Horst-Werner Maier-Hunke

Features Issue 45 Aug, 2010
Text by Eva Manandhar / Photo: ECS Media

While importing goods we still face the same problems we faced 40 years ago.

Horst-Werner Maier-Hunke, the President of the Confederation of Employers’ Association of North Rhine-Westpahlia has taken up the responsibility of representing thousands of companies with millions of employees in Germany. He is also currently involved with one of the most renowned manufacturers of stationary goods in Europe, ‘Durable’ as its President & CEO. He was recently  in Nepal on his fifth visit since the first time when he arrived in 1965 as a volunteer. He remembers the effort put up for the establishment of the Royal Drugs Limited, where he worked for 2 ½ years.

When was the first time you came to Nepal and what was it like?
It was shortly after the India- Pakistan war. It was a difficult time because India was closed, the airports were full of weapons, so I arrived in a Royal Nepal Airlines flight. We had to come over the hills, and after reaching Kathmandu, the first thing we did was look for a house. With the help of the government, we found a small house on the way to Shanta Bhawan called Leela Ghar.

The house was near the Department of Medicinal Plants, where I was working. At that time they were practicing for the manufacture of the most essential drugs in Nepal and my job was to help them with the production management. This was the beginning of Royal Drugs Limited in Nepal. It started from the laboratory of  the Department of Medicinal Plants.

I was surprised when I arrived in Nepal because I had never seen so many friendly people. But I had to learn to be patient also, as things did not happen as quickly as expected. But with time and the efforts from the volunteers, most of the projects were successful. Everything was done very systematically; we brought in the machines, trained the people as there was no production before and most people were unskilled.

Could you give us a brief history about the German Voluntary Service in Nepal.
The German Voluntary Service was started in 1963 in Germany. The first employee was Dr. Bricke. He was responsible for India and Nepal but as India is too big, he could not make it to Nepal. So I was chosen for Nepal. I came here after completing my university degree in Economics and Chemistry. When I left Germany, I was 27.

We started with ten volunteers. After six months, eight more joined us and when I left, there were around eighteen or nineteen volunteers. I was here from 1965 to 1967. We had training for 6 months to learn Nepali as nobody understood English. There were hardly more than forty Germans in Nepal at that time.

Did you make any changes while you were here?
Our first project in the manufacturing business was intended to help young girls who had to carry loads up to the first and second floors. To make it easier for them we constructed equipments, which would easily carry the loads. But strangely, these girls requested us to stop making such equipment, as their only means of survival was being hampered.  What we thought was a good idea was in reality not such a perfect one. The other problem we faced was when, to make the building process easier we constructed equipments like the ones used in Germany. But the laborers complained that with the accessibility of such equipments, the job was done quicker so their earnings dropped. They were happy to use the age-old methods, which allowed them to work for days.

We had to learn what we could do and how relevant it was in the given context and situation. What we thought was a good idea was not necessarily accepted as a good one by the local people. We had to learn what was the right thing to do, what to expect and the others had to learn what to demand.

What other projects were you involved in ?
At first we tried small production of tablets and tried producing lipsticks as well. It was not easy as we had to buy the necessary tools from Germany and it was a long way from Nepal.

Until then, all the medicines came to Nepal from China. As the raw materials were so expensive, we started producing medicines from natural products which came from places surrounding Kathmandu. The first medicines produced were to cure headaches and stomach problems. We also tried to make distilled water for injections.

We also helped with the establishment of Nebico Biscuit factory, a printing press in Balaju and also a school. We started our work gradually; we got import licenses and started production of biscuits. Initially the biscuits produced were black, then it was brown and finally the desired color was achieved. Most of the machines came from Germany and were very modern, the first of its kind in Nepal. It was also very important for Nepal, because all the biscuits were being imported from India at the time.

For the printing press, we had a three-color machine but we had never installed a machine like this before, so we faced a major problem in the beginning. We worked a long time in this project since we had no experience.

Did you also train the local people?
We gave a lot of training, but not in theory, as most of the people in my department were very educated, holding their Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate degree. But they lacked practical knowledge regarding production. We also gave training to another group that was not very educated to run the machines.

We also had a small project in Godavari to plant menthol pepperica. This is a place which I really liked; it was the beginning of the Botanical garden. There were some British people living there for a long time, who started the Botanical Garden.

How are you involved with SOS ?

My wife has been involved with the SOS Kindergarten in Ladakh for the last 20 years. My company, Durable has been involved with SOS Kindergarten in Nepal for three years. The whole company is integrated for social causes; if we have an event, everyone has to make some contribution. Like we make Nepali dishes and everyone buys it so that money is collected for the Kindergarten. A lot of people work on Saturdays to get money for the Kindergarten. It is financed by an organization but when they need extra help, they give out to different projects. In Kavre, we sponsored a basketball court last year. Since ours is stationary products, we provide what stationary is required in a school. I also join in with other companies and provide all the required stationary goods in schools and kindergartens. A lot of companies in Germany have a business life and a social life, that is part of the formation of a company, which I believe is very important.

What has changed in Kathmandu since your first visit?
First time when I came to Kathmandu, there were only around a hundred motorbikes. I myself used a cycle as a means of transportation. The city was filled with porters and rickshaws. Even the cars present were around hundred, as there were not many roads.

There was no road to Pokhara; one could go only by plane or on foot. The city was quite crowded back then, but in a different manner. A lot of people were carrying vegetables, rice and other goods on kharpans. The bazaar was heavily crowded and even cycling through it was difficult. Now there seems to be more motorbikes than people in Kathmandu. It is also creating pollution. There is progress, but sometimes progress too has to be guided.

But some things have not changed. While importing goods we still face the same problems we faced 40 years ago. I remember my time when I had to frequently go to Singha Durbar as everything was done so slowly, step by step, there was more thinking instead of doing. I think this has not changed much over the years.

Could you give us a brief description and purpose of your present visit ?
I talked to the President of Nepal German Chamber of Commerce & Industry, people of Bhaktapur Association for Cottage and Small Industries as some needs here are similar to those of Europe. The small industries are mostly under financed. In Europe, we have banks which offer them financial help which I find is lacking here. Even if you do have some good products you have to finance your labor force, raw materials and your customers pay you only after three months. In the meantime, you are bankrupt, which is a big difficulty and need to be supported financially as well as by giving new ideas. The government should also support them through Banks.

We talked about marketing Nepali products in Germany specially in fairs, as the Nepali market is too limited. The products should be sold outside to earn foreign currency; these products should be exported.

Apart from these I also visited the Royal Drugs Nepal, which is facing great difficulty. I visited my old working place at the Department of Medicinal Plants, which is now called the Department of Plant Resources. The Department has not changed much, except the movement of Royal Drugs to its new location. From there I talked by phone with my old boss, Dr. Purushottam N. Suwal who is now retired.

On this visit, I also met Mr. Appa Sherpa, the famous mountaineer, who took my Sherpa brand stationery to the top of Everest. I will be doing a big marketing campaign in Europe out of this.