Syed Alamgir, Managing Director & CEO, Akij Ventures, and its subsidiary Akij Food and Beverage, is a renowned marketing personality and the only individual to hold the title “Marketing Superstar” in Bangladesh. He is internationally recognized as the pioneer behind the marketing ideology of Halal products, a phenomenon which had been quoted in Dr. Philip Kotler’s famous publication “Principles of Marketing”. Alamgir completed his MBA from the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka and started his career with May & Baker, a British Pharmaceutical Company. He later went on to join Jamuna Group in 1992 as Group Marketing Director, and then to ACI as Executive Director of Consumer Brands in 1998. Recently, Syed Alamgir had joined Akij Ventures to start a new chapter working with Akij as it prepares to invest in many new sectors.
BBF: From a very humble beginning, you have become the only “Marketing Superstar” of Bangladesh. Can you tell us what it takes to achieve such a feat?
Syed Alamgir: Back when Faridur Reza Shagor announced that a Marketing Superstar of Bangladesh would be judged, I had no idea that it would be me. A lot of industry experts and influential figures were involved in the evaluation process. I would later find out that a lot went into the judgement criteria, particularly performance at the individual level as opposed to the organizational level. They also assessed my acknowledgement at the national and international level – including from Philip Kotler himself.
If we analyze your career path, we notice that you always take pioneering movements, be it product, brand, or business development. Can you share some insights regarding this approach?
For as long as I can remember, since my childhood, I had always aspired to do something different. I always stood first in class as the prospect of being the class captain appealed to me, and I tried to stand out from the rest. That appeal remained even during my time at IBA. When I started my professional career, the need to stand out was always there. When I was working for a pharmaceutical company, I received seven promotions in my 16-year career – a feat that is quite unique in the industry. When I joined Jamuna and launched a soap brand, I decided to infuse premium and unique fragrance for our soap as well as increased size for the same price as our competitors. In determining the USP, I had an epiphany to incorporate the branding of “100% Halal” in our soap. I faced opposition when putting these ideas forward, but I was adamant, and the rest of course is history. I also introduced ACI Salt which helps developing merit and the dream of a meritorious Bangladesh. Always innovating, doing something new – that is how I approach life. I never want to follow others. I always believe that I am just as capable as anyone else in the world.
In your work of brand building and product building, we notice that you follow three ideologies: compassion, love and patriotism. Why do you focus on these three?
I am very particular about the criteria for building a brand. A brand is a promise. When I claim that my soap is halal – I ensured that it was absolutely a fact. Your products must be genuine and your claim and promise must reflect that. You should back your claims with authenticity. For all my life I have worked hard to ensure that a strong brand image has been created for every brand that I worked on. Which is why they all remain strong to this day.
You always focus on creating brands, as opposed to selling brands which a lot of people do. Can you elaborate on this?
I think I have been born in this world to do something remarkable as anybody else. I entered the world of marketing to create brands. I remember when we were signing the deal with SC Johnson & Johnson back when I was in ACI. My wife had called to console me as we agreed to sell our brands to the American company which was eager to increase its foothold in the country. She made me realize that even though these brands were being sold, it had been me who had built them and conceptualized them. I even came up with the name for three of the brands, “Vanish”, “Angelic”, and “ACI Mosquito Coil”. She told me that I had developed them as if they were my own children, and I should be proud that one of the world’s top companies is interested in acquiring them. The essence of this anecdote is that you must focus on creating and building brands that sell themselves.
Akij Group is one of the largest conglomerates of Bangladesh. According to you, what lies behind its success?
Akij Group has made significant contribution to the national economy over the years. Some of the prime reasons behind its success are due to the beliefs and characteristics Mr. Sheikh Akijuddin had instilled in the company – his belief in quality and ensuring consumer’s faith in the brand. He made it clear that his company should never fool its consumers. Today, if you take a look at any venture that Akij has entered, they are all committed to the consumer and in ensuring that quality never comes second. This is also true for Akij Food & Beverage Ltd. Each and every product produced are of best quality and the best practices have been applied for the quality. Take the case of ‘Frutika’ which, supplied in pet bottle, is the only juice having no extra preservatives and flavours. All its competitor products are produced through the hot fill process, whilst Frutika is produced in state-of-the-art aseptic process that keeps the fruits’ taste and quality unchanged. No other company boasts this facility which requires great investment. However, these are a testament to Mr. Akijuddin’s values of quality that he had instilled.
Innovation is the backbone of a sustainable brand, a philosophy that we see you practice fully. Can you elaborate on this?
Innovation is the key to success. I always try to approach things from a different perspective. Let’s take for example, ACI Salt. Instead of taking a generic approach, I focused on a key insight and expanded on that. Thus the brand came to represent growth in children’s intellect, an idea that was firmly imprinted on the target consumer’s minds. However, one thing I ensured when coming with a new approach was that the idea was planted on the truth, because you can’t win hearts through dishonesty. Many other brands, for example “Savlon”, have been instilled in the hearts of even young consumers sheerly due to the experience and trust built by the brand.
In addition to practicing innovation, another thing we notice in local brands is that our global reach is weak. What should Bangladeshi brands do ensure a stronger foothold globally?
I think, first and foremost, we need to look into the quality of the products our brands have to offer. If you take FMCG products for example, you’ll note that developed nations offer higher quality and differentiated offerings for every Bangladeshi alternative. If our products are to compete against that, we need to compete on quality and differentiation at their level. Secondly, we should solidify our foothold locally first and capitalize on local consumer insights to perfect our products over time. It’s only when we have a refined award-winning product can we think about taking it beyond borders. Finally, you need to have the ability to invest heavily to establish in a country abroad. In order to compete properly, you need appropriate funds in strengthening your supply chain.
Could you give us a few words of wisdom for the young professionals working in the industry?
The youth need to have the mindset to work hard. There is no elevator to success. In marketing, you need to be keen to identify a gap in need of consumers to be fulfilled by a company. This is a serious skill that young professionals must master. To hone such skills, they need to work on them. There is no district in all of Bangladesh where I have not been to in order to get first hand insights on how people perceive the products that I am offering them. See how my competitors are faring in their minds. Another skill they must have is the ability to think deeply. When I am working on a new product, I get to the very core of it. Finally, always be on the pursuit of knowledge. The world is constantly changing, and you need to be at the top of your field in terms of your knowledge.