With a growing family of his own, IBS eventually branched out on his own business, developing a number of ventures. He worked in the sarafi business, exchanging coins and Indian currency to business travellers. Then he started importing cotton from India, distributing it wholesale across Nepal to Palpa, Narayanghat and Biratnagar. In 1952, he set out for India and opened a trading office in Bombay to send textiles back to Nepal.
He returned to Nepal in 1954 and was elected as a working member of the Nepal Chamber of Commerce (previously Baanik Mandal, which IBS had been a member of before he went to India). Through the late 50s and early 60s Indra Bhakta Shrestha was a key member and founder of the original Baanik Mandal group and eventually Nepal Chamber of Commerce, cementing his position as a leading face in Nepal’s business sector. He was also an active member of various committees (Import-Export Advisors Committee, Food Production Advisors Committee) instrumental in the growth of industry in Nepal. In 1960 he went on an official visit to China for Industry and Business Development.
In 1963 IBS branched out further and started importing Brooke Bond tea from India, selling it in Nepal through a wholesale shop. He went on to initiate further foreign trade when he became one of the first businessmen in Nepal to import fabric from Korea in 1969.
Indra Bhakta Shrestha registered the company, Nepal Enterprises Group (NE Group) in 1972, which would eventually be known nationwide for leading new industries in the developing nation. By this time IBS had become the President of Nepal Chambers of Commerce and his roles on a multitude of councils and associations continued to place him at the forefront of Nepal’s emerging business and financial sectors.
While IBS’s prominence in the industry flourished, the NE Group steadily grew and prospered over the years. With the on-going trading in Brooke Bond Tea, the NE Group had forged a strong relationship with the Unilever company, eventually importing other goods such as Lux and Lifebuoy soap. Finally, in 1990, a joint venture opportunity arose with Unilever to start manufacturing products in Nepal. Due to the political climate of the time, as the country went through a second democratic movement, with lobbying against foreign brands, it was two years before the company to get the necessary manufacturing licenses in place. When they succeeded in 1992, it was the dawning of a new era in Nepal’s economy and linkage to global commerce, with the nation’s markets opening up for international trade and investment and IJ (NE) Group was at the helm. Around the same time, the group continued its development in the manufacturing sector and in 1993, invested in a synthetic textile factory in the Hetauda Industrial District.
With the new partnership with Unilever, the NE Group was starting to diversify, moving into manufacturing and Ravi Bhatka Shrestha, IBS’s son, took on an active role in furthering that diversification. He started National Soap Industries, a soap and detergent company in partnership with Unilever in 1996. The group also moved into the financial sector as founding promoters of Himalayan Bank and starting one of Nepal’s first general insurance company, United Insurance.
The group continued to expand their interests entering the hospitality sector in 1998 with investment into the Soaltee Crowne Plaza (previously owned by the Oberoi group). Ravi Bhakta Shrestha had spent years learning from his father in all aspects of running the family business and carried with him the same dignified and amenable nature that had served in elevating IBS in so many organisations. RBS was on the board for Soaltee Crowne Plaze and saw the opportunities in domestic tourism and hospitality. The IJ Group now has interests in the Soaltee Sibkrim Hotels and Resorts (SSHR), which opened the Soaltee West End in Nepalganj in 2019. The Summit Hotel in Kathmandu and the Vivanta Hotels franchise are also part of IJ Group’s investments in hospitality.
The group continues to grow in all sectors. In 2010, the Group opened an ice cream manufacturing factory and have since launched their own brand, Azzabko. And in 2010, the group began its Healthcare vertical with SRL Diagnostics, a joint venture with SRL the largest diagnostic network in South and South East Asia. The real estate wing continues to grow with the Summit Residences and 1905 Towers in development, creating two of Nepal’s marquee real estate projects.
The new millennium has also seen the addition of Ravi Bhakta Shrestha’s son, Rabindra Bhakta Shrestha join the family fold in 2010. By this time, IBS now in his late 80s, had stepped away from many duties leaving his son Ravi Bhakta Shrestha to run the family business. Indira Bhakta Shrestha passed away in 2015 at the age of 91. He left behind him a legacy grown over 70 years from the family shop in Indra Chowk to the multinational conglomerate that the IJ Group has become. He is remembered as one of the instrumental forces in the development of Nepal’s chamber movement and a pioneer in the growth of Nepal’s international trade and manufacturing markets. In his honour, his son Ravi Bhakta Shrestha and grandson Rabindra Bhakta Shrestha carry the torch forward, continuing to elevate the IJ Group to new heights.