From humble beginnings to the top of the banking world

10 min read
15 Nov 2017
10 min read
1674 words
From the Archive (Dec, 2016): Govinda Gurung talks about how being pragmatic can help people get rid of their confusions and get on the path to success

What memories can you recollect of your childhood and of growing up?
I had a wholesome village upbringing back home in Lamjung. I come from a lower-middle class background. My father was in the Indian Army, and my mother was a housewife. I’m the oldest of seven kids, and we were all assigned chores—from collecting firewood and cutting grass for the cattle to helping mother in the fields. On top of that, I also had school work, so time-management training started very early on for me.

In school, were you the studious type?
I was an outgoing kid who was very serious about academics. I’d wake up in the morning, assist my mother with household chores and then run all the way to our government village school. Things got more physically challenging when I joined high school, as I then had to walk nearly four hours a day to reach the school, which was on the other side of river. And monsoons were the worst, but we managed. I’m not trying to glorify my struggles—things were the same for all the children in my hometown, and still is, for many living in rural areas.

After your SLC, were you pressured to join the the army as a lahurey?
My father was in the Indian Army, so I was exposed to the military at an early age. But somehow, that life didn’t appeal to me—even though I was a member of a society where men who had served in the military were highly respected. Surprisingly, my father was not as adamant as my mother, and trust me, even so, it was quite an uphill battle to convince her about my lack of interest in the military. You’ve got to understand that while your parents’ influence may be important, you need to realise that your life is your life, and if you’re honest about your intentions, you will eventually garner your family’s support. 

Was it tough to maintain that resolve when you got to Kathmandu?
I was not prepared for Kathmandu, and honestly, the struggles that I endured during my college days have made me who I am. When I got here, I was a teenager with nothing but a scribbled map in my hand, searching for a place to stay, trying to get a job to support my education. There were times when I would view my audacity as a sort of absurdity. But I never caved in. I guess, that’s what makes our youthful days so special: Everything seems possible and impossible, all at once.

What was the toughest call about moving to Kathmandu?
I was the oldest of seven—four sisters and two brothers—and I didn’t want to be a burden on my parents. So the moment I got on the bus, I was clear about my intentions—I was going to pay for my own living and education. Of course, things weren’t as easy as I had envisioned they would be. My first job was at a hosiery company in Paknajol, where I got my first-ever paycheck of Rs 100. That was one of the proudest moments of my life. But the age-old problem of balancing a job and a college education meant that I had to hop jobs to pursue my college degree.

Did the job hopping take a toll on you?
I worked my way up from being at a hosiery company to teaching in schools, working in radio and in the development sector. All these jobs and the unique challenges they presented sort of prepared me for my later role as a banker. I think my experiences helped me develop interpersonal skills as well as a realistic view of life.

We’ve heard that you once wanted to be a singer.
I was always interested in music, and many years ago, after passing a voice test, I was selected for an adhunik song competition in which I was pitched against the likes of then upcoming stars Yam Baral and Ram Krishna Dhakal. When I heard them sing and compared their performances to how I used to sing, I realised that I would never be as good as them. I had two choices: either be a middling artist or quit that rat race and look for an alternative.

In other words, you gave up on your dreams?
Sometimes life is just like a bitter pill—hard to swallow. But things get easier when you develop a realistic approach. I’ve never been shy about accepting my weaknesses and moving on to plan B. Of course, I do try to overcome my shortcomings, but sometimes you have to make pragmatic choices. Doing so prevents you from depleting your resources—of which, time is the most valuable commodity.  

Tell us about your experiences before you got to Civil Bank.
Although I enjoyed teaching, I didn’t see myself working in that profession. So while I was teaching in Graded English Medium School (GEMS), I started looking for other opportunities; during that time I also worked at Radio Nepal as a Gurung-language newsreader. I applied for the job of a Senior Officer in Himalayan Bank, and out of 37 applicants, I was one of four to be recruited. After working there for a decade, in 2006, I joined Global Bank as one of the founding team members and then later moved to Mega Bank, in 2010, also as one of the founding members. I've been associated with Civil Bank for the past six years now.

Was it easy dropping everything and joining the banking sector?
When I was in college, I was greatly influenced by my college professors and their approach towards life—simple living, high thinking. There was a time when I actually wanted to be an education facilitator. Even after getting a job at Himalayan Bank, I was constantly unsure about my future career arc. There were times when I wanted to drop everything and just go abroad to do a PhD. What I’m trying to say here is, even when you have the right intentions, sometimes it takes you years to get used to life, a new career, or maybe a new place. It took me seven years of inner turmoil before I could finally say, “Yes, this is it”, that banking is my sector. It also helped that I came from a management background academically.

You may not have pursued music professionally, but you do still sing, right?
Music is an intrinsic part of everybody’s life. I’m a decent singer, and I also like to pen songs. When I was growing up in Lamjung, I was always singing in festivals and events, so singing will always be a part of my identity. My forte is folk singing, although I have released an adhunik album, Parichay, which remains quite close to my heart. It’s a compilation of songs penned by the likes of Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Rastrakavi Madhav Prasad Ghimire, Kali Prasad Rijal and Raman Ghimire, among others, and it’s been lovingly crafted by ace musician Shakti Ballav.

Since you’re so inclined towards art and music, do you think it is important to promote the arts through CSR ventures?
See, it’s not just my interest that determines the bank’s corporate responsibility programmes. As of now, our focus is on education. We have been supporting three kids at Bal Mandir and will be taking care of their education till class 10. And we have also been sponsoring the renovation work of temples in Patan. In the past, we have helped exhibitions and photography clubs curate their work, but it’s been more of a once-in-a-blue-moon affair. However, in the future, if there’s a good cause and we have the resources, we will extend our support to the spheres of art and culture.

What are your future plans?
I do see myself in this field for a few more years. My wife, Bimala Gurung, runs a school, and I would definitely like to get involved in the academic sector. I think education is the cornerstone on top of which everything rests. For now, some of my friends and I have bought 10 computers for students in Lamjung, and we have also set up a fund that pays for their teacher. Also, drawing from my hardship, I help one student from a rural background in their research work as they pursue an MPhil degree. It’s not a big amount, but I hope it helps them in their struggle.