Syed Alamgir, Managing Director, ACI Consumer Brands is a distinctive figure amongst the corporate veterans due to accomplishments that have traveled far beyond the borders of Bangladesh. His introduction of ‘halal marketing’ has kickstarted a worldwide marketing phenomenon and made him the first Bangladeshi marketeer to be cited in the prestigious marketing book, the 13th Edition of the’ Principle of Marketing’ by Philip Kotler. He was also the winner of the first-ever Marketing Superstar Award in 2019.
Having completed his MBA from the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka, Syed Alamgir joined British pharmaceutical company May & Baker in 1976. From there he went on to work in Pegasus Shoes, Jamuna Knitting and Dyeing, and Aromatic Cosmetics Ltd. He also received his Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle, USA. He joined ACI Consumer Brands in 1998.
The following is an abridged version of the exclusive interview of Syed Alamgir conducted by Bangladesh Brand Forum.
From a humble beginning, you have become the only marketing superstar in Bangladesh. Can you tell us what it takes to achieve such a feat?
I think it was the passion that brought me to where I am today. I always wanted to achieve something substantial in life. Originally, I had a knack for civil administration so I never thought I would become a business professional. Which is why I set out to learn more about the developments of my country and the world. I knew to acquire attitude and used to read the daily newspapers, and issues of Reader’s Digest. I would take suggestions from my elders regarding influential books of the time.
If we analyze your career path, we can see that you always take pioneering movements, be it in product, brand or business development. Can you share some insights regarding that?
If you talk about halal marketing, after seeing success in Jamuna’s Aromatic Cosmetics venture, I decided to launch a soap in a market that had been dominated by market leaders for decades. To compete against this would be a tall order. Looking into my product, I had a eureka moment when I compared the ingredients of my soap against my competitors. Thus ‘halal’ soap was born. Little did I know that the subsequent success would see itself become replicated everywhere and become a global phenomenon.
Similarly, when I worked with ACI to launch pure white salt, I studied salts from other countries to understand how they were made and tried to replicate that. To market our pure iodine-infused salt, we decided to connect the use of healthy salt with brain development in the youth – a fact that was not only honest but also very effective in the minds of Bangladeshi consumers.
A big part of marketing is identifying the need-gap in consumers and fulfilling them. I understood that the storage of salt is a difficult issue for most of the households. I devised my packaging into a double-layered large jar for storage, and a smaller version to keep as a tabletop, which would not only ease the problems of my consumers but also ensure that iodine is retained in the salt for much longer than usual.
We noticed that your works in the brand building have three common themes – compassion, love, and patriotism. Can you tell us where these themes originated from?
I would like to start with my upbringing. My parents were pious and loving and they brought me up to become a good person. That played a role in my work and career. Secondly, there is great affection within myself for my country and its people. Over my entire career I have sold many products and introduced many brand propositions that were enthusiastically accepted by my consumers. Therefore, I am grateful to them and have a responsibility towards them. I see myself as sitting between the consumers and the companies I manage and I cater to the needs of both. I want to give my consumers quality and a good value for money and this is my ideology for consumer interest protection.
Furthermore, I think about the legacy that I will be leaving behind as a human being. When I’m no longer around, I want people to think that I had been a good and honest man and I want people to feel fulfilled with the products that I have brought to the market.
You are often referred to as the Philip Kotler of Bangladesh due to your creation of brands in Bangladesh as opposed to simply selling brands. Would you like to share some thoughts on that?
I have been a student of business all my life and have pursued it vehemently. I am also present in academia, having given speeches and lectures in universities. I have taught at North South University, Daffodil International University, and Southeast University. Among all the achievements, the day I was cited in Philip Kotler’s book, was a day my family and myself cherish the most.
ACI is one of the largest conglomerates of Bangladesh and a proud Superbrand representing Bangladesh in 88 countries worldwide. What lies behind its success?
Whenever people ask about the secrets behind our success, I always tell them to follow three things. The first is quality. In developed countries, quality is assumed but here in Bangladesh providing quality is treated as an option. This is why in ACI we stress quality first for our customers. Secondly, an innovative approach to marketing. Thirdly, proper penetration through distribution.
Regarding your management approach, since you are a believer of equal opportunity and that resonates with ACI’s employees. How did you establish that?
Equality is embedded in my mind. Women make up half of the population and they have proved their capability in the workplace. So I see no reason to be biassed when it comes to providing equal opportunity in our company. I try to bring about a 50/50 ratio in my employees and create a safe working environment for women is a critical responsibility of mine.
Can you tell us three words of wisdom for the young marketers of tomorrow?
Firstly, I would like to emphasize is knowledge. Gain the right knowledge about your work by pursuing education and practical experience. The second thing that I would like to emphasize is hard work. Work hard in whatever task you have. Thirdly, develop good merit. Have patience and develop merit. Only then one can climb the ladder to success. There are no shortcuts when you want to be successful in life. One more thing I wish to add is to be happy wherever you are. Accept the present and build on that to get to the future.