CEO Sunil Tuli Climbs to Everest Basecamp for Smile Train Patients

His dutiful excursion inspired an entire global industry

Sunil at the top of a stone staircase on the ascent to Everest Base Camp

Sunil Tuli has always been determined to get to the top. His perseverance and dedication to excellence have elevated him to CEO of King Power Group Hong Kong and President of the Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association. It might seem that only the ruthless could succeed in such a fiercely competitive industry, but this duty-free executive has always lived with a profound sense of duty to others.

Sunil Tuli’s professional headshot
Sunil. Image courtesy: The Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association

He travels constantly for work, and everywhere he goes, even as he wheels and deals with other power players in the world’s poshest airports and hotels, his mind is always on some of the most vulnerable children who call those places home.

Sunil first learned about Smile Train in the early 2010s at a Hong Kong fundraiser hosted by longtime supporter Martin Moodie, Founder and Chairman of The Moodie Davitt Report, the leading publication of the travel retail and duty-free sector. He had never thought much about clefts before that night, but came away amazed by how one surgery can completely transform the life of a child in need.

“That experience taught me that clefts are so much more than physical,” he recalled. “Yes, there’s the aesthetic aspect of it, as well as the difficulty breathing, feeding, and hearing these children can endure, but there’s also the psychological part of it. So many of these children grow up not feeling confident to face the world, and that has a psychological effect. So seeing how things change for these children after surgery, that impressed me a lot.”

Sunil with his wife, Shikha, as she holds a baby with a cleft at B and B Hospital in Kathmandu
Sunil and Shikha meeting a Smile Train patient at B and B Hospital in Kathmandu. Image courtesy: Sunil Tuli

In early 2023, he and his wife, Shikha, finally had the opportunity to visit one of Smile Train’s local medical partners, B and B Hospital in Kathmandu. The sight of so many children getting a second chance at life deeply moved him.

And gave him a life-changing idea. But, like any good businessman, he knows timing is everything; he needed just the right moment to make the biggest splash.

A Different Kind of Sales Pitch

It came in May 2023, when The Moodie Davitt Report gathered the industry’s biggest names in Singapore, Sunil’s adopted home, for the Smile Raising Charity Dinner fundraiser for Smile Train. There, Sunil stood and announced that, at 66 years old, he was prepared to pursue his lifelong dream of climbing to Mt. Everest Basecamp that September and pledged to use the occasion to raise at least $35,000 for Smile Train.

The VIPs in that room got on their phones and smashed his goal practically before dessert. So he set his sights higher, to $45,000. Again, his family, friends, and business associates breezed past it in no time, so he challenged them to climb higher still to $50,000. By the time he arrived in Nepal, he had raised more than $70,500 for smiles.

Sunil insists it wasn’t a difficult pitch. “When we started talking about Smile Train and showing the work that Smile Train does, a lot of people — people like me who didn’t know much about it before — realized how a relatively small investment changes a child’s life forever for the better and made very generous contributions. That made me really happy.”

On September 1, as he found himself gearing up to commence his climb, Sunil could feel the entire travel retail world cheering him on as he faced the world’s tallest mountain.

”This Had to Be Done”

Images courtesy: Sunil Tuli

For Sunil, the trek was tough but worth every step. “As I climbed up the mountain, the families and children at B and B Hospital were in front of my mind all of the time. I always reminded myself that this had to be done because a lot of people have paid a lot of money to Smile Train, and these funds are going to make a big difference to the children.”

After nine days of careful stepping across jagged terrain and rickety bridges, frigid temperatures, and some truly stunning views, Sunil and his guide planted two flags and two big smiles at Everest Basecamp!

The Highest of Heights

After nearly 15 days and 5,400 meters on the mountain, Sunil reached his ultimate destination — and that of the more than $80,000 he raised — B and B Hospital.

Sunil being greeted outside B and B Hospital
Sunil being welcomed at B and B Hospital. Smile Train’s Area Director for South Asia, Renu Mehta, is third from the right, in white. Image courtesy: Sunil Tuli

He received a hero’s welcome. The heads of the hospital, Smile Train Area Director for South Asia Renu Mehta, and a gaggle of Nepali press met him at the entrance. Once inside, amid much fanfare, he was treated to a traditional song and dance ceremony, a Nepali instrumental performance, and a moving thank-you speech — all from patients who were given clear speech, strong breath, and the confidence to use them thanks to donors like Sunil.

A plaque presented to Sunil at B and B thanking him for his support
B and B presented Sunil this plaque affirming him as an official Smile Maker for his heroic efforts on behalf of children with clefts in Nepal and around the world. Image courtesy: Sunil Tuli

Sunil closed the event with a speech of his own. The high-flying executive’s advice to children with clefts who are likewise looking to climb to the top is simple: “Never give up. There is always a solution to problems. Here, you’ve got an organization like Smile Train that is going to help you have the confidence and make sure that you go through life really well.”

Sunil surrounded by his family, all wearing “TEAM TULI SMILE MAKER” shirts
Once back home in Singapore, his family was ready with a hero’s welcome all their own! Image courtesy: Sunil Tuli

Though Sunil is passionate about using his unique position for good, he is adamant that everyone has what it takes to make a difference. “Give whatever you can to help others. Everyone can make a change, whether it’s by donating money or by contributing in any other way, people can make a change and people should make a change. Make a difference, even if it’s one smile at a time.”

You, too, can use what makes you smile to bring smiles and new life to children in need around the world.