First, fast, furious...Bangladeshi business blog

We provide
--social media strategies for Bangladeshi businesses worldwide
--public speaking on Bangladeshi businesses and social media
--paid product/service/website reviews of Bangladeshi companies

Interested to place an advertisement for your business?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jamuna shows us the future on Bashundhara's land

I really didn’t know how to react to this. Whether I should be proud of it, should boast about it, or should lament over it. This claims to re-introduce Bangladesh to the global map. This stands tall and big on 41 Lac sq. feet floor space, international food court accommodating 3000 food-lovers, all local and foreign famous brands, 22 line bowling center, 7 halls in the movie multiplexes, health club for 2000 people, 5 big autrium (wonder what this is) and 7 voids, different swimming pools for men and women, own electricity producing plant of 45 MW, car parking facility for 5000 cars, theme park for 2500 children and many more.

Perhaps even a blind man would even read what I am talking about here, similarly even a blind man cannot afford to miss the gigantic presence of the so claimed ‘biggest shopping mall of South Asia’, like the Taj Mahal is to India, the Great Wall to China, the Pyramids to Egypt, the TVCs were comparing it to a man made wonder for Bangladesh…lets give it up for..The Jamuna Future Park…no where else in the world…but in our very own Dhaka…the city of the 21st century, the megapolis of Asia…well…a bit of exaggerating in the last part, got understandably carried away. But Jamuna Group claims that the Jamuna Future Park (JFP) would be our ‘shob ghotonar thikana’…so who knows if it could be also claimed that that day is not far away when Dhaka would become ‘shob ghotonar thikana’ for the residents of Asia…like Singapore, Hong Kong, KL etc. The group claims in its website that “Jamuna Future Park will stand as a symbol of national pride, prestige, progress and economic development of our country as like as the Twin Tower in Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia.” Well, enough of blabbering…the harsh truth is, Dhaka is not anything closer to that yet, nor there seems any correlation between the setting up of the mammoth shopping mall and Dhaka’s becoming an iconic city in the region.

Remember the time when they used to call Dhaka the city of mosques, then they called it the city of rickshaws. Has the time now arrived to call Dhaka the city of shopping malls? Shopping malls which are stuffed with pretty much same products and bored vendors? Shopping malls which are crammed with not so many buyers but more happy wanderers? If we all are happy with it, or even some are happy with it, perhaps its worth it huh? But I doubt how many of the shops in the Bashundhara City are seeing profit and are very happy with the proceedings. Nevertheless, perhaps from the entertainment point of view, the city dwellers might get the chance to experiment with something new at JFP.

However, what aches me is the fact that a city which lacks even the basic infrastructures in terms of traffic management, sewerage, urbanization, green space, even parking lots, has started boasting itself to be hosting the largest shopping mall of the continent. Is it ironic, sarcastic, funny or is it natural? I know very little, and understand even less, so you tell me. I know this much when two big corporates like Bashundhara group and Jamuna group lock horns, they need to outplay each other by establishing flashy shopping malls in a crammed city such as Dhaka. Good for them.

Sometimes I hear people blaming the UK based Sylhetis, that even though they have so much money, they end up spending it in building lavish bungalows, mosques, community centers in the Sylhet region back in Bangladesh. They lament why they don’t invest their pound power in establishing schools, hospitals, roads and culverts. But in the same note, you could also argue why such big corporates of Bangladesh are investing crores and crores of taka in setting up dazzling shopping malls and why not in establishing business incubators, an IT park for the IT industry of Bangladesh or something which might look a bit more responsible? Well, probably the increased number of shopping malls indicates increased demand in middle class consumer power huh? Sometimes theories of economics are really tested in Bangladesh.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The fun business, business of fun

My foreigner boss treated me lunch the other day. While praising the amazingly aromatic biriyani and the Bangladeshi chef, he also mentioned very casually how fun loving he thinks Bangladeshis are. Upon request for specification, he narrated from his recent experiences in tours in Nepal, Thailand and Malaysia. He said that almost wherever he went in those places, he came across scores of Bangladeshis, groups of friends, families, students all having fun, dining, wining, dancing, shopping, taking photos, gambling—in one word—having fun.

He also recalled one prominent restaurant in Kathmandu, where he found out that majority of the diners were not only from Bangladesh, but more specifically from Dhaka. He also exchanged pleasantries with a few, drawing upon his work experience as an expatriate here in Bangladesh. He claimed that even the duet singers who were rendering latest Bolloywood numbers, were flown in from Dhaka. They even sang latest Bangla songs as well, as some of the Bangla speaking audience furnished some request for particular numbers. After a sumptuous dinner in the company of Bangladeshis in the land of the Sagarmatha, my boss went up to the casino to try his luck with the roulette. There too, according to him, were our desi bhais trying their heart and luck out with flashy jackpot machines, plain roulette and other perhaps 53 types of games and gamblings possible with 52 cards. There were smoke, liquor, lights, shouts, calls, cries, sighs, smiles, tensions, laughter—in one word—merry making. And yes, Bangladeshis ofcourse. Fun loving Bangladeshis.

Our conversation over the biriyani dug deeper. We noticed that perhaps there is an increase in the number of domestic tourists within the country, who flock the popular tourist spots down south. We also realize that a certain income class of the society has achieved the ability to frequent more and more the tourist destinations around Bangladesh over the recent few years. But if these are the very tourists who cram the night clubs in Bangkok and the casinos in Kathmandu, thanks to their increased disposable income (or desire to travel whatever the budget be), then why don’t they show the same behaviour while within Bangladesh? I mean its good that we make the economy of the host country richer with our own money spent in their tourist hot spots, but is our demand to have similar kind of services not strong enough that might warrant flourishing of similar services in Kuakata and Cox’s Bazar? Its ironic that hotels in Cox’s Bazar allow BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze), you can drink in your hotel room, in the hotel beach (as long as you drink in bottles of Mum mineral water) or after the sun set. But you cannot set up legal bars there to sell alcohol. You can play loud music from your car, jeep and dance with your friends on the beaches but nothing called a ‘Disco’ can be set up or publicized. Or can it be? Just that no one bothers to, or dares to?

Rules. Rules. Rules. Is that the answer? What rule? Whose rule? Constitution? High court? Imam Shaheb? Abba? Amma? Who sets the rule? Society? Who is this society? Why am I willing to let my hair down and get flown and blown away with power alcohol in foreign discos but not willing to set up these in our tourist destinations? Chele meyera kharap hoye jabe? If we are so fond of Phi Phi island and Nagarkot and we also lament how beautiful our tourist locations are, are we still waiting for Government’s approval to set up infrastructure there? Or are we waiting that the ‘outlook’ of the society will change, then we will install ‘facilities’ as available even in so called Muslim majority nations such as Malaysia, Indonesia (Langkawi, Bali) etc.?

I don’t know if you have noticed or not, due to some ‘unknown’ reasons, the number of ‘DJ Parties’ have increased in town. I don’t want to argue if you think this is against our culture or not and all that jazz and jizz, I saw a poster the other day for a DJ party for Eid Celebration! Not bad huh? Quite a revolution isn’t it? Imam Shaheb will be a sad man seeing this poster, no? How many holud programs have you attended lately which went without a bit of nacha nachi? Globalization or the ‘wave of foreign cultural invasion’ has arrived here long ago, perhaps silently and not with a bang, but how long will we hold us back from the natural desire to jump around and dance around with some music and with friends and family? How long of the shady, close door parties in Gulshan, Baridhara, Uttara? How long of this strange system of doing ‘those things’ privately and wearing a gentle, sober face in the public? Which one are we actually?

Well, you could argue that we are a poor country and also a ‘Muslim’ country and have our heritage of many years, so we better not indulge in such ‘morally decaying’ activities. Honestly, I know little. Its just that I don’t understand if countries like Indonesia and Malaysia can allow same ‘things’ in and around their tourist locations and in major cities, why we cannot do it? Perhaps we are socially, culturally and morally stronger, purer than them right? Let it be then. I will be sober here, to keep the ‘social polices’ happy and put my coin down in the casinos in Nepal.


1. As an after-thought, setting up casinos and disco bars are not pre-requisites of a robust tourism sector. The argument is for introducing services, albeit through private sector initiatives, in our own tourist locations. This way, both domestic and foreign tourists will spend for the same service within our territory only. We can show that we can have fun, and we don’t have to keep on crowding foreign locations to prove that. What we have, is just unique, its just a matter of recognizing it and working on it.

2. The author is not a regular drinker, gambler, disco freak or any other socially ‘disturbing’ element, out in the mission to destroy ‘our values’. At the age of 28, he made his maiden visit to Cox’s Bazar in March 2008, this is the first reason of shame for him. He found the place so beautiful and full of potential that he has decided never to return there unless he himself can do something to tap this potential. That is the second reason of shame that he still has not managed to do anything much for the largest unbroken coastline down south. Other than this painfully long blog post.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Royal Bengal Entrepreneurs Theme

Do you see what we see? We see a young man in black suit and a laptop hanging from the shoulder, waiting patiently behind the bushes. He has war fatigues drawn across his face. He is in mid 20s, medium height and structure. He carries a red and green flag over his shoulder. He is desperate to prey on the grazing executives who are roaming around in a distance, in their own territories, and who are still unaware of the presence of the new threat in town (or jungle?), who are ignorant to spot the potential and the prowess of the formidable challenger behind the bush, who are still unconscious to the emergence of….the Royal Bengal Entrepreneur!

On the proud occasion of the 37th Victory Day of Bangladesh, today on 16th December, this blog proudly and furiously announces a concept that it hopes to enlarge and enrich over the coming years. The Royal Bengal Entrepreneurs are that special breed of innovators, entrepreneurs, executives and managers who are ‘Made in Bangladesh’. They might be trained in the land or in foreign lands, but their talent and deed converge into the betterment of the economy of Bangladesh. We want to establish that the Royal Bengal Entrepreneurs are truly the majestic predators of business innovation and management in the global arena, as the synonymous Bengal Tigers rule the tough mangrove terrains of Sundarbans.

So let us know what you think the Royal Bengal Entrepreneur should be. What should be the ideal profile, keeping in view our socio-economic context? True, we are attempting to brand our breed of managers and entrepreneurs. So join hands and claws, lets leave marks in some territories. Let us know where and how....Aaarrrgghhhhh!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Citibank NA has more reasons to stay in Bangladesh

Because of the man pictured on the left, Citibank managed to raise profits by 64% and broker some of the biggest deals in the country. Yet it is hard to believe that the same person responsible for this growth decided to appear here. Why is this so important? Because the parent company went on a firing binge closing 52,000 jobs worldwide and selling most of what it considered non-core businesses. With HSBC and Standard Chartered having a party on both hemispheres it looked definite that Bangladesh would take a backseat as a non-core business while Citigroup paid $400 million for the naming rights for a baseball field (amidst simultaneously asking for a bailout).

This is more important for this blog because he is a Bangladeshi leading a Multi-National Company. Not just any MNC, it is Citigroup. And he simply doesn't work as a puppet, he is actually calling the shots. While many comments in this blog have pointed out that there is actually Bangladeshi leadership in manufacturing, the Citibank-Mamun Rashid thing is a entirely different deal. First, Mamun Rashid isn't a glorified plant manager with a CEO title. Nor is he a paper pusher or a rubber stamp for head office. He isn't here operating in Bangladesh because Citibank New York officials couldn't be bothered with mundane tasks.

Rashid doesn't manufacture low cost products with a unruly local workforce where MNCs are forced to go with local talent. He actually manages everything Citigroup in Bangladesh. This includes high premium banking. Plainly Citigroup didn't put him here because they needed any Bangladeshi they could find. He is there simply because of his banking talent. And seeing him on the move is more spectacular. He manages to move faster than Standard Chartered or HSBC (otherwise known (literally) as East India Company). He is eager to take these colonial antiquities on with full force.

But on a personal note, most importantly, he stands up to represent Bangladesh. He always promotes Bangladesh in a way that no CEO of Grameenphone or any other MNC has never done or will ever do. Neither Anders Jensen nor Oddver Hesjedal ever utter anything starting with the letter B. Its always about how Telenor did this and Telenor did that. Grameenphone this, Grameenphone that. It makes my ears bleed. GP only started focusing on CSR to repair their tainted image. Even then its CSR in a sense that 2% actually goes for CSR and 98% goes to ads saying that they are indeed actively in CSR (while embezzling more in the process). Why Mamun Rashid felt he had to stoop so low to appear in such a Grameenphone ad is surprising when you consider the vast differences in ideologies between them.

Furthermore unlike the Grameenphone CEOs, Rashid's interviews are always Bangladesh focused. And it isn't about how Citibank delivers 90% mobile coverage to 95% of the people. For him it is always about what Bangladesh has to offer for international businesses, its investment prospects, its growth and how Citibank fits into this scenario. It is never about Citibank as a entity, but it is about the partnership prospects with a country he is from. He is the biggest promoter of Bangladesh I have seen in a long time and long overdue from a MNC. And he is always there at conferences touting Bangladesh and never rants on how Citibank alleviated poverty in Bangladesh through mobile phones. MNCs also owe him for the example he is leading on behalf of them.

Now back from this praise, is 64% growth really that good? I am hearing reports and rumors that Brac Bank may post a profit growth over 70% this year. And this year is supposed to be Brac Bank's 'bad' year. But despite this growth which will probably be overshadowed by local banks and foreign failures, the best reason for Citibank to stay in Bangladesh is Mamun Rashid himself.

Update: This wasn't written to offend anyone. But to encourage those of you at MNCs to reach the top to make the difference Bangladesh needs. Mamun Rashid's praise is long overdue.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

All in the name of industrial financing!

IIDFC stands for Industrial and Infrastructure Development Finance Company, IDLC for Industrial Development Leasing Company, IPDC for Industrial Promotion and Development Company and so on for many in Bangladesh. As if these companies are ‘fuelling’ the country’s industries. True, they are financing some industries but more truly (!), they are financing mostly consumers.

Right now they are focused on easier & flashy car loans, home loana, heavy rated FDR deposits, leasing of buses, trucks, cabs, human haulers, vans and proliferated small shop financing covered by very lucrative ‘SME financing.’ Where is the industry here? In worst, IPDC started a vague credit card business (club royal) to enjoy rebated hotel, dinner, spa being a pioneer industrial promoter! IIDFC posted a big outdoor ad on Birdem-PG foot over bridge at Shahbagh to take ‘car loan, home loan from them. Wow! Now pushing someone to buy a car, a flat, a tv, a fridge is called ‘industrial financing.’ Dear finance student/academicians, please redefine your terminology.

Another word that needs to be illustrated is ‘SME’. A very popular, repeatedly uttered term in round tables & editorials. I found no substantial long road in Dhaka city without miscellaneous shops. It is termed SME by our ‘industrial promoters.’ In the name of SME some are doing only retailing, some are writing editorials, some are writing articles in never read journals to become professors from lecturers, some are building capacity like IFC-SEDF, some are disbursing loans to almost micro credit level. CitiNA in commission business, SCB in credit card, HSBC in salary account, BRAC in SME, Dhaka Bank in Car Loan, DBBL in ATM. So country is going to be industrialized soon! Thanks to old fashioned uttara, islami, pubali, ab, agrani. At least you are in ‘industry somewhat.’

Worst consequence of this proliferated consumer financing business are- emergence of enjoying more than you can afford, traffic jams, extra fuel consumption by upper segment at the cost of public, social imbalance, frustration from jealousy, idle money breeds money thoughts (what IPDCs slogan), less interest to value adding business specially in manufacturing & service and as a whole weakening/stagnant real economy but sprouted consumerism that make inflation ultimately an eventuality.

Note: the writer is not against consumer financing business. But he wants an appropriate naming of your organization, equilibrium between industrial & personal financing by FIs.

-Azad A. Kalam

Monday, December 8, 2008

Make way for the Royal Bengal Entrepreneurs

Remember McGyver? Or Oshin? Or Bionic Woman, Six Million Dollar Man, Fall Guy, Manimal, Raven, A-Team, Knight Rider and all those English thrillers, serials that many of us used to religiously follow in the then only state-run television BTV? Since we didn’t have much option in terms of TV channels, so we had to be satisfied with whatever was shown there. But still, we had grown a habit of following certain shows in the TV isn’t it? Also, don’t forget the extremely popular Bangla drama serials such as Oyomoy, Ei Shob Din Ratri, Bohubrihi and the like. Well gone are the days of the monopoly of BTV, scores of other satellite channels have made me a serial remote switcher, nearly suffering from chronic button pressing and channel switching syndromes. I also realized that I have grown out of following any particular TV program in the TV these days, firstly I don’t have much time, secondly internet has taken over my life and thirdly and most importantly, there are just too many TV channels, making it difficult or confusing for me to settle with any particular show, with which I could associate myself.

In the flurry of all the painfully similar drama serials, talk shows and music programs, I was wondering if its ever possible to have a show pretty much like Dragons’ Den, where interested venture capitalists used to hire or fire potential entrepreneurs or executives who they thought could do the talk and walk the mile. It’s a known fact that there are many potential entrepreneurs across Bangladesh who are bubbling with their nascent business ideas, but they just can’t get the headstart due to lack of exposure and/or patronizing. Not everyone needs to be a BBA graduate from IBA or NSU to be a skilled manager, I believe management is more a mental frame of mind, an aptitude and attitude, rather than paper certificates from top-ranked B-schools. Those who have it, can do it, with some initial hand-holding. And they don’t necessary need to be enrolled in a private university or the best business schools. Pretty much like the singing talent shows where wanna-be song birds display their singing talents, similarly, a budding entrepreneur might come up to face a judge panel and/or audience vote to evaluate his/her business idea.

I am not very clear about how the Battle of the Minds operates, something executed by the tobacco producer in Bangladesh…how the participants are selected and why. Similarly, HSBC Young Entrepreneur Award also seems to have a regional appeal and popularity. Bangladeshi students have already shown evidence of merit and potential. But what is not clear is what happens to them afterwards? How many of them have truly been successful in realizing their initial business ideas? If they have succeeded, are we tracking it? If their ventures have failed, do we know why? How many of them genuinely chase their dreams and turn the dreams into reality? Or is it just that they are good in academics which produced a great business plan and landed them with the award? But in reality, they had no intentions to start such businesses?

So the point is, these entrepreneurship awards and close door competitions sponsored by any particular company should graduate itself to the public domain. General people can sometimes be a better judge and powered with technology such as SMS, they can vote out or vote in their preferred entrepreneurs. Finally, the one who wins, shall actually start the business with the seed capital provided by one or many of the venture capitalists sitting in the judges panel.

So I think its time to say au revoir to airy talks in classrooms and seminars on entrepreneurship, and limiting the activities to giving away micro and macro awards to budding Royal Bengal Entrepreneurs with nominal monetary aid. Rather its high time that the movers, shakers and thinkers of entrepreneurship start taking shares in the business ideas or projects which they think can reap great benefits. Actions are louder than words and than this blog post too. So how about a TV program like this to bring me back in front of the TV sets once again, without switching channels this time?

Image courtesy:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Let’s grow a cash cow

I was reading an article about the food poisoning in China, and how it affects the whole world. Somewhere in the article I found the name of Bangladesh, and its current operations against food poisoning and other stuffs. I kept reading.
‘Do I find a new opportunity here?’ I thought. ‘How about starting a new food business? A premium one? ’, I said to myself. ‘Wouldn’t people be paying more for quality food?’
Think about a corner street burger shop and KFC (Bangladesh). They both are making money. KFC surely makes much money for its quality burgers, and other food items. People spend more than 200 BDT over the high quality burgers of KFC. In Australia, I do not spend AUD 10 on a KFC burger, because first of all it’s crap, and not fresh. Rather I spend my money on quality food items; on fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods.
As I was saying, if anyone starts to grow a premium food shop with quality food items, I believe s/he is going to grow a cash cow. People will certainly spend more to stay safe.
However, there will probably be no chance for the poor and ill fated people to sneak a look into the premium food shop through the window glasses. But for those who has money will absolutely spend more on the premium food shop items, helping it become a cash cow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do Multinationals develop HR in underdeveloped countries

Peter Drucker, the iconic management guru and social philosopher, in his many writings claimed that modern day human lives are immensely influenced by the corporate houses. Why so? We live in society and it has no universal law as the physical sciences do. Drucker believed that society and human beings are in continuous process of change and evolution. Hence, the basic nature of human being is derived not from the absolute truth (from religion) but rather from ever variable psychological and societal parameters. In this essence, comes the concept of knowledge workers to describe post industrial economic men and women. Who creates those knowledge workers to a great extent schools and also corporate houses as knowledge spent almost 50% of our productive life in corporate houses whether big or small. Now my question is how the corporate houses specially the multinational ones are contributing to create knowledge workers in an underdeveloped country?

I have worked in two multinationals in Bangladesh before I started my journey to become a part of new and bold capitalism. My experience is that multinationals do and can play decisive roles in shaping the human resources or creating knowledge workers in an underdeveloped country. I know at least 20 well trained managers, who worked for those two multinationals, are now serving local home grown companies in Bangladesh. This will have a multiplier effect to create better trained managers i.e. knowledge workers in Bangladesh thus increasing the efficiency and productivity of Bangladeshi companies. I have also been instrumental in starting up TQM (Total Quality Management) and inclusive vendor management project for one of the leading MNC in Bangladesh. Initially it has been very tough. There were many oblique remarks such as a disciplined philosophy such as TQM will never work in Bangladesh where indiscipline is the essence. Neither I nor my top management believed that it is impossible. So, we started engaging our shop floor people in problem solving and encouraging people to come up with improvement ideas. We believed that it is all about understanding factors for motivation and concern and then designing right program with proper incentive. For example, we introduced a small program of giving employees free gifts on festivals such as Eid Holidays. And during that time we used to emphasize the fact that if employees don’t take defective products (even though it is free) why will they produce and dispatch defective products for consumers/customers. This created tremendous awareness in our plant level to make our TQM journey successful. Second was to engage people and train them in a very simple manner such as using visuals etc. Third important thing was immense commitment from top management even when business was in trouble. So, these initiatives in fact created about 200 highly trained workers and 20 supervisors.

We have also been successful in creating a participative supply chain even without having very sophisticated IT tools, though we were using some IT tools. How could we do that in a country where suppliers and clients relationship is more of boss and subordinate kind? We ensured free flow of 3 Bs- Bucks, Boxes and Bits. Bucks mean money or value, Boxes mean materials and Bits mean information. This created an environment of trust and confidence for us in our suppliers though initially they were wary about an Indian company. We involved our suppliers to understand our business needs and mechanism and in turn they also let us involved to understand their business financials, economics and needs. Hence, in negotiations table we always had mutual agreement without any acrimony. It may sound quite surprising to many in Bangladesh. We dedicated resources to improve the manpower quality of our suppliers or improve their business process such as purchasing or financing. That is another step which strengthened our collaboration with our suppliers. And above all we pay our suppliers within a week. Many believe that having higher credit is good for business. But in reality it is not because higher credit term is associated with lot of hidden costs. One is the cost of borrowing for suppliers will be higher than a client like my earlier company with access to many banks. And suppliers will definitely pass on this cost to clients. For this reason, we often financed our suppliers also on capital investment projects and went for profit sharing. Yes those things were done based on a little bit complex EVA (Economic Value Addition) model which can be different topic for discussion. Here also, our initiative of suppliers’ development program trained almost 500 workers and 50 supervisors. I am sure that these training and learning will percolate to other companies in course of time. I am proud that our suppliers today publicly say that we are one of the best clients to work with in Bangladesh if not the best, as they have got good financial benefits and even more highly skilled work force, better business processes and opportunity to be our real business associates. I believe that this philosophy also will percolate through our trained managers to other Bangladeshi companies.

Yes there have been many stigmas against multinational companies, specially those ones into extractive industries (Mining, Oil and gas), operating in underdeveloped countries. In some cases there are solid reasons for those stigmas too. But I think that with more moral consciousness among investors/stakeholders about how the money is made will make corporate houses more socially responsible in underdeveloped countries such as Bangladesh..