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Monday, June 30, 2008 are being fired

Md. Hasan puts forward a serious issue in the Daily Star.
Hundreds of temporary employees of the country's telecoms operators lost their jobs in the last few months as major cellphone companies resort to cost cutting measures amid intense competition that leads to call tariff drops.The people who have lost jobs were mostly working in sales and services departments on contractual basis. Mobile company insiders estimate 50 percent of around 20,000 people directly employed in Bangladesh's six mobile phone companies is recruited on contractual or part-time basis. The massive job cuts started in mid 2007 when maximum mobile operators were fined by the telecoms regulator for their involvement in illegal international call termination business. Four companies --Grameenphone, Banglalink, AKTEL and Citycell-- paid Tk 585 crore in fines.Industry insiders said although the mobile phone industry witnessed a massive subscriber acquisition growth during the last one year from 26.66 million in May 2007 to 42.04 million in May 2008, maximum operators are yet to achieve break-even points, resulting in job cuts. But they said in the case of profit making Grameenphone the reason could be the strategy to get more profits with a minimum number of employees. After taking charge last year Grameenphone CEO Anders Jensen announced his cost cutting policy to retain the company's profitability. Grameenphone's operating profit dropped by 32 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the same period of the last year on increasing costs behind a huge number of customer acquisition. "I have been serving Grameenphone for the last two and a half years as a contractual employee. When I was recruited the authorities told me that I would be a permanent employee after one year. But it did not happen and I continued working," said a former temporary employee of Grameenphone, who has lost his job recently. He also said there are other temporary employees in the company who are facing job cuts.According to sources, some 500 temporary employees lost jobs in Grameenphone in the last one year.Operators said they have to follow contractual human resources policy for running their sales and service departments."Since we are changing our business strategy, we have to cut some jobs at this moment. But it does not mean that the retrenched employees have no future opportunities," said a high official of Grameenphone." "We must value them and gradually give them opportunities when we go for new business projects," he added. Maximum mobile phone operators are going for contractual policy, said a Banglalink official, adding, "If you look at the advertisements of companies, you can find maximum jobs are offered on contractual basis."
So much so for the dazzles and charm of a telecom job. The bubble was bound to burst, it bursted. An already saturated job market which does not encourage entrepreneurship, hardly any presence of a good number of multinationals, unfair means of getting a deserving job etc. are only few of the issues plaguing young potential job seekers/holders. Certainly a buyer's market this job market is, especially the telecom industry. I shall not even think of quitting my dear job unless I am absolutely sure of what I am plunging into, as I know there are hundreds of hungry job hunters who are eagerly waiting to grab any piece of job meat thrown at their way, I just don't want to risk mine. God bless all.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What mattered then, what matters now

It is really difficult to draw out the extent to which one hangs onto a brand and then bounces to the other. For a long time I had beard in my mind that whoever becomes loyal to a specific brand does not change it ever. However, now that I have been out of my country for a while, I have started to think again about the gut belief that I have fostered for long.

Crocodile was my brand for T-shirts. Cats Eye was for shirts. I used to use Adidas body spray. My favourite footwear would include both Apex and Hush Puppies. My favourite fast food shop was Western Grill (Dhanmondi), and KFC (Gulshan). I had always loved Café Mango (Dhanmondi 31) and Escape from Shanghai (Dhanmondi 5) as my favourite restaurants. Toyota Allion was my favourite car (which we bought just before 2 months of my departure). Signature was my guitar. I used to wear Police glasses. I had a non-branded mp3 player. I had a clone PC and so on.

Interestingly all of those were not always met. I have used many non-branded clothing stuffs, gone to many a nameless fast food shops, eaten in faceless restaurants, ridden in many Toyota versions, played a number of guitars belonging to different brands, used this glass that glass and such every now and then. Nevertheless, I could always say those names (mentioned in the second para) whenever I was asked about brands I belong to.

Things are quite different now. I love ESPRIT while buying clothes. I still stick to Adidas body spray, I can't help! I love the fries of McDonald's but not the burgers. Literally speaking, the burgers of McDonald's are crap, believe me or not. For burgers, I admit, I love Oporto. Here, in Sydney, Hungry Jacks and KFC are full of shit, bullshit. Subway is ok to some extent. I love the salad of SumoSalad. I also love the Shushi train in Japanese restaurants. Now, my dream car is Audi R8. I also love Toyota Aurion and Jeep Wrangler. Gibson is my brand here. As I said I like Police, I still do wear this brand. I have an iPod which takes the pain of screaming into my ears in every spare time. And I have an Asus notebook.

Interestingly, again, now I cannot get me out of the brands that I have been loyal to. Every time I went to buy a T-shirt I went to ESPRIT. While eating brunch, I buy the burger from Oporto and eat it while I get my fries ready from McDonald's. I cannot get Audi out of my mind.

Strange enough! I can't get out of the circle of brands that I have become loyal to, anymore. Why? Foreign brands are more powerful? What makes a brand - a brand? How could a brand get you into its web so that you cannot get out?

I wish I could answer all of that!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Never wanted to become a salesman!

Sales. The most available job in Bangladesh, may be in India, in Australia or in the world as well. But none really wants, never desired, never wrote in high school essays, as popularly written for the professions such as doctor, engineer, justice, researcher, civil service, lawyer, accountant, architect, scientist, pilot, military, businessman etc. Atleast I never heard that any high school student quoted salesman or manager or director as their “aim in life “ in an essay in their exam script, have you ever heard of any? But people are in sales. Or, they have to be there, appropriately speaking. The most visible sales teams are in pharmaceuticals industry. Motorbikes, bags, rushing behind doctors, crowding before clinics made it classical to visualize the word sales at top of mind. Science graduates or any other graduates with science upto HSC is the prerequisite to apply for the position. But look at few years back. At the end of VIII final exam teacher, families pushed the cream of the class towards science, to see future scientists, doctors, engineers, astronauts from their beloveds. Days go on. HSC over. Handsome creams go for physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, math, (pass) or in some social science subjects to be the scholar at university or university college (peculiar Bangladesh version of tertiary school) or arts other than fortunate BUET, BIT, Medical, BBA, Military-ites. Dreams become dim while millions of high school cream finds that “no job for science graduates in Bangladesh”, they rewind their memory with the painful practical classes during afternoons at the universities. Things become more painful while banks, the second largest formal white collar job source next to PSC, advertise sociology, English, international affairs, public administration along with proliferated BBA/MBA as qualified only although it matters zero as long as “probationary officer, management trainee, trainee officer, graduate associate, management associate, graduate trainee, assistant officer (DBBL) “concern in a bank. It is all about reading/writing/adding/subtracting using pens or PC. Another sales is invisible to mass is the territory officers/managers/executives & their bosses- area managers, regional managers, national managers, sales directors etc. They are rushing behind retailers/distributors of respective products. There are some quarterly targets drafted by “brilliant” marketing teams (sitting inside AC rooms) through their meticulous marketing research (or dragging MsExcel on last quarter sales!) and these teams move. Sleepless quarter ends. And at the end of year real thanks goes to marketing! While sales receive a hard-night and of course nightmare of next year target.

-Azad A. Kalam

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Life in a ...metro" and in a Bangladeshi corporate

"That is why I always believed that this blog can talk about something which we don't usually talk about in our business newspapers and magazines...", mentioned Shaila (27), working in a leading telecom company of Bangladesh. What Shaila hinted was never aimed at the mushrooming gurus (me too) in the business arena of Bangladesh. Some claim to be brand doctors, some sales specialists, some investment heroes, some this some that, and most of them have their own blog here and there, and they are pretty much reluctant to write to this blog for free, also because they think that there is no branding but self-branding, so no thanks Red & Green!

Shaila and many other's have voiced strong approval for publishing unpublished day to day stories from the corporate life in Bangladesh. Conversations that take place in the smoking zone stairways of Del Vista, over a cup of coffee at Coffee World on way back to home from office, while stuck at the traffic jams in the busy junctions of Gulshan, Mohakhali and Motijheel...let the airy talks take shapes in black and white. So pretty much like the Hindi movie 'Life in a Metro', some real life characters have taken the initiative to talk about some issues you usually don't read in The Financial Express or in the Monthly Brand Forum Magazine, unfortunately they will not be able to publish all these sensitive (and secret?) issues any ways I believe.

I recognize that there are already so many specialists for different streams of business topics i.e. HR, sales, brands, finance many of us actually speak the truth? The truth that is ordered to be confined in the four walls of our working places...the truths that become a part and parcel of our working career, our corporate culture...going unnoticed and unconfirmed. One word of caution though, this will not be any 'Dear Mita' type agony aunt sessions...that "I have fallen in love with my handsome boss or I want to go check out our new hot colleague..please give tips..." etc. Some raw stories perhaps, to unlock some hidden conversations, some favours received, some experiences...all at the place where we work. So stay tuned and watch 'Life in a Corporate... Bangladeshi corporates'.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dear Bhais and Apus

Originally posted on September 6, 2007
"It’s the way we do things out here". I don’t remember who quoted this while defining corporate culture, but this was the easiest to understand definition of corporate culture I have come across so far. I remember the quote but have forgotten the author (no wonder I flunked in Marketing once). I guess it essentially implies that there is nothing right or wrong about corporate culture, different countries have adopted different corporate cultures according to the local values, customs, language, religion etc. Discussing corporate culture in the context of Bangladesh could be a very interesting issue, but the scope would be very broad. I thought to focus on a very small aspect of it—the way in which we call each other at Bangladesh Corporates.

Bhai and Apu are the most widely practiced ‘caller ID’ in our work places I suppose. Calling the boss as ‘Sir/Madam’ still exists in a few organizations. Especially government offices still fondly harness the hierarchical call protocol. On the other hand, in the private sector corporates, where the substantial number of worker-base is fed by private universities, ‘Bhaiya-Apu’ call culture is widely popular and practiced. Having completed three levels of education and work experience in three different countries, I have come across quite varied work place cultures, allowing me to witness different vibes at different locations. Different context and country require different culture…as long as the job is done effectively and efficiently, culture is not a barrier. However just a few observations for today, nothing more.

To be on the safe side, we call our (apparently elder) female colleagues ‘Apu’ and the male ones ‘Bhaiya’. I have come across a few situations where I was called bhai by a few persons during the early days of interaction. This could be due to the fact that I look like an Abba (close friends’ harsh remarks)…..older than I really am. However from this talk to that, whenever those persons came to know that my year of passing SSC/HSC (a popular standard for measuring seniority/juniority) is way later then theirs, they immediately switched to ‘tumi’. This initial hesitation, confusion or whatever you say…in deciding upon the caller suffixes intrigued me. I realized that if my colleague is older than me, by age and by work experience, he receives a professional security cushion if I call him Bhaiya. Similarly calling an apparently elder female colleague Apu creates the necessary distance, room and respect she might require. So this bhaiya-apu culture creates the status quo, decorum we expect in our work places to get the interpersonal relationship going. Calling a boss at any level with caller IDs i.e. bhaiya, apu, dada, sir, madam is understandable but I really don’t understand why do we need to make use of these amongst peers? Even if someone is younger than me or older than me, by age or work experience, if we are on the same boat, why create more levels within us?

Perhaps this tendency is inbuilt in us from our very childhood. I remember getting slapped by a school senior who was only one class senior to me, for smoking in front of their ‘band of boys’, and for not showing them ‘respect’. However I returned the respect in the form of a tighter slap followed by Bangla slangs with not apni, or tumi…simple and straight tui tukari! It’s a different issue however, the point is that this very culture of hierarchy is within us and we like to keep it that way even when we work.

I don’t know if you would agree or not, but when I call (apparently junior) colleagues by just the name and tumi, it gives me some sort of invisible authority over them. It also does give me more comfort while I work with them. When I call colleagues (both elder and younger) by just the name and apni, it gives me comfort when I work with them, however the professional and personal respect is also maintained with the apni salutation. But whenever I call colleagues (senior, both male female) with the name followed by bhai or apu, it gives me a sense of ornamental distance followed by a sense of ‘juniority’ (which I may not be in cases even in terms of experience and expertise). It also requires me to be more diplomatic and politically correct when I need to oppose or offend or argue against any of their propositions. All this appears, sometimes, to be redundant and ‘just for the sake of it’.

English is a good language for business use. The word ‘you’ is safe from communicating any hierarchy in it. Most other languages including Bangla, have a division in the ‘you’ word. French has ‘tu’ and ‘vous’, German has ‘du’ and ‘Sie’, Chinese has ‘ni’ and ‘nin’, Hindi has ‘tum’ and ‘aap’ and you might know more about what Arabic, Italian and Japanese have. Even though these words are used extensively in the businesses in those countries, I wonder if they have attempted or not to make the workplace feel more like an extended family of brothers and sisters with words such as bhaiya and apu. I also wonder how it is in Pakistani work places…do they call their colleagues as bhaijaan and baaji/aapa? Maybe someone can shed some light on it.

This bhai-apu practice is surely an integral part in Bangladesh corporate culture and I am in no way trying to oppose it or change it. Its just a personal opinion that we do not have to necessarily patronize it too. Calling somebody by the name they were given by their parents or by what the person her/himself prefers…is a safe option. Respectful words while salutation make more sense if that respect is earned by a person over time through his/her character, experience, expertise or position…not merely by age or by job duration or looks.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Male ego and bank ego...divided we walk

Again Sajjad Bhaiya writes on DS and about BRAC Bank here
Plans to set up a joint network of ATMs have stalled, as the country's banks are unwilling to share facilities with each other.Shared ATMs would allow customers from any of the banks in the scheme to use the cash point facilities of all member banks. This would massively expand customer networks and cut costs for banks. However each bank sees ATMs as a competitive tool and are worried that this advantage will be lost if the machines are opened to other banks' customers. They also fear the shared scheme will be in the control of BRAC Bank who launched the idea.BRAC Bank Limited, one of the fastest growing private banks in the country, launched Omnibus; a common network for ATMs and Point of Sales (POS) terminals in November last year investing Tk 6 crore in the project. So far IT Consultants Limited, operator of the ATM network Q-Cash is the only other member.Omnibus has integrated the ATM and POS networks of BRAC Bank and Q-Cash, enabling cardholders of the bank and Q-Cash member banks to access their accounts from any of the ATMs and POS terminals.But a senior official of IT Consultants Limited said the scheme had struggled to find other members. “Individual banks have shown little interest to join the common network,” he said.“Even our member banks do not want to use the Omnibus network run by the BRAC Bank,” the ITCL official said. “It is unfortunate that BRAC Bank had not set up Omnibus as a separate entity,” the official remarked.Currently Q-Cash has over 100 ATMs and BRAC Bank 55."Banks do not want to be a member of the Omnibus ATM and POS network because of the 'ego problem'," a senior official of AB Bank Limited said.Yesterday a top BRAC Bank official said Omnibus should be a separate entity.“We will make it a separate organisation from the BRAC Bank once seven members join the network,” Abedur Rahman Sikder, head of marketing and corporate affairs of the bank told The Daily Star.BRAC Bank takes Tk 10 lakh as joining fees to the network and Tk 1 lakh as monthly service charge.In most of the cases banks do not want to pay the fees, he added.The number of ATMs in Bangladesh has grown rapidly in the past few years and there are now more than 500 in operation, mainly in Dhaka and Chittagong. The largest operator is Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited that has invested heavily in the machines and now has around 230.Cash Link Bangladesh, a new company formed by a consortium of banks and their technology operations management partner, Euronet Worldwide have also planned to set up 505 ATMs across the country over the next three years.
It happens only in Bangladesh. Like all other spheres in life, especially in politics, banks have also decided to put the end consumers last in the priority. Why bother providing the customers shares access when life is going fine for them and for us anyways. Also, lets gang up and let not any one of us grow or prove innovative. Well, that excludes me, if I grow...its not my problem right? So lets join our hands together and stop any advancement by BRAC Bank. One side of the story.
The other side of the story, I have no idea. I would have believed the Daily Star article more had it been produced by someone else, there are claims in the air that some certain persons sometimes work as loyal mouthpieces of corporate houses to push forward their agenda. So I would request anyone knowing the other side of the story to please share it with us here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

There he goes...goes the job too

Some say he was a great man, he loved to eat, he was always smiling and above all, he was one of the greatest bankers the country has ever produced. Keeping everyone under a state of shock and dismay, Mr. Imran, the CEO and MD of BRAC Bank, passed away nearly a month ago. There was a procession of mourners who gathered who sadly recalled his service, his personality, his friendship and not to mention…his favors. Being a lion-heart leader in a Bangladeshi corporate comes with its share of ‘social’ and ‘familial’ responsibility to create employment opportunities for ‘omuker bhai’, ‘tomuker meye’, ‘shomuker bhaista’ etc. Mr. Imran was perhaps no exception to this leadership birombona. He, during his living time, actively tried to create jobs for many a struggling youth, if not always under the umbrella of BRAC Bank, but under the safeguard of other corporate entities. It is also claimed by his admirers that he gave jobs to those who seeked it, based on their qualification too. So there should be no room left for smelling something fishy there.
However, the mourning of the mourners in BRAC Bank seems to be prolonged even after the sad and untimely demise of the savior in banking armor even after a month. The departure of the godly figure is followed by massive ‘rightsizing’ across BRAC Bank. Now there is no Mr. Imran to create jobs, empower people he knew or who knew him. So the falling tears of the unfortunate employees are made to make a river of misery as they are not only left in the sun without the presence of the messiah, but also left with grim uncertainties in a difficult job market in Bangladesh. Very simple step taken by the management no doubt, ‘to face stiff competition from the market, to realign corporate strategy’ they can always lay some people off. But those who are facing the heat know exactly why they are made redundant. RIP Imran Mama, we hope the people you helped one day are able to find jobs based on their talent again, as many don’t seem to get the right job only because they don’t know anybody like you in person.