November 5, 2017

In conversation with Shehzad Munim, Managing Director, British American Tobacco Bangladesh

Shehzad Munim | Photo Courtesy: BATB

From a young Bangladeshi undergraduate to becoming the first native Managing Director of one of the leading multinationals in Bangladesh, Mr. Shehzad Munim himself defines what “resilience” is truly about.

With a very humble beginning, Mr. Shehzad’s career took multiple dynamic turns throughout the years and has led him to become who he is today.

A great smile appeared on his face as we asked him about his early days. “Initially I had two job offers the moment I graduated”, he started to recall. “One was Dhaka-based and the other one was BATB’s. My father particularly liked the BATB offer as it involved me getting exposed to a completely different setting and work with a lot of people. I was brought up here in Dhaka, so the transition was about to be challenging. And that is exactly what my dad wanted me to go through”.

And off he went to Sylhet, his first posting as a Territory Officer in 1997. It was a very significant time for BATB at that moment, with a new product about to be launched in that district and young Shehzad was more than enthusiastic to take on the challenge. “My first posting has taught me one of the most valuable experiences of my life. In my first meeting with the distributors, I was supposed to train them from a “Best Practice Manual”. But it turned out that these individuals have already been working with BATB for 10 to 25 years! So, I decided to turn it into a two-way discussion and while they got to know about the sales and distribution theories, I got to grasp their invaluable market insights. This was crucial. It taught me teamwork and to be able to gather knowledge from anyone, anywhere possible”.

But the next phase of his career was even more challenging. “After serving in Sylhet for about a year I was transferred to the Head Office, where I found the workload to be surprisingly low. And hence I asked my superiors to give me some more tasks. That is when I was given the option to handle the local brands; which came with a promotion as well.” He gave a cheerful smile and continued “I was young, enthusiastic and full of determination. Hence, I went for it. But later it turned out to be the worst year of my professional career so far. With a shocking performance rating and disasters – I had my back against the wall. But I persevered with the help of my peers, bosses and the entire organization.” And suddenly his face became more serious as he said, “This debacle has surely taught me how to assess my own capacity and take calculated risks.”

Our conversation then spun around and went towards the global scenario. Mr. Shehzad, throughout his illustrious career, has worked in several other countries where BAT operates and we eagerly wanted him to share his overseas experiences. “Well, my first posting was in New Zealand. Going to work in a developed nation as a citizen of a developing nation, I surely had high hopes of getting to learn a lot from their practices. But it turned out to be quite the opposite. Within 3 months I began to realize that there are many insights from the Bangladeshi market that can make a significant impact on theirs as well. And so, it began – a process of both contributing and gaining knowledge.”

“My stint in New Zealand gave me other great opportunities as well”, Mr. Shehzad went on. “As a Brand Manager, I was in charge of supervising the Premium portfolio. My colleague who supervised the Value-for-money portfolio was suddenly posted to Australia and thus, it was up to me to manage both these portfolios simultaneously. A few months down the line, not only was I aptly managing these two portfolios, I was bringing tremendous results as well. This particular thing boosted my confidence unlike any other incident in my career.”

But the industry veteran had many more foreign stories up his sleeve. “I came back to Bangladesh and worked here as Head of Marketing for 3 more years and then was appointed as the Head of Marketing of the entire South Asian region. My career in foreign countries has taught me flexibility, teamwork and has given me plenty of global insights”.

And how could I not ask him about today’s scenario in terms of Marketing? “From electronic sales data collection to a complete turnaround in the consumer perception – the growth has been phenomenal within the last 20 years”, he mentioned. “People are leaning towards digital platforms more and it’s been quite an exciting journey for us to make our customers connect to our brands.”

He also went on to mention the numerous possibility of innovations that the industry has in order to deliver superior value for the various stakeholder. The word “value” brought us to the topic of CSR and a gleam of positivity radiated all across Mr. Shehzad’s face as he started talking about BATB’s various CSR projects. “Our biggest project so far is Bonayon – a forestation program which has been going over for 36 years. We distribute saplings in various parts of Bangladesh and we’ve won 5 National awards for this project so far. Probaho is another project of ours where we provide water filters in arsenic-contaminated communities. The beauty of Probaho is that the entire project is run by natives, while we only go for routine monitoring. Our youngest project is the one where we provide electricity in the Chittagong hill tracts using solar power.”

As for BATB’s other projects, he went on to talk about Battle of Minds, a platform where undergraduate students are exposed to numerous business challenges, thus learning to bridge the gap between their theoretical knowledge and the practical skills required in the real corporate world. As a program successfully operating for 14 years now, Mr. Shehzad Munim was proud to mention that Battle of Minds has helped shape the lives of many students in equipping them with skillsets of the corporate realm.

We were almost at the end of our conversation. In his closing remarks, he directed a few words, towards the youth. “There are a few skills that you must master”, he urged. “Work on mastering learning agility, teamwork, perseverance, leadership and of course, the courage to lead. These will not only ensure you a kick-start to your career but become a better individual as well”.

Interviewed by Raiyan Rumman
Compiled by Farhat Zishan

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