There was a time when multinational companies and big brands used to only employ foreign nationals to lead their organizations in Bangladesh
Zaved Akhter, after recently being appointed the new CEO of Unilever Bangladesh, joined the niche club of homegrown CEOs of multinational companies operating in the country.
There was a time when multinational companies and big brands used to only employ foreign nationals to lead the organization in Bangladesh.
But fast forward to 2021, CEO posts of late are largely being taken up by Bangladeshis, who are commonly tied as graduates of Dhaka University's prestigious Institute of Business Administration (IBA.)
There are currently a number of other CEOs in top organizations who are from this school as well.
The most notable homegrown CEOs of recent times include Zaved Akhtar of Unilever Bangladesh, Naser Ezaz Bijoy of Standard Chartered Bank, Shehzad Munim of British American Tobacco Bangladesh, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed of Robi Axiata, Md Mahbub Ur Rahman of HSBC Bangladesh, Yasir Azman of Grameenphone, Rupali Chowdhury of Berger Paints Bangladesh amongst others.
Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), Robi Axiata Ltd. and Grameenphone have Bangladeshi CEOs now, despite traditionally seeking foreign recruitments.
Prof Muhammad Shahadat Hossain Siddiquee, development policy researcher and economics faculty at Dhaka University, said that appointing Bangladeshi business graduates as CEO or positioning them at global organizations and companies is undoubtedly great.
"If we look at their traits, one thing is common among them. They all have global education, experience, communication, acceptance and network, in addition to understanding of local market perspectives," he also said.
Citing non-resident Indians' success in Google and Microsoft, he also said: "Our graduates have made an immense contribution to global companies more than others. To make our growth sustainable we have to focus on smart, talented, and tech savvy personnel, in order to avoid brain drain."
The policy researcher noted that in global markets, companies appoint local CEOs not just to make profits. But these talented people are available and they have intense interest to work for/in their respective country.
Highlighting salary packages, Prof Siddique recalled his personal experience, stating that an executive can earn Tk25 lakh for a CEO position abroad, but if s/he earns Tk5 lakh in Bangladesh, it is almost equal if you look at purchasing power parity (PPP.)
"Our PPP is five times higher than many countries. In essence everyone is maximizing their self-interest," he added.
Prof Muhammad Abdul Momen, of Dhaka University's IBA, and director of HR Textile Mills Ltd, told Dhaka Tribune: “Surely we have shaped global standard leaders at IBA. You name any local CEO in Bangladesh, they were my direct or indirect students. The curriculum at our academy is up to date. After coordinating with Indiana University we designed the structure and it is updated over time.”
"Our students have huge potential to lead organizations. Standard of quality education, diversity and professionalism in them is unquestionable, and their impact significant," the IBA professor also said.
"We are about to attach the syllabus on the fourth industrial revolution phenomena in our curriculum. Specifically, the institution has been built with an aim to create leaders who can adapt to the nature of reality," he also said.
"Another thing is that Bangladesh is developing with global economic trends, and our graduates have all those understanding about the market, which currently lacks expat CEOs. To companies, profits matter. These graduates are time-tested and can deliver results," he explained.
On the other hand, the first Bangladeshi CEO of Citibank NA in the country, Mamun Rashid, said that be it Mohammad A (Rumee) Ali, Ata Safdar, Mamun Rashid, Kamran Bakr, Abrar Anwar, Shehzad Munim, Naser Ezaz, Rupali Chowdhury, Mahtab Ahmed, Yasir Azman, Mahbubur Rahman or Zaved Akhter, everyone has a story to tell and have something in common.
“We all are aging. A colleague at Citibank was reminding me - I am still the youngest CEO in a banking institution. When I look back, what helped me to become that- was it hard work, my cadet college, JU economics dept, my business school, my seniors, making best out of the opportunities or blessings from parents, Almighty or admirers? I guess it was all of it.”
The former Citibank NA CEO mentioned that time is changing rapidly.
"Some people hate me- money or revenue matters most to me, some people like me- I am a brand builder. Some avoid me - I am too focused, some respect me- I strive harder. Is there a simple medicine for success? Probably not.”
He noted that localization, global outlook, foreign education, and experience mattered in this case. These leaders have acceptance in the local market, they can meet the local challenges and they are committed.
"We have a bright future ahead."
“What matters, in an increasingly globalized world- possibly global outlook, think out of the box, respect for core values, upward management, reputation and ability to get the best from your people and commitment to their success,” added Rashid, who is also former acting CEO and corporate banking head at SCB, and currently Managing Partner at Pricewaterhousecoopers Bangladesh Private Limited (PwC).