Last Thursdays with Dawa Steven Sherpa
Mr. Dawa Steven Sherpa
Having recently completed ‘The Great Himalaya Trail’, Dawa Steven Sherpa, is a young tourism expert and a successful mountaineer who runs his family business Asian Trekking Private Limited. Dawa has been involved in Tourism and with this family business since 2005.
How did he start?
Dawa’s dad, Ang Tshering Sherpa, had been running Asian trekking for 24/25 years already and was involved in skyline airways and hotel businesses as well. Dawa studied business administration because he wanted to come back and implement it in the family business which is his passion.
In 2005, Dawa started working and he had come back for 6 months during industrial placement from university and that’s when he got thrown in the deep end. His dad’s business was about to get bankrupt and his dad was also severely ill. At a time when there was insurgency in the country and tourism business was not doing great. It was a very critical time in Dawa’s life when he had to struggle a lot.
Dawa helped his famiy re-strategize the business because his father had been involved in a lot things and he was trying to do everything on his own, instead of assigning trusted people in different designations. They recognized their strengths and focused on it to get the highest productivity. During the restructuring process of the company, there was a nasty side as well, as unprofitable units had to be shut down, unproductive units had to be downsized and people had to be let go of their jobs as well.
Dawa was 22 when he was in the decision making side and they had a lot of issues. The main constraints that they were facing were lack of experience, for both his brother and him. They knew the theories of running a business but had to adapt to it and didn’t have a network, which was very vital for working. Without a strong network, it is very hard to work in Nepal. The primary hurdle for them was their lack of practical experience which they made up by getting engaged first hand in the business. He lesson from the experience has been that it's better to do something than nothing even if you know little about the subject.
Dawa explains how going through such tough times helped him become stronger and a better entrepreneur. He had to get his hands dirty and that’s when he learned the grass root side of the business as well. At a very young age, he was put in position where he had to take executive decisions to make immediate changes in the company. Being thrown in the deep end of things, he
learned a lot and had to struggle a lot. This was a great lesson for Dawa, which motivated him to work harder and make sure these things never happened again.
The most important lesson that Dawa learned from this lesson was that to do business in Nepal you have to be very patient.
Dawa’s basic leadership philosophies
Whether in his office, Mount Everest or trekking Dawa explains that the basic overriding skill is to lead with example and to do more than or as much as one's staff. This makes sure that the working culture will have a positive impact in the company. It’s very important to share a vision with your team before moving forward with a plan in an organization because all of you need to believe in the vision equally to move forward.
Once you share you vision and are in the same platform, you need to give people responsibility and give them the trust to do their job. But when you trust staff and let them do their job, it’s very important that you are monitoring. He advises aspiring entrepreneurs not to feel awkward as a leader to ask your staff questions and to get continuous feedback.
As a manager, your job is not just to make sure that your employees work when you are not around but also to share your vision and to motivate your staffs so that they will do their job on their own says Dawa. It is also very important to give credit to people who come with the idea and do their job, that way they will be more motivated and willing to work in the future he adds.
Talking about his own business
In 2008/2009 Dawa started the world’s highest bakery called ‘Base camp bakery’ in Everest. He saw a problem and did something about it. When he was climbing Tibet in 2007, he saw climbers were very competitive, didn’t talk to each other and didn’t socialize, so he saw this as a big problem because the philosophy of any sport is to socialize, not to draw lines and be decisive. So that is why he made a social arena for people to meet. Also what ended up happening was with many trekkers who used the toilet in the café, they had stopped defecating in the open and this way they were also helping by keeping the environment clean.
In 2008 Dawa started a cleaning campaign called ‘Cash for Trash’ because visitors to Mount Everest had been complaining about the pollution for almost 5/6 years. In his quest to look for a solution for this problem, Dawa came up with this campaign.
Previously people used to set up expeditions for collecting garbages which required expenses of half a million to million dollars and each expedition could collect about 500 to 700 kg of garbage only. The method was costly and ineffective.
So Dawa came up with the new idea, which was to give cash to people who brought back trash, instead of hiring people to go clean up trash. This new innovative idea was successful, as the financial support to pay for the trash was provided by the bakery. Due to its success the idea took a
life of its own and grew.
The Great Himalaya Trail experience
For Dawa and his team, it was a work in progress and they wanted this trail to give enough material and information that would give Nepal a real good hand in the climate change negotiation in Nepal’s position. At the same time Nepal is a very beautiful country and this was a great way to promote Tourism. It is very important to understand the climate change scenario and to be able to improve the tourism in the country for economic growth. Climate change had destroyed Apa Sherpa’s life in 1985 (glacier broke and washed away Apa’s house and yaks) and Tourism helped rebuild it. To learn and promote the idea of climate change and tourism was main goal of this experience.
In terms of the experience it was a very rigorous trail as the team had to walk 35kms a day and had to keep everyone motivated, to keep the team going. They realized that Nepal is in a great position to promote ‘The Great Himalayan Trial’ and to own this brand name as well.
Questions from the participants
Can you share you experience on how you overcame your challenges when you had just started handling your father’s business?
In terms of family dynamics working with my dad was tough because we hadn’t identified our boundaries and my dad wouldn’t share information about the business. But when there was a crisis, my dad realized it and let me take charge of various sides of the business. My dad is a good entrepreneur and a businessman, but not a good manager. He didn’t know how to manage relationships and resources properly. I realized my strength in management and took charge of that side of business and my dad focused on public relations and business growth. That’s how we set our boundaries.
Doing business in the family is tough and learning to handle the family dynamics in a business is very important, otherwise it could turn out to be catastrophic in the long run. I had friction with my brother initially, because of my professional attitude towards our dad as well. But I did manage to convince my brother that it was necessary for the business and we started operating efficiently.
After the constitution wasn’t made in Jeth 14, I was very frustrated as an Entrepreneur. What are ways you would advice to handle such negativity that Entrepreneurs have to deal with in a country like Nepal?
Given the worse conditions we are still able to pick it up and can’t wait for things to happen. There is proverb I like, ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago’, and ‘the next best time is now’, so by understanding our own situation need to be proactive and use your own energy. Need to foster and
grow your business, especially in the initial stages.
What advice would you give to youths who don’t have family businesses that they want continue or revamp but want to start businesses from the ground level on their own?
The successful business stories in recent times have been group of friends, usually 4 to 5, getting together and doing a business. Need to have the same vision, everyone’s role should be written in black and white and should be signed as well. Start small with friends and it would work. You should get rid of the ‘Sauji mentality’ because the aim is not just to have the prestige of owning a business but to actually make profit as well. Need to share the vision clearly from the beginning.
Who funded the ‘Cash for Trash’ project?
In 2008, I put my own money and approached sponsors who did not react positively to my initiation. I got support from North Face Company and I had a bakery as well which helped me sustained as well. Sometimes if you don’t invest your own money other people will not invest their money. Now various donors, friends and North Face support the cause.
What are your strategies of hiring the right man power and how have you been marketing your products?
I usually hire young people, who are willing to learn, who wants prove himself/herself, who are enthusiastic and who have open mind which makes it easy for me to share my vision. Older people who have worked for a longer period of time do not want to work outside their comfort zone, but the experienced older workers are necessary in an organization as well because they bring the experience.
I use to market my business in big tourism fairs in International companies with the help of the Nepal Tourism Board. As I’m very passionate about climate change and mountaineering, I’ve been invited to talk in many different places domestically and internationally, so being able to participate in such events has given me a great platform to market my business as well.
I have an idea and I have passion, but how to I generate that courage to start that business?
You need the courage to start the business and you have to invest your money with an attitude to make your business productive by forgetting about short term success and returns initially. You have to do your due diligence before you invest because you can’t invest with a blind eye.
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