Life’s Work: An Interview With Ishtiaq Ahmed, CEO, Kazi Farms Group (Feed Business)

Life’s Work: An Interview With Ishtiaq Ahmed, CEO, Kazi Farms Group (Feed Business)

Ishtiaq Ahmed, CEO, Kazi Farms Group (Feed Business), reflects on his journey, his experience of working in diverse industries spanning from FMCG to telecom to energy to agri-business, lessons from his journey so far, the importance of getting out of comfort zone in order to realize our full potentials and his management philosophy, why hard work is the ultimate antidote to life’s perpetual challenges and the ephemeral nature of life and why helping others to grow is the best form of legacy.

Future Startup

I want to start at the beginning of your story. Where did you grow up and how was your early life?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

I came from a typical middle-class family. My parents are highly educated. My mother did her MA from DU almost 43 years back and she was in the teaching profession for around 40 years. My father had the higher education from the then West Germany in late 70’s and was a Government service holder.

They embedded a very high degree of family and social values in me and always emphasized on having a quality education.

I was not a genius student but not a bad student either. I was an above average student but always focused on gaining knowledge rather than scoring high. I was very much in sports and used to play football, badminton, hockey and cricket in our local ground. Cycling was my passion and I also loved flying kites.

I used to have pet Pigeon and would love them flying in the sky during the windy weather. I also used to have fighter chicken and would go around participating in fighting competitions. I had a very rewarding and cheerful boyhood.

Future Startup

You have over 20 years experiences (12 years in FMCG, 6 years in Telco and 2 years in the Energy sector and now in the Agricultural industry) in reputed MNCs like BAT, GSK, Robi Axiata in various cross-functional senior positions including CEO. What are the biggest lessons from all those years?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Throughout my career, I have always stretched myself and put myself into discomfort zones and grabbed all opportunities to work in different cross functional roles in diversified industries.

I have got direct exposures to multiple industries like FMCG (British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola, Reckitt Benckiser, GSK), Telco (Robi Axiata Limited and Banglalink), the Energy sector (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) and at present working in the Agricultural sector.

My key lessons from my professional career are:

  1. You learn more when you throw yourself into discomfort zones and can gain superior knowledge and skills over most of the executives.
  2. You gain a significant competitive edge in terms of managerial skills, knowledge, self-confidence, emotional intelligence etc. when you work in multiple industries.
  3. Self-discipline is a must for a successful career
  4. Execution of PSR (Personal Social Responsibility) has a very high ROI. PSR to me is activities like sharing knowledge and professional experiences with university students, career counseling etc.
  5. Passionate curiosity to learn from everyone even from a sales representative is important. Continuous self-development is a must to be successful.
  6. People leadership augments your own brand equity. If you have respect for people then they will enrich your own brand equity.

You learn more when you throw yourself into discomfort zones and can gain superior knowledge and skills over most of the executives.

Future Startup

Where do you see the Bangladesh economy going over next few years?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Bangladesh noted over 6% (app) GDP growth rate over the last ten years despite different external challenges like political unrest, flood etc. Bangladesh is being rated very high by different global bodies and institutions in areas like progressive development in economy, the significant upswing in social development index, education, women empowerment, rapid growth in internet users, robust growth in mobile penetration etc.

The country has a population of around 165 million with a huge young population. Putting all these factors together, it can b safely predicted that we are ready to take off and we will be one of the fastest growing economies in next ten years time.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Management is all about empowering people you work with. I maintain a couple principles when it comes to managing people and things:

  1. Creating an enabling environment for my team to learn and helping them to grow professionally.
  2. Rewarding meritocracy
  3. Continuous self-development through reading professional books and learning from others on top of formal training programs.
  4. Connecting with people
  5. Giving back to the society in the form of form of PSR (personal social responsibility). I spent time consciously to share my knowledge with the university students who are the future leaders of the country. I also spend significant time in career counseling, coaching and mentoring.
  6. Respect for people

While it is always challenging and frightening to get into an unknown territory, it has been immensely rewarding an experience for me.

Future Startup

What are the biggest risks you have taken to move forward?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

I have always taken high risks of getting out of my comfort zones and taking up challenging roles in completely different industries that are reflected in throughout my 20 years career.

While it is always challenging and frightening to get into an unknown territory, it has been immensely rewarding an experience for me. Taking risks has allowed me to have following exposures.

  1. Working in four different industries (FMCG, Telco, Energy sector and Agricultural)
  2. I have direct experiences in both Telco and FMCG industries as Sales Director which is rare to come across.
  3. I have worked as Vice President in leading organizational transformation under the umbrella of EPMO (Enterprise Project Management Office) in Robi Axiata Limited. It is hard to find Sales Director with hands on exposure in EPMO.
  4. Leading a company in a completely new industry like energy sector i.e. LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) as CEO and gaining 22% market share within 15 months and setting new best practices in the industry.

The journey of trying anything new is not easy. It is difficult and it takes an enormous amount of courage and hard work and you have to be ready to take accept the discomforts and challenges. That said, achieving anything worthwhile takes hard work, dedication, and discomfort.

There is no exception to hard working and integrity

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in life?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

I have already touched this during the ‘’lessons from my life’’ section as stated above. I will simply add a couple points and re-emphasize few things:

  1. There is no exception to hard working and integrity
  2. Respect people
  3. Invest in developing yourself. Be a relentless learner and develop yourself through reading professional books and learning from others
  4. Never give up and keep moving with other options
  5. Health is incredibly important for a happy life. Our lifestyle, eating habits, and corporate life is extremely damaging. Obesity with high BP is a common health issue across the country. I myself was badly affected and recovered through a very high effort. Cycling, controlling food habits and walking in the early morning or at night are highly recommended.
  6. Be a self-critique on a regular basis. Honest self-criticism will help your rapid self-development.
  7. Develop a good rapport with two to three Mentors. Do enough homework before choosing a company and career path.
  8. Enjoy life responsibly. Try to spend time in nature often by simply grabbing any opportunity to go to nearby natural places.

Finally, take care of your parents. They are the ONLY well-wishers on earth without any self-interest other than your well-being.

I strongly recommend the fresh graduates and young professionals to read the following books.

a) ‘Awaken the Giant Within ‘ by Tony Robbins ( How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny)
b) ‘The Power of Self-Discipline’ by Brian Tracy
c) ‘Goals !’ by Brian Tracy

Life is ephemeral in nature. We are here for a limited time and then someone else will replace our places. Remembering this simple fact is incredibly powerful and empowering and it enables us to look beyond our limited self-interest and short-term goals. I am working now on a different platform to contribute on a bigger scale. I believe the best thing I can do is helping other people to grow and prosper in life. That’s the best kind of legally I want to leave behind.

Future Startup

What is your philosophy of life?

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Death is inevitable. When I look around the society it looks like that many of us have forgotten this universal truth of ‘death’ or being buried over too much passion for happiness.

We have become too much self-centric and putting all our efforts in making assets. We have miserably failed to define the boundary of success and expectations from life. We have forgotten that inequality is growing uncontrollably in our society and the majority of our population don’t get an opportunity like us to study in good public or private universities.

We have totally forgotten that we have a social responsibility as well that can be done within our capacity. People in developed countries learn about social responsibility from school education and get involved in community development from the student life. We are significantly behind in this regard.

I have grown up in a typical middle-class family with a very limited income of my parents. They sacrificed their standard of living to spend behind our education. I used to ride around 20 KM by cycle to attend college and save transportation costs.

I could not eat lunch during the 4th week of each month during my IBA (DU) life due to financial constraints. I used to have one glass of water with a cup of tea before attending the afternoon classes.

I did not share a critical disease with my parents during my MBA life as my parents would not be able to afford the surgery costs and I never wanted them to loan from relatives and bent down their heads.

I had that surgery done once I got the job in BAT Bangladesh. But the long delay damaged my health a lot and I still carry its consequences. I don’t regret at all as my parents sacrificed their personal comfort and happiness for our education.

You will get similar stories of many successful people who are from middle-class families.

I have sketched my student life briefly to set the tone to talk about my philosophy of life as stated below.

  • I always recall my past struggle so that I don’t forget my root and the values I have learned. It gives me the energy to face any situation on earth.
  • My parents strongly embedded in me that I have a responsibility to give back to the society within my capacity.
  • I enjoy life reasonably with the family and friends. I am spending significant money for supporting a quality education for the children rather than building assets for them.
  • I have spent quality time in mentoring, career counseling and sharing professional experiences with university students during weekends since last ten years. I could earn enough money to buy another flat by spending the same time in consultancy. But I strongly felt that these students need my support badly as not many corporate executives are around them to support and guide them. I also want to set examples for others and encourage them to come forward.

Life is ephemeral in nature. We are here for a limited time and then someone else will replace our places. Remembering this simple fact is incredibly powerful and empowering and it enables us to look beyond our limited self-interest and short-term goals. I am working now on a different platform to contribute on a bigger scale. I believe the best thing I can do is helping other people to grow and prosper in life. That’s the best kind of legally I want to leave behind.

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