A typical work day My typical work day begins at 8:30 in the morning with a visit to either Credit Agricole Indosuez, a French bank with whom my company has a classified credit facility, or to Janata, a nationalized bank which is considering our proposal for debt financing of an Acrylic yarn project. Although I face the same challenge of raising money at both banks, my approach differs between the different banks. When dealing with Indosuez, I must be very objective with in-depth knowledge of the issues while with Janata, my frequent visits are what matters most. Although I did not study business, my keenness towards finance and my achievements within the business department of my company have assigned me these responsibilities.
Between 11:30 and 12:00,I visit our textile mill, which is about an hour’s drive from the city. I work there as the technical director, and my primary responsibilities include monitoring plant efficiency, product quality, maintenance, and my favorite — working on customer response analysis, a recently devised and relatively unique strategy for quality assurance. The job is demanding and sometimes challenging. We are continuously on the look out for new products and means to becoming cost efficient.
By 2:30 or so I leave the mill for our city office. I work with our executives in preparing and following up on various proposals, preparing quotations etc. I also attend meetings with equipment sellers. One of my routine jobs is to sit with my colleagues in the procurement department for testing and selection of raw materials, mainly cotton and dyestuffs. By 4:30,I usually begin work on my personal business, which I maintain through a separate desk in our head office. At this desk I maintain my trade intermediary business for readymade garment export and footwear. I spend about an hour here before I retire for the day.
Essay 2: Most significant leadership experienceDuring the last three years I have devoted a significant amount of time and energy to the betterment of young entrepreneurs, who in this country are mistreated, stripped of opportunities, and looked down upon. In my quest to start my own business, I faced many obstacles that I later found to plague all entrepreneurs in my country. Established family heads discourage their younger members from starting separate businesses; they would rather their younger members join them in the so called “safe business.” Moreover, companies and government organizations will not award contracts to young people since older people earn respect for their age rather than their ideas in this traditional sub-continental culture. With an uncooperative family and no sources of funding, young entrepreneurs face little chance of success.
In these difficult conditions, I realized there were many young people who were full of potential but lacked support. By meeting with these people, I motivated them to believe that together we could help improve collective situation. In October 1996,the seventeen of us founded the “Young Entrepreneurs Society” (YES). I served as the coordinator for the first two years. We figured that in order to get our message heard, we needed to prove ourselves a significant lot. We started with social activities like helping poor students with registration fees for matriculation exams and organizing blood donation activities, etc.
We held our first seminar on the “Prospect of Software Development Business in Bangladesh and the Government’s Role, ” and five months later we had our second seminar on the “Obstacles for Young Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh’ with the finance minister as the chief guest. Following our seminar, the central bank extended loan facilities of up to Tk. 5 lac (US$ 10,000 Apr.) to new businesses whose proprietor or director recently graduated. Our organization continues to push its agenda.
In addition to taking initiative, I managed to lead a group of people to a collective objective that had previously not been identified. Through my leadership, I effected change in Bangladesh.
Essay 4: Done to help an organization changeMy company is a family owned organization run by conventional management techniques, which include visiting the plant everyday and solving problems as they occur. As the technical director, my responsibility, among others, is to maintain product quality. However, I noticed the company had no communication with its customers and could not identify the desired quality of yarns and fabrics in the local market. With management ignoring dealers’ complaints, I and my colleagues in the technical department decided to establish a system to gather customer feedback. Our plan ultimately changed our attitude towards quality.
To communicate with our customers, we placed address information forms in every 50kg carton of finished goods and asked the customers to fill out and return them for company calendars and diaries. We collected 267 forms within the first three months and to my surprise found that those 267 processing mills serve 95% of our customers. A number of complaints required as little effort as shifting a lever in the winding machine from one position to another to give a desired winding pattern. We also followed up on the widespread suggestion to replace the paper board carton for packing with jute bags which could be used for other purposes; since jute bags were less expensive, we were happy to follow this advice. Most importantly, we established a mechanism whereby we could immediately and costlessly discover problems with our products.
Management initially regarded my idea as ‘western’ and ineffective in Bangladesh where customers are perceived as being too concerned with money to answer the questionnaires. While lobbying constantly, I had to wait a month to get the printing and stationary bills cleared. Now, our success is obvious as the attitude towards quality has changed. The biggest beneficiary of the idea is our cigarette plant. They had to do lot more groundwork and spend much more money to set up the system as their customer base is bigger and more diverse. However, it seems the idea is paying off with increased demand and customer loyalty. I look forward to devising more such ideas by leveraging my business education.
Essay 5: Values ChallengedOne has to understand sub-continental culture regarding marriage in order to understand this particular crisis. Marriages are classified into two groups: ’settled’ marriage and ‘affair’ marriage. In a ’settled’ marriage, the groom’s family chooses the bride, and if bride’s family accepts the groom, the two families get together and fix the marriage. The bride and the groom may or may not meet each other before the marriage. In an ‘affair’ marriage, two persons fall in love and get married, with or without the permission of their families. This is considered a social crime, and the newlyweds are forced to leave their families.
After I came back from the US, I met my sweetheart who was attending medical school. We courted each other for years, and when she graduated we figured it was time to marry. I asked my family to select the woman of my choice so as to marry the woman I love without upsetting social norms. When my mother proposed my fiance’s family, her mother wanted to see me personally. I assumed she would consider me a suitable candidate for her daughter’s husband since I come from a good family and since I am qualified to maintain a family. However, rather than looking for qualities in me that might make her daughter happy, she demanded that I posses an MBA degree before I marry her daughter. Apparently, all of her relatives’ and friends’ daughters got married to either MBAs or Ph.D.’s.
I was dumbfounded. I would have gladly given the moon to her daughter, but I was not about to earn an MBA to satisfy this woman’s irrational craving. How would an MBA help me to become a better husband Even though I intended to pursue an MBA anyway, I could not agree to her demand. I told her that I would never earn an MBA. As a result, I couldn’t marry the woman of my dreams.
I stayed true to my personal values, and it cost me the woman I love.
Essay 6: Three most substantial AccomplishmentsAlthough trained as an engineer, my most substantial accomplishments have been in non-engineering sectors since the management and finance divisions of my company necessitated my involvement and a change in my career goals.
From the early 1990’s, after the introduction of the free economy in Bangladesh, almost all of our companies in our family owned business began losing money, and I needed to help save it. There I was, the poor little textile engineer, answering questions asked by people from Citicorp, the agents from Soros Funds, and many other local banks. Despite my lack of business expertise at the time, our issue was overbooked, and by the following three weeks we collected the money from the first privately issued bond in Bangladesh. I worked with a team of highly dedicated and experienced professionals with degrees from the finest institutions of the world. Through teamwork, I helped to save my company; I consider this the biggest achievement in my professional life.
My second biggest achievement was again saving the company. Our biggest textile plant, consisting of about seventy percent of our group’s asset, was bought through tender from the government of Bangladesh under its denationalizing scheme. The payment was to be made through half-yearly installments, but our company began defaulting in late 1997. By that time Peregrine collapsed, and we were on our own. I proposed the board raise money by offering some of the company’s vast vacant land for joint venture. Although the proposal was believed impractical and unattainable, I nevertheless contacted a number of multinationals. Only Cemex Cement of Mexico responded, but our deal eventually fell through and the government began preparing for takeover.
As a last minute resort to save the company, I prepared an attractive offer and contacted Scancem of Finland and Holderbank of Switzerland. Holderbank responded and opted for outright purchase of the land. However, they attached a condition that we complete all the formalities needed to set up their plant in Bangladesh before they make any agreement with us. We agreed and started working on the endless list of permits, permissions and licenses that one faces by investing in Bangladesh.
I guided the whole process and coordinated the activities of engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats, financial advisors, etc. I also was forced to deal with the highest body of religious law, the Islamic Foundation, since there was a mosque in the designated plot and the mosque had to be relocated — a very rare and sensitive issue in Bangladesh. I read a number of books to understand Islamic laws, organized several community meetings, and met the chairman of the Foundation twice to defend our case; we finally got the job done.
We succeeded in our mission and on December 17,1998,I signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Cemcor Ltd., the local subsidiary of Holderbank. It was a thrilling moment for me to conclude a deal with the largest cement and clinker producer in the world. With my signing, Bangladesh received the biggest foreign investment ever, excluding power generation and fertilizer sectors. The deal was so complicated that even the sale price would be paid to us by a letter of credit, the first such letter of credit in Bangladesh.
My third most important accomplishment was joining my company as the deputy technical director and taking charge of 34 technicians and a number of engineers and assistant engineers. I found that for every single technical problem at least one engineer had to be called upon to advise the technicians. However, I wanted our engineers concentrate on research, and after interviewing every technician, I realized that they needed to be educated as to what quality level to maintain. At the end of the educating process, we gave them decision-making authority. Contrary to the suspicions of many of my colleagues, my plan worked, and our technicians are sufficient enough to handle most problems by themselves. The plant downtime was reduced, and engineers could focus on more value adding affairs. Improving employee knowledge and empowerment paid off.
Essay 8: Additional informationSince my father’s recent death, I have been serving as a member of the board of directors of ‘The City Bank Limited, ‘ the nation’s first and largest private sector bank. I have earned this position not by merit or professional qualities but by replacing my father who was the founder director of the bank and was an architect of the debut of private sector banking in Bangladesh. Other than attending board meetings once every month or two, I have not taken an active role in the bank’s affairs. I opted not to be member of any executive committee of the bank because I do not think I am up to the job yet. But from my little exposure, I try to learn as much as I can. I want to be more mature and educated in the field so that I can make a contribution to this sector which is so vital to the development of the country.