IN CONVERSATION WITH MUBINA ASAF, HEAD OF LEGAL & EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO BANGLADESH
A practicing lawyer turned corporate legal professional, Mubina Asaf has redefined what a legal practitioner can achieve. Heading the Legal and External Affairs division at British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BAT) since 2013, Mubina Asaf is one of the seven members of the top management team of BAT Bangladesh.
Ms. Mubina began as an associate of Rokanuddin Mahmud and Associates. She left her mark at the Attorney General’s office of the Government of Bangladesh as the Assistant Attorney General and then as Deputy Attorney General of Bangladesh in the time span of 7 years. She moved on to become a senior partner at Maxima Legal. All of these experiences add up to 24 years in the legal profession. She is an Advocate of the Dhaka District Court, High Court Division and Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. She is also in the advisory board of SEID Trust – an organization working for the special needs children since 2009. Ms. Mubina has been recently awarded by WINGS (Women in Need Group) for Corporate Leadership in 2018.
In this interview, she shares her experience with BAT Bangladesh, her work-life balancing mantra and her thoughts on women professionals to succeed.
Bangladesh Brand Forum: From a Legal practitioner to a corporate, how was your experience?
Mubina Asaf: It has been a very long journey. I started back in the early 1990s. After 19 years of pursuing a career in various areas of law, I wanted to change the course of my career and joined BAT Bangladesh as Head of Legal and External Affairs in 2013 and since then it has been an exciting journey for me. The choices that I made have shaped me into the person I am today.
Being a mother and a corporate how are you balancing both?
I hear this often; it is difficult when you have a family with young children. Every challenge teaches you how to work around it. I do agree that women, at a time in life stand contemplating between staying at home with children and going back to work. This is the moment when we really need to focus. These are challenges that all mothers face, but when facing adversities, we must have courage and confidence to pursue our dreams. I believe, women have come a long way. In retrospect, now women are in unorthodox industries such as the aviation industry, military, sports and many other fields. I am glad that women are occupying higher positions in the corporate world as well. I would like to encourage them to follow their passion, dream and embrace every opportunity. As Shirley Chisholm said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”.
Recently BAT Bangladesh was awarded as the most female-friendly organization. How do you see this organization developing female talents?
BAT Bangladesh has done exceptionally well in terms of developing female talents. Currently more than 10% of the organization represents female talents and 30% of the leadership roles are led by women. BAT Bangladesh has been recognized as Most Female Friendly Organization twice in the country and this tells the story of the organization which strongly supports the female leadership talent agenda, conducive policies for women to grow and the challenging work space everyday a female talent is going through. This organization provides a great environment for women to work and grow more over the years. I am really proud to be a part of this organization.
There is a new generation coming up in the corporate sector. How is your organization working to create the landscape for them to grow?
We are at a crossroads; 30% of BAT Bangladesh are the new generation talents and we take a lot of pride in grooming our talents. We have leadership programs and initiatives conducted by the top management team, which not only trains them but also mentors them to understand their work and deliverables. This allows them to slowly realize what the organization expects of them – in terms of culture, behavior, work ethic, delivery with integrity, and a mindset that the newer generation needs to absorb. Freedom through responsibility, enterprising spirit, open mindedness and strength from diversity are the guiding principles which we instill through our leadership sessions. We train them to be resilient and focused when faced with adversity. My advice is that there will be barriers, blocks, occasional dips, detours and dead ends. One has to be patient as it is, “just a bend not the end”.
BAT Bangladesh has a platform called Battle of Minds. How do you see this platform creating an impact for the talents in the society?
Battle of Minds is a skill development and recruitment platform. It is in its 15th year and this year it went global for the first time. It gives us a lot of pride to see that the young talent of Bangladesh did so well in the regional round that they have now earned the opportunity to go to the global stage. I am very hopeful that BAT Bangladesh will clinch the global title. Battle of Minds is a platform for the younger generation, when they are in their final year of university and they are unsure of what awaits them in the corporate world. It puts them through this rigorous process of mentoring, training, and grooming to develop the skills of the students and give them an exposure of what to expect from the corporate arena. This youth development is in line with the government’s SDG goals in terms of human resource development.
Every business works with the community through their CSR programs. How is BAT Bangladesh working in this space?
We have three flagship CSR initiatives. Our afforestation initiative dates back to 1980. We have a long history of 38 years of this CSR in Bangladesh and are one of the pioneers in this field. We have distributed 95.5 million saplings so far. We have received 5 national awards and 2 international awards in afforestation and continue to shine brightly. Another CSR project, Probaho, is an initiative that started in 2009 and we have 73 water filtration plants in arsenic prone areas. Probaho is helping nearly 190,000 people every day by giving them access to clean drinking arsenic free water. Through our third project, Deepto, which was incepted in 2011, we have installed 2,064 units of Solar Home Systems in four remote villages in Bandarban and Khagrachari districts through this initiative is giving rural families their first access to electricity at home. BAT Bangladesh contributes to 9 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by creating impact through our CSR initiatives.
Recently you have been awarded for your success in Corporate arena. Tell us more about this.
It is indeed inspiring to be recognized. The organization named WINGS (Women in Needs Group)– they work with underprivileged women and recognize women who are successful in their own fields every year. I was humbly honored to have shared the platform with my teacher, Mrs. Nilufar Manzur, the founder of Sunbeams along with other inspiring women.
What inspires you?
My source of inspiration has been my father. He has taught me to be resilient, courageous and to believe in myself despite adversity and disappointments. What also inspires me is to see a gradual change in the mindset of our society. Now women are successfully working from every sphere of the society and taking on challenges and building resilience.
What is your mantra; what is your advice to the future leaders coming to the corporate field?
My mantra has always been, “Believe in the power of self”; respect yourself and have faith in yourself. I believe, discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments. One should also ask for help if required at any stage, because, it is not a weakness to seek for help.
My advice to the future leaders is that constantly improve yourself and your capabilities. Dream big and challenge the status quo. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Step out of the history that is holding you back, step into the new story that you are willing to create”.
Interviewed by Syed Ahnaf Bakht