and then only one of us would do the asking what it was all about!” Mr Ghale, who is extremely well-respected and popular within the global Nepalese community, reminisced the days when he positively had no billion-dollar dreams.
Forty years on, he vividly remembers the tough life in the communist-era Russia when consumer products were not readily available like today.
The uncanny scenes on television screens about “the other side of human nature” in the face of overly-reported toilet paper tantrums and innuendoes as well as the ubiquitous social media pictures of frail elderly members of the society forlorn beside empty supermarket aisles have all made the self-made billionaire reflective about the incertitude of human life.
He is particularly amazed by the fact that toilet rolls were “scarce” back then and have once again become so four decades later – “The very thing we create is perishable!
“At the end of the day, such is life. It is all very humbling at the moment,” the CEO of MIT Group sighed.
Mr Ghale even went shopping recently and discovered that “local” groceries were so much cheaper: “We merely spent $26 but came out with so much rice!” Yes, rice! That one essential commodity of anyone born Nepalese.
Mr Ghale and his better half are currently busy transitioning MIT classrooms into virtual classroom environment which of course demands meetings after meetings with his trusted consultants, senior staff members and stakeholders.
The Australian‘s 2019 Rich List had placed the Melbourne couple at the 85th and 86th positions at a combined net worth of $1.1 billion. This year The List put their net worth at $1.26 billion, at 90th and 91st positions respectively.
The Australian Financial Review’s Rich List 2019 had however placed him at the 78th position with a net worth of $1.18 billion. The AFR is yet publish its 2020 Rich List, most likely to be postponed under the current circumstances.
The soft-spoken philanthropist billionaire is well-aware of the inherent risks a global crisis of this magnitude shall entail. However, as a seasoned business leader who thrives on taking risks, he is consciously and cautiously bracing for the financial aftershock of the still unfolding catastrophe.
For now, he says he is too busy worrying about the future of his students to worry about his own personal assets and wealth. With an enviable Australian workforce, Mr Ghale is relatively well-placed of safely bringing the MIT family inclusive of the thousands of international students to “the other side” of the corona crisis.
Both Mr and Mrs Ghale are passionate about their community and are proud of the contribution Nepalese Australians make to this great nation, and its economy, through their professionalism and trademark loyalty.
“We both wish all the best to all Nepalis and Nepali Australians and urge them to take good care of their own health first and foremost, and remain optimistic so that we can all cross this bridge to continue our prosperity on the other side!”
Shesh Ghale and Jamuna Gurung’s most ambitious project at the moment is the $500 complex near Melbourne’s iconic Queen Victoria Market. Once complete, the site will have both residential and commercial spaces as well as a 288-room luxury hotel for which the high-achieving couple are partnering with Accor.
Ram Khatry, founding editor of southasia.com.au, worked for a number of English-language publications in Kathmandu besides working as an interpreter and translator for international journalists covering the decade-long Maoist rebellion. Before he emigrated to Australia in 2008, the writer was the Executive Director of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ).