Family businesses thrive on values, innovation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 01, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, February 01, 2019

Family businesses thrive on values, innovation

Four large businesses that featured in the PwC Bangladesh Family Business Survey 2018 identified values, honesty, transparency, thirst for new markets and innovation as the driving forces behind their success. The survey carried out 2,953 semi-structured interviews with key decision makers in family businesses with sales turnover of more than $5 million. The interviews were conducted between April 20 and August 10 last year in 53 countries. Growth among family businesses in Bangladesh over the last 12 months is higher than the global average. Around 91 percent of Bangladeshi family businesses expect their business to grow over the next two years.

Innovation is key: Rahimafrooz 

In 1954, Abdul Rahim started a trading entity named Rahimafrooz that was focused on garment retail. He then branched out to the battery industry, entering into a joint venture with British investors.

In 1990, Rahimafrooz, which was serving as a battery distributor until then, took over manufacturing and went on to become the leader in the industry and one of Bangladesh's most prominent business groups.

In the early 2000s, it introduced Bangladesh to the concept of supermarket, challenging the traditional cultural buying habits of households.

Today, Rahimafrooz has concerns in the automotive aftermarket, power and renewable energy sectors as well.

“The moral values that he (Abdul Rahim) emphasised continue to be values that we try to hold on to today,” said Niaz Rahim, one of Rahim's sons and a group director of Rahimafrooz.

Having transitioned from a typical FB into a corporate business structure in 1998, Rahimafrooz prides itself on its transparency and integrity.

“We will never compromise on our integrity for profitability,” Niaz said.

Today, a large number of the second generation are involved in the running of Rahimafrooz. “In times of crisis we debate, discuss, and unanimously make decisions for the company, as everyone is affected,” Niaz Rahim said.

But to keep those not involved in the business abreast with the latest developments in Rahimafrooz a family council was set up in 2009. The family council hosts annual assemblies. With the third generation of the family entering the workforce, Rahimafrooz follows well-established procedures for integration.

They are given an orientation to the five fundamental values of the company and then put under a manager in the sector that interests them the most. “Such training is helping the newest generation to imbibe the company values while being prepared to lead the business in the future,” Niaz added.

Success amid adversity: Transcom

Success through sustainability and respect has guided the way for Transcom.

Having started its journey in 1885 -- in Jalpaiguri with tea plantations under the name of Tea Holdings -- the company has braved the challenges of independence of India and Pakistan and later of Bangladesh.

During the tough 1950s and 1960s, the company diversified into jute manufacturing and saw immediate success. Post-liberation, industrial nationalisation efforts led to severe financial difficulties. “I restarted my office with rental furniture and four people. There were times I had less than Tk 100 for my family,” said Latifur Rahman, chairman of Transcom.

Going from a place of affluence to such hardship taught Rahman a big lesson about the importance of ensuring sustainability. “Putting my feet up and giving up were not in my DNA.”

Rahman signed a bartering agreement with the Bangladesh government and Germany to import pesticides for the government and make payments with tea as the Bangladesh Bank had very limited foreign currency reserves to settle the bill.

This opened the gates for more opportunities globally. Transcom soon became the official buyer and exporter of tea for one of the largest Dutch tea trading companies in the world.

Since then Transcom diversified its business into multiple sectors by partnering, franchising and working with leading global multinational corporations. In 1983, the name of the organisation was changed from Tea Holdings to Transcom.

Honesty and transparency are the basic requirements for Transcom, Rahman said, while stressing on the need to maintain global standards in everything it does, makes or sells.

Through the growth and expansion of Transcom, he has incorporated subsequent generations into the businesses.

The next generations who decide to join the business go through rigorous training to understand the business ethos of the company and how it operates.

Given its affiliation with the highest number of global companies in Bangladesh, Transcom prides itself on never having defaulted on payments.

With the growth of Transcom, Rahman sees the major part of future management of the organisation comprising more non-family members, which he believes will be beneficial for all stakeholders.

“I hope the future of Transcom will see it develop from a Bangladeshi company into a regional company, and then into a global company while retaining its Bangladeshi identity and roots.”

Values biggest driver: Meghna 

Established in 1976 as Kamal Trading Company, the growth and expansion of the Meghna Group of Industries has made it one of the frontrunners and drivers of Bangladesh's emerging economy.

The group was established with a value-driven culture, strongly inspired by the mother of Mostafa Kamal, the chairman of the group. “Due to my upbringing, there was always a considerable amount of appetite in me to face challenges with courage and passion.”

The group consists of 35 industry verticals and is pushing to make it 50 by 2020. “To make such a colossal growth sustainable, we must count every paisa.”

Kamal focuses on putting the customer first and always encourages his colleagues to go the extra mile to ensure satisfaction irrespective of the company's position and function.

“As an organisation, we always put respect, responsibility and relationships first to foster humanitarianism. Value-driven intentions will always create better results and leave an enduring impression in all of our lives.”

Incorporating his children in the group has been important for Kamal. Currently, three of his children have joined the business after having completed their higher education.

His grandchildren also visit the office frequently and this exposure helps create a link between the professional and personal perspectives of the organisation.

“Meghna Group of Industries will grow and excel based on a shared value system, which will distinguish us and give us a competitive edge,” said Kamal, who has dreams of seeing his company become the most progressive and admired business groups in the country.

Transforming traditions: Ananta 

Challenging traditional norms and innovating to push boundaries have been the guiding principles behind Ananta Group becoming one of Bangladesh's most prominent garment manufacturers.

The organisation was established in 1991 by Humayun Zahir.

The initial years of Ananta Group saw it venture into manufacturing industries such as garment, paper mills and toys.

Before he could see his business scale the heights, his life was cut short and his sons, Sharif Zahir and Asif Zahir, took over.

After taking over, the brothers revamped the organisation and went on to make a mark in the highly competitive garment industry in Bangladesh.

“I believe in stability. We were young at the time and wanted to change everything, so I took time to adjust,” said Sharif.

When they started, Ananta Group consisted of a single factory with 1,500 employees, but through their efforts aimed at expansion, the group, as of 2018, consists of eight factories with 26,000 employees.

As Bangladesh is well known for denim bottoms, Ananta Group initially focused on the value-added aspect of the product, developing expertise in the finishing process.

Additionally, the organisation has not been afraid to venture into a diversified range of products within the apparel industry that are not common in Bangladesh, such as suits, sweaters and lingerie, thus making it both unique and a pioneer.

Ananta grew at rates of 25–30 percent per year in the last decade, while the industry grew at 15–20 percent, thereby staying well ahead of the curve.

The driving force behind Ananta Group's growth has been the shared passion of the brothers to make a difference.

Asif, after a stint with Google, joined his elder brother at the FB and complemented him in terms of strategic thinking.

“We never want to be a small player in any industry we enter. There will always be opportunities elsewhere, but we have to be careful with how we diversify. We have specific competencies that will allow us to be successful,” said Asif.

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