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‘If Bangladesh is confident, it will thrive’

Article - November 2, 2015

United World gathers the opinions of some of Bangladesh’s most important business leaders from across the economic spectrum, from textiles and pharmaceuticals to aviation, telecoms, and finance. They share their thoughts on the country’s progress, its image in the global media and the vital role the private sector is playing in the country’s development


Bangladesh has come a long way since it gained independence in 1971. How do you assess the country’s progress in the past four decades and how do you see
its future?

Nasir A. Choudhury, Managing Director, Green Delta Insurance:
Bangladesh is improving a lot, progressing in every field. I didn’t believe it about two years ago, when our Prime Minister said we were self-sufficient in food. We were entirely dependent on foreign import of food. So I have every hope that we’ll improve. We are improving a lot; we used to have to go to London for business, now the people in London are also coming to us. From my own experience, if you have confidence in yourself then you’ll achieve anything. If Bangladesh is confident it will thrive.

Salman F. Rahman, Vice Chairman, Beximco Group:
Bangladesh’s successes have been absolutely unbelievable. When we became independent in 1971, we were very much reliant on food imports. Since then our population has more or less doubled and yet our food grain production has more than tripled and today we are self-sufficient in food. In fact we recently even exported rice to Sri Lanka. So this is a tremendous success, and it is a success very much driven by the private sector.

Kyle Haywood, Managing Director and CEO, Biman Bangladesh Airlines:
From my perspective, if I use the cycle of life reference, I think of Bangladesh as an energetic teenager. It is relatively young, still shaping its opinions, capabilities and goals for the future. A teenager that is keen to make their mark on the world and be a relevant part of it. Equally, teenagers take good counsel to understand the parameters of what is considered good practice and are willing to make the effort to learn and study in order to be the best that they can be. Teenagers sometimes face tough choices but as they grow, experience and wisdom means that they make informed decisions. As a country, Bangladesh feels, at least to me, like that.

How do you see Bangladesh’s progress towards regional integration?

Salman F. Rahman: Bangladesh is in a very strategic geographic position and regional integration is an absolute necessity. We are currently in talks with China regarding a road link through Myanmar, and we already have a road connecting the northeastern part of India through Bangladesh to the rest of the subcontinent. There is going to be a lot of opportunity for trade because both India and China are very large economies and we are at the midpoint between the two of them. We are at the center, alongside Myanmar, so we are also working with them to increase our connectivity.

How is your company impacting and contributing to the wider development of Bangladesh?

Tapan Chowdhury, Managing Director, Square Pharmaceuticals:
Well we have not forgotten where we are from. The people of the country give us their support. We do everything for them; it is our responsibility to pay taxes. People are always complaining that the government is doing this thing or that thing. But you need to remember that unless the taxpayer pays the taxes, nothing is going to work. Square Group should be the role model for the small businesses and the younger generation. I understand if someone has a very small business and is struggling for his survival, but when you have a good business where you are making large profits, the question might be “what percent should he get?” We know for sure that the return on our investment is
pretty comfortable.

Nurul Islam, Chairman, Jamuna Group:
Our mission is to contribute in the process of infrastructural development and business growth of Bangladesh; and our vision is to establish sustainable and environment-friendly, profitable business and industrial platform development. During 45 years of operations, Jamuna Group has established a number of diversified successful enterprises. Now we have emerged as one of the largest industrial conglomerates of the region. By establishing about 24 industries and installations, we have been massively contributing in the industrial development of Bangladesh. We have created employment for thousands of people of the country; and we have been earning millions of dollars for the country in every year.

Rajeev Sethi, CEO, Grameenphone:
I think all of us agree that the Internet is a great equalizer. That is where we feel that we have a solid role to play. Not only as a provider of access, but also in terms of how our services are delivered, which is in a manner that is both efficient and effective. You know the vision statement of Grameenphone speaks about impacting societies and empowering societies and that is such a powerful vision. We see that the Internet plays a huge role in delivering on that vision and mission which we have.
One in three Bangladeshi persons uses our cell phones every single day – multiple times. So the impact that we have in this country is, as I said, much larger than any other player in any industry. We need to continuously keep on adding value to people’s lives, multiple things that we are doing and thinking about which make business sense to us, and which are at the heart of empowering society.

Bangladesh has seen staggering growth, on average 6% in the last decade. What would you say to those people looking to invest in Bangladesh?

Shayan F. Rahman, Director, Beximco Group:
There are a lot of positives in Bangladesh at the moment; the indicators are phenomenal. This is really the right time for people to come into Bangladesh and look at it as a country where you have a very positive approach to international investment and most multinational companies that have come into Bangladesh have done tremendously well.
The economy itself is growing at a very high rate and the government institutions are very open to facilitating and receiving investments from abroad. It is an environment where it is very easy for businesses to grow, especially when there is foreign investment coming in. It is also fairly risk free for your investment. There is so much potential for growth in this country so it is really time to join in the journey of this country becoming a lot greater and a lot better and a lot more progressive than it is today.

Nurul Islam:
We believe that, for us, our country is the best place for industrial development. Bangladesh has innumerable prospects, probabilities, and possibilities and the only thing we need is to utilize those positive things at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. Unlike some other business groups of Bangladesh, we invest only in Bangladesh but we focus on penetrating both the local and international markets.

What is your opinion on Bangladesh’s international image and its portrayal in the global media?

Shayan F. Rahman: We feel that when you look at Bangladesh internationally there are a lot of negatives that come out about Bangladesh. We feel that there are an immense amount of positive stories that need to be told. Our tagline (Taking Bangladesh to the World) really means that Beximco wants to be the company that takes Bangladesh to the outside world and brings out all the positives that the country has to offer.

Md. Atiqul Islam, President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA):
The media is very important. After the Rana Plaza fire, everybody is talking about Bangladesh garments, saying that 80% of the factories are vulnerable, in the talk shows, the media… everywhere, and this message goes all over the world. But what’s happened? Both the 2013 Accord (on fire and building safety) and Alliance (for worker safety, which was founded by a group of North American apparel companies and retailers and brands) expect the factories to be controlled. Each and every factory in Bangladesh has been inspected by the Accord and the Alliance.
Yes, they can find in this room something here, something there, but nothing that is life-threatening for the workers. Accord has implemented zero tolerance; as has Alliance. BGMEA also adopts a zero tolerance policy. So, the message is that less than 2% of factories are now vulnerable. But the media is not saying these kinds of positive messages; it is not a good message for the media. A negative message is a good message for the media, which turns out to be very unfortunate for our business given its strong dependence on that. So the media has a very prime and vital role for this country and for the confidence buildup of the buyers.

Through Vision 2021 the government has come to power with a very strong and coherent development agenda. How do you see the private sector working to realize this vision?

Kazi Akramuddin Ahmed, Chairman, Standard Bank and former President, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI):
With the private sector in the driving seat and handling about 85% of the country’s business, the vision will definitely be implemented by the private sector. The whole private sector of Bangladesh is united. Since 2009 our government has had the vision that we will achieve our goal and we’ll be a middle-income country by 2021. And to get there, to achieve the goal, we need development in all sectors.
In the last 10 years in Bangladesh we have been able to maintain impressive growth of 6%. This has been due to the joint forces of the government of Bangladesh and the dynamic private sector. The 160 million people can produce and they can consume. There is a huge market in Bangladesh. We are calling for outside investment but we are requesting and we are encouraging our local people to invest also. When you get investment, your employment level goes up, and when employment goes up, poverty levels will come down.