Life’s Work: An Interview With Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar, Professor, IBA, University of Dhaka

Life’s Work: An Interview With Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar, Professor, IBA, University of Dhaka

Ispahani Black Tea Credit BannerDr. Syed Ferhat Anwar is a top-rated professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. He is regarded as one of the most influential experts in the field of marketing, strategy, and management in Bangladesh and his ideas have been widely used in organizations and industries across the country. He is author of 3 major books on business management and has over 60 publications in international and national journals.

In this interview Mr. Anwar reflects on his serendipitous journey to teaching, prior to teaching he worked at BRAC- first as a Staff Economist and later as an Export Manager, his idea of teaching as a profession, shares his thoughts on education, our faltering education system that puts undue importance on grades over knowledge and the idea of marketing and changing landscape of the industry, discusses the idea of knowledge economy, the future of Telecom, Banking and RMG and the traits that separate successful companies and explores the eminent importance of having a purpose in life and why forming an opinion is way more important than having one without proper understanding.

The entire interview is a magnificent read in its totality, enduringly excellent, intellectually empowering and a feast for any curious mind. Happy reading!

Future Startup

Tell us about yourself and your journey to what you are doing today.

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

I did my Honors and Masters in Biochemistry from Dhaka University before doing an accidental MBA from IBA. My coming to business administration was more of a chance incident than choice. In 1982, when we were doing our biochemistry lab work, which I used to love, some of my friends decided that they would pursue an MBA from IBA.

Frankly speaking, I did not know much about IBA at that time. So when they asked me whether I would be interested in applying I had no clue. Long story short, after much thought I gave IBA admission exam, partly because of peer pressure. We, eight friends, gave the exam and the one expected least to get in got the chance.

I don’t know even these days how did I get the chance because I was the most ill-prepared one while all of my friends, who did not get the chance, took extensive preparation for the exam. I was good at English and math which probably contributed a bit but that does not explain the whole story. I would rather say that I was lucky. Talent is almost always overrated!

Although I got the chance, I was not decided whether to attend IBA. In fact, I was initially reluctant to leaving biochemistry for a business administration degree. I had chosen biochemistry, albeit motivated by my doctor Father, and I loved the research part of it. But again luck intervened. One day, while doing practice in the lab one of my friends got herself seriously injured. I and one of my friends were in her lab during that time and I had to take her to the hospital. When I returned home, I was almost drenched in blood. I am the only son of my parents and when my mother saw me in that state and listened to the story she made the decision that biochemistry is not for me and I would rather go to IBA. Although it seems she was a little over concerned but she was not entirely emotionally driven. I have been fairly accident prone throughout my life and my mother was always concerned about it.

In the meantime, my mother also did a little bit of research about IBA. She was convinced given the reputation it already had during that time. That accident, to a certain extent, ensured my coming to IBA despite the fact that I did not wholeheartedly want it to happen.

At IBA, I did okay. I was not a particularly bright student but I was not a bad student either. I was particularly active in extracurricular activities. That was actually my strength more than academics. Right after joining IBA, I met Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of BRAC in an occasion where he offered me to join BRAC. I was a biochemistry graduate pursuing an MBA and he offered me quite a strange position of a Staff Economist at BRAC. He said that it does not matter that you have a biochemistry degree, you are now going to business school and your science background would help.

So I joined BRAC as a staff economist while doing my MBA. I then climbed the ladder and later became an export manager. I worked at BRAC for over 5 years.

After five years I decided to leave BRAC because I had to deal with a person whom I did not regard as someone honest though I highly respected Sir Abed, who I still regard as one of the greatest personalities the world has seen. Moreover, I came to see that this person was not questioned for his misdeed and was doing unethical things without any consequences. I was sensitive about these things and decided that I would not work with such a person.

I was then closely working on the development of export channel for Aarong. I was also closely associated with the early launch of Aarong. When I told Sir Abed that I was resigning, he did not take it easily. I had to commit that I would work to hand over the responsibility to an appropriate person at BRAC to ensure the smooth development of Aarong and its export channel.

Teaching is a scary job. Initially, it was even more so for me. Even these days, I don’t feel entirely sure of myself while teaching. And if someday I do not take enough preparation I feel real discomfort.

I already graduated from IBA when I decided to leave BRAC. Dr. Alimullah Miyan sir was then the director of IBA. He was very fond of me. After leaving BRAC, I met him in an Alumni program. During the meeting, he offered me to join at IBA. I was a little taken back and told him that Sir I’m not an academic type. He said that you would do well.

In the meantime, DH Khan was opening BEXIMCO computers where I gave an interview for a manager position as well. A couple of days later, I got a call from Alimullah Miyan sir and was asked to collect my joining letter to be a lecturer at IBA. In the evening, I got a call from BEXIMCO but I could not take it because I had already committed before that whichever offer I get first I would take it. So I joined IBA.

Joining IBA was not part of a big career plan. In fact, teaching was not my passion until I started teaching. I ended up here by pure luck. Life is largely nonlinear and serendipitous.

Teaching is a scary job. Initially, it was even more so for me. Even these days, I don’t feel entirely sure of myself while teaching. And if someday I do not take enough preparation I feel real discomfort.

I started teaching at IBA in 1987. The first course that I taught was finance. Professor Miyan told me that Ferhat you take a finance course at the beginning. My second course was accounting and my third course was law. These were rather peculiar for me because I was not given my core area marketing.

Now that I look back, I find myself extremely lucky that I started my teaching profession with finance and accounting. It is true that you can only connect the dots looking backward. These are rather very systematic subjects in nature. Then I taught law which was an open subject. In law, rationality development is very critical which you can apply to a lot of other things which significantly helped me in developing a broader perspective on things.

After law, I first taught international marketing which was also a very good thing for me although I partly resented it at that time. Teaching international marketing helped me to develop a global perspective on the subject.

I now teach core marketing and related subjects. I love marketing because I think marketing has a lot to contribute to the society.

People often misinterpret marketing appropriating it with lying, misrepresentation, and playing with the cognitive weaknesses of people but the purpose of marketing is none of these. Marketing is rather a tool and a system and the result depends on how you use it. The day I realized that marketing is for the greater good of the society and it has a lot to offer to the society, I have felt at home and taken it more seriously.

I first did marketing when I was at BRAC- working on the development of Aarong which I later linked with my Ph.D. Aarong is an interesting model. It collaborates with independent artisans who produce products on the basis of sub-contract and then sell through Aarong. It came from an outreach program where we used to encourage people in villages to live a better life through various awareness building programs.

After that, another program came in called Rural Credit and Training Program (RCTP) under which World Bank and some other donor agencies gave financial support to BRAC and similar organizations to distribute financial aid to the poor people to eradicate poverty. This was a huge step forward for us. Before we were only building awareness but now with the new intervention we’re asking people to take loans from us instead of Mahajans.

It was also a complex move because giving a loan was not enough. In order to bring intended results ensuring proper utilization of the money was also critical. Otherwise, the entire project would turn into a futile exercise. That’s when we came up with the idea of income generative activities.

I proposed that instead of giving people a mere loan, we would rather give them income generative activities and then give loan against that activities. So we started asking people to make products. But then we realized that making products is just one part of the whole thing, we also have to sell those products. That is where Aarong concept came in as a marketplace to properly distribute the products.

So my early marketing education was at BRAC – a rather informal chain of marketing that works entirely differently and probably works only in the context of Bangladesh – which I found very interesting.

When I decided to do my Ph.D., I decided to do it on marketing systems with a concentration on the informal sector and I linked it with Aarong. If I had to do it on informal marketing systems, I could not do it outside Bangladesh because nobody would accept it. I looked at the opportunities. We had a collaboration with the University of New Brunswick Canada. I wrote a proposal to them. I was and is probably the only candidate to ever do a Ph.D. in such a peculiar pedagogical context. I said I want a sandwich program. My course work would be done in Canada and my thesis would be done here in Bangladesh. I registered both at Dhaka University as well as at the University of New Brunswick Canada. My course grades were awarded at Canada while the degree was awarded in Dhaka University.

Since I did my Ph.D. on marketing systems with a focus on informal sector marketing I had the opportunity to work at the intersection of marketing and social enterprise. Now I’m focusing on designing marketing interventions to achieve social goals and more interested in working at the intersection of marketing and social change.

Joining IBA was not part of a big career plan. In fact, teaching was not my passion until I started teaching. I ended up here by pure luck. Life is largely nonlinear and serendipitous.

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Future Startup

How do you look at teaching as a profession? How do you approach your job?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

Teaching is a fascinating profession. There is almost no other profession that resembles teaching. It is the only professional where you become a leader the day you start teaching. When we go to the classroom, we become leaders by chance, not by choice.

This has implications that many of us don’t realize. One is we get to meet the expectations of a leader. Although most teachers start without much understanding of this trait, we develop it over the time which is an incredible asset.

At the same time, we earn the respect of our students and to some extent of society without much work.

That said, not all the teachers earn respect. This is a strange thing and indicates a very profound human weakness. Because most teachers were students at one point in time. Invariably, when we were students we came across teachers we did not like for reasons. The sad thing is that when we become a teacher we often forget this. As a teacher, I should know that the things that I disliked when I was a student, it is likely that my students would not like it either. We must actively try to overcome those limitations.

The way I see teaching is that we have this incredible opportunity to change the trajectory of the lives of people and thus a country and a nation. We get to influence people for the better or worse. Naturally, as a teacher, most of us expect that our students would become good human beings. But we forget that teaching is a profession of setting the example. Human beings are wired to be influenced by actions than talk. In order to create good human beings we, teachers, have to be good human beings first. We have to show by examples.

Another perspective is knowledge. As teachers, we get paid for gaining and imparting knowledge- a rare opportunity that very few professions have. But in our culture, we consider teaching as just another job. Most teachers, despite having the opportunity to become a true knowledge worker, seldom take the pursuit of knowledge as something integral to their being- the result of which is evident in all over our academia.

The way I see teaching is that we have this incredible opportunity to change the trajectory of the lives of people and thus a country and a nation. We get to influence people for the better or worse. Naturally, as a teacher, most of us expect that our students would become good human beings. But we forget that teaching is a profession of setting the example. Human beings are wired to be influenced by actions than talk. In order to create good human beings we, teachers, have to be good human beings first. We have to show by examples.

Future Startup

How do you think about education? There is a widespread discussion about the consistent decline of the quality of education in our society, what do you think about it?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

I would rather talk about knowledge. Because education is a process and what we are ultimately seeking is knowledge. In order to gather knowledge formal education is not mandatory. You can either gather it through going to school or you can teach yourself.

When I was at BRAC, we used to offer informal adult education to enable people to live a better life. We used to give basic literacy and teach about healthy living, nutrition etc, which, to my understanding, is the real knowledge – knowledge about how to live a good life. Any good education is not about literacy rather about preparing ourselves for life.

Now what we are seeing is an unprecedented growth in the number of BBA graduates in this country. Every university in the country now offers BBA degree. This has destroyed the entire business education. We are not producing capable business graduates rather people who come and memorize things and go out without learning almost anything valuable. This is no education.

One of the key flaws in our system is that it emphasize on the rote memorization. But that should not be the case. The book is a reference material and the history of past. The purpose of understanding our past is to understand our future through understanding the gaps and this helps us to add new knowledge to the old ones. If we can’t add new knowledge then there is no point in studying past knowledge. But we are exactly doing that.

In the recent years, the entire purpose of the exercise of education has become grades. Good grade triumphs everything while it should not be the case. I don’t see grades as important as knowledge.

The other most important thing is discipline. Discipline is something that I value highly. I think it is a cornerstone trait that can influence a lot of other things about you. We have to teach people the supreme importance of values and systems. There is a story behind this though. In 1990, I met a traffic accident while coming to the university along with my daughter, wife, and father and lost my eyesight. I could not see completely for three years. After three years and receiving treatment in many different countries, I came to see partially through one eye. I got my full eyesight back in 2005- after fifteen years. I did my Ph.D. with one eye when I was barely seeing. The accident happened because another driver broke the rules. When I lost my eyesight, many people within the academia wanted to do things beyond system and rule using my injury as an excuse. I wanted to prove them wrong, I reworked on my lifestyle and focused on two things, discipline through focusing on the system and moral values which would provide the mental strength. That’s why I can’t stand indiscipline and injustice.

Future Startup

You started your journey at BRAC as a Staff Economist in 1982 before starting your teaching profession and then you joined IBA, Dhaka University in 1987. You have over 30 years of experience in teaching and helping create business leaders in Bangladesh. Tell us about the biggest lessons from all those years.

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

Honesty is an invaluable quality. Be honest regardless of situation and consequence. And do no harm to the humanity. These two things should be your guiding principles in whatever you do for the society and for yourself.

Learn and explore things deeply. When you are learning something make sure that you understand ins and outs of it. We are living in a shallow culture. We often like to give an opinion but seldom take the time to form one. Having a deep understanding of things is more important than having an opinion. Invest your time and effort in developing a profound understanding of things.

Likewise, when doing something, commit. Do it wholeheartedly. Give your 100%. Commitment is increasingly becoming a rare quality in our society. If you can cultivate and take advantage of it, you will go far.

We are living in a shallow culture. We often like to give an opinion but seldom take the time to form one. Having a deep understanding of things is more important than having an opinion. Invest your time and effort in developing a profound understanding of things.

Future Startup

You teach marketing and are one of the most influential figures in the field of marketing in Bangladesh. How do you think about marketing as a discipline and discourse?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

The central work of every business is creating and meeting demand at an optimal point. Rest of it are support work. If you can’t create and meet the demand then there is no business. Once there is a demand and you are also meeting it, then comes the management of that demand. Marketing facilitates this creation and management of demand.

Now if you consider any activity in the society, the central tenet is that there is demand creation and then management of that demand. From that perspective, marketing is crucial to every other activity that we conduct no matter whether it is business, teaching, social change or politics.

Human beings are driven by their wants and desires. Critically looked this is an immensely powerful statement which has the power to explain the entire human affairs- our society, problems, and everything. Marketers take the time to understand these wants. Done right marketing can change individual lives or a society for better or worse. For instance, family planning and poverty alleviation are some of the areas where many organizations applied the knowledge and understanding of marketing to bring sustainable changes.

Technological innovations that we are seeing today are driven by the human desire for constant improvement. But in order to make these innovations work, we have to create demand for it. There are many interesting innovations, for instance, Segway, that failed because it failed to create a demand.

Future Startup

Technology is changing almost every industry and marketing is one of them. The advertising industry is going through a major shift globally. We are seeing, for the first time in decades, the great unbundling of TV, thanks to Netflix and relentless pursuit of TV ad dollars by major social media networks, slow death of advertising as we knew it, a handful of alternatives to conventional mediums and channels. If you consider all these changes, how do you see marketing in the context of Bangladesh?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

Disruption is always a good thing because it indicates we are moving forward. The changes that we are seeing all around us is a very logical progression. Change happens all the time. New technologies kill old ones. New systems replace old ones. The question is whether we are using these new technologies positively and for the benefit of the society or not.

Digital technologies are nothing more than medium and channels that marketers can use to serve the society and their target market better. Since these technologies are new it is your responsibility to understand the intricacies of these technologies so that you can take advantage of it.

While it is natural to be overwhelmed by all the changes that are happening but it is also important to understand that most of these changes are not as profound as we think. Moreover, we accept technologies that we find useful and abandon those that we don’t see as beneficial. For instance, although social media is a hot topic now, it has already reached a saturation point because of over-indulgent nature of the medium. A pushback has already begun. The negatives of Facebook and other similar mediums are surfacing more often now.

While some of these changes will have a profound impact on how we communicate, consume, shop and transact, most are just incremental growth. And many would not last long.

At the end of the day, it is all about what you are offering to the people. If your product is great, unique, and fulfills a want that is in demand and good for the society it is always going to win.

Future Startup

What does it take to be a great marketer?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

Be a continuous learner. The world is changing fast, the only feasible way to keep up with it is through learning daily.

When building a product, you have to create something that benefits the society. The world is increasingly becoming transparent- a shift that is hard to avoid. If you look at the rise of organic food and similar trends, the shift is evident. So be authentic and good.

Be sensitive to changes. We are lucky that internet and this small boxes (mobile phones) are there now. We can understand changes in real time. In the past, access to knowledge and information was very difficult but things have become a lot easier for us now. We can access things instantaneously and understand things on the go.

I think if you have an eagerness to learn, do good things for the society, are sensitive to changes, can think critically and creatively and have a willingness to explore then you are well on the way to becoming a good marketer.

Future Startup

You have written 03 books and have a number of research papers but this generally is not a strong side of our academia. We have a serious dearth of local understanding and local knowledge about business, technology and many other industries and disciplines. Our business education syllabus is largely based on the foreign context. What do you think about this?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

This is a very important question. I have written a book which is waiting for publication on local companies and entrepreneurs with a lot of case studies. I did it to understand the local context and learn from the achievement of our people.

I’m considering a sabbatical to write another book in the context of Bangladesh taking from Taleb’s antifragility theory and a few other concepts that I believe can benefit us hugely as a country.

Now it is true that we don’t have a strong local knowledge base for many disciplines and industries but I’m not entirely negative about it. I think we have made quite good progress over the past years. And it is unrealistic to expect that we will have a thriving knowledge sector overnight.

We have achieved incredible growth in terms of literacy rate, access to primary education and more. We have seen some progress in creating local knowledge as well. I’m hopeful we will see more in the coming years.

Yes, we could have done better and I think academicians have a lot of responsibility to take in terms of why we could not do better. Our academicians, as individuals, should have moved forward and collectively institutions should have taken up the responsibility of creating local knowledge, doing more groundbreaking research moving disciplines and industries forward but most of us did not.

Why we could not do more is a good question to ask. Is it because we are risk averse or happy with the less or we like comfort? Whatever the reason, we have to wake up and come out of this comfort zone and limitation. We have to contribute more. We have to get out of this individualistic syndrome. Individuals must share their strengths and work on others’ weaknesses to form a collective wisdom.

When building a product, you have to create something that benefits the society. The world is increasingly becoming transparent- a shift that is hard to avoid. If you look at the rise of organic food and similar trends, the shift is evident. So be authentic and good.

Future Startup

I wanted to ask you about a couple of industries and your observation about them. First of all, Telecom industry. We have four players and GP is the leaders with significant market share. My question is how do you see the future of Telcos given that internet messaging and a lot of tech innovations are happening in this space? And according to many people, the future of telecom is going to be challenging.

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

Given the rise of messaging and digital technologies, telcos have a challenging future but I would say it is far from a bleak reality. Rather I would argue that Telcos in Bangladesh has a lot to do.

One aspect I see telcos can have a great future if they work on data analytics. There are huge potentials there. Of course, there are risks and regulatory issues as well but if they can dig it properly there is a solid chance of breakthroughs. Big data is a big space. Telcos are sitting on data mine and they should find a way to use it in a legal way.

Net neutrality and regulatory aspects aside, digital has also opportunities to offer to telcos. But you have to find ways to deal with regulatory aspects and properly conduct under the net neutrality guidelines. The entire point is that you have to understand the entire spectrum and intricacies to take advantage of it and innovate. Lest we forget, whoever works on this real-time huge data sets will be able to offer greater offerings for societal wellbeing and thus build a sustainable brand.

Future Startup

That same question for Banking Industry. We have bKash, which to my understanding is one of the few disruptive companies in Bangladesh. Globally FinTech is disrupting banking industry slowly but surely. And according to many industry insiders, the sector is over saturated. What do you think about the future of the banking industry?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

I think technology will continue to play a greater role in terms of taking banking service to more people and making it more efficient. Digital is likely to disrupt retail banking in a major way. That said, I don’t think the days of conventional banking is over yet because banking is about trust and security and for digital, the challenge will always be to ensure the same level of security given the state of hacking and all that.

If you look at the state of plastic money, it is not yet that popular in Bangladesh. One reason is of course trust and the sense of security. People still don’t clearly trust this mechanism. This trust factor is the key here.

Our traditional personalized banking will become more specialized and will deal with more sensitive and unique issues that are either unique to the client or to the company. Thus, the total number of bricks and mortar banks are likely to rise while the size may reduce. The more generalized offerings will become a commodity through the use of technology.

Considering all these aspects, is digital going to disrupt banking in a major way in the next few years? not exactly. There will be changes, more adoption of services like mobile and internet banking but the relevance of banking will be there. Some people will accept mobile banking and more technology-driven aspects of it and some may not. It is hard to predict what will exactly happen. Digital, apparently, is having an upside but we should not completely roll out the chance of conventional model either.

Now come to the point of the number of banks that we have. I think the problem is not the number of banks rather is that everyone is becoming a ‘me too’ bank. Everyone is doing the same thing, offering same products and service and no one is innovating and exploring untested waters.

As we speak, don’t you think we need good quality investment banks or sector specific banking facility in Bangladesh? I think we do. But there are not many who look at the opportunity at the niche levels or undertake proper gap analysis.

I’m really optimistic about the potentials of our financial sector. We can become a truly financial hub for the world. The two nearest financial hubs that we have are Singapore and Hong Kong and we are well positioned geographically to become another since we reside at the heart of India and China.

Future Startup

What is your observation about innovation and innovation culture in Bangladesh? Why don’t we see that many innovations from local companies?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

There is a disconnect here. Globally, innovations are largely led by universities. It is hard for companies without huge R&D budget to innovate. Moreover, most companies are busy in managing their day to day activities.

Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, our universities are designed to teach alone. There is not much incentive for innovation in the system. Moreover, our universities are not yet equipped to help foster innovation which is sad to acknowledge. Consequently, we don’t see that many groundbreaking research or innovations from academia.

Moreover, it seems that our academia does not have a genuine interest in research. We publish just for fulfilling our tenure requirement. We don’t publish things that are great and go beyond our comfort zone.

One of the responsibilities of universities is to help foster innovation. It is not only about technological innovation but almost everything. Academia needs to innovate systems and theories that would push us forward. This is an area where we need to put our resources and effort.

Future Startup

RMG sector employs the biggest number of the labor force in the country but there are questions around wage and the standard of the working environment. Now robots and other technologies are coming into the space that will potentially destroy jobs. What do you think about labor issues in the RMG sector as well as the future of the sector?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

RMG is an extremely price competitive industry. Buyers are constantly asking and looking for low prices. Now as a manufacturer, if you can offer a competitive price, your chance of selling more thus making more profit goes up. But how do you offer a competitive price? It is either through increasing efficiency and productivity or through cost cutting.

With all the due respect, a majority of the people RMG sector employ are either unskilled or semi-skilled and productivity-wise it is a hard call for many given the price-sensitive nature of the industry. The point I’m trying to make here is that there is a two-sided effect. If we can’t offer competitive price our buyers would not be staying with us creating a much bigger problem than the low wage. If we want to serve our buyers we have to cut on costs when we can’t improve on productivity in order to accommodate a competitive pricing. Consequently, wage goes down at times.

One way we can increase wage is if we can have more skilled labor. In order to improve productivity, we have to provide training which is costly to some extent but which many companies are trying. There are loans and other facilities from development partners but often times those are costly due to interest and all the baggage that comes along with it. We are in a quite complex situation here and it is short sighted to explain it simply.

Now come to the technology and future part. Automation will destroy many modular and low-end jobs but I don’t think it will be able to replace human. Human angle will always be there and will always be critical. There are things like changing human psychology, design, and management that you would not be able to automate. For design, there is a huge room to play. When other aspects of RMG become a commodity and cheap due to automation, fashion is something that will be of high demand.

If our entrepreneurs decide to take this opportunity Bangladesh can become a pioneer here. It all depends on the strategy you undertake. Good news is that things are happening in the sector. Center for Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry, an organization working for the betterment of RMG sector, has already started working on these issues. They are now collaborating with the Government, BUET, Dhaka University, and other facilitating agencies such as ILO and other brands and donors are working in areas like inclusive business, green manufacturing, fashion, and design, etc. This will be something really interesting to observe and focus on.

Globally, innovations are largely led by universities. It is hard for companies without huge R&D budget to innovate. Moreover, most companies are busy in managing their day to day activities. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, our universities are designed to teach alone. There is not much incentive for innovation in the system. Moreover, our universities are not yet equipped to help foster innovation which is sad to acknowledge. Consequently, we don’t see that many groundbreaking research or innovations from academia.

Future Startup

What does it take to build a successful company and why do some companies succeed while others fail? Do you think there are some characteristics of successful companies or companies that fail for that matter?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

Companies that succeed are open in nature. They are open to experimentation and exploration and change. They are innovators and invest in the long-term sustainability of the brand. These companies are unique and always moving forward. They break norms and take risks and build things that last. Consequently, they fare better during the time of difficulty. Of course, they are system oriented which allows them to move fast instead of holding them back.

The another aspect is people. Great companies are all about great people. They empower their people and allow them to operate independently instead of dictating them. Now we train managers at business schools but it is hard to mold a leader. We may guide them and inspire them and give them some tips but it is hard to create a leader if you don’t want to be one. This is how I look at it.

I don’t think we contribute much in creating leaders, my colleagues may differ with me but that is how I think. Let me give you an example. One of the few people who changed local private banking in Bangladesh is Mr. Kazi Mahmood Sattar. He was MD of EBL and then the City Bank. He joined EBL when EBL was almost nothing, now see where it is. The same thing he did again at the City Bank. And the most interesting fact is that Mahmood Sattar failed at IBA. Now if somebody claims that I trained him that’s why he is so successful that would be preposterous. Mahmood Sattar had that material. These are the people who make difference in companies and places. They don’t care about status quo and make things happen regardless.

In startups and every other industry, we need to find this kind of mad and a little out of place people and help and motivate them and give them opportunities. We should not put them under the systems rather allow them to experiment and explore.

Then there are companies that maintain a certain kind of status quo and don’t want to go to uncomfortable territories. In our culture, there are companies that don’t want to go beyond the understanding and orders of owners. These companies don’t sustain in the long run.

We have companies like Akij and City Group, Rahimafrooz, DBL, Square, BEXIMCO, ACI, Viyellatex, PRAN and many others that are doing great work- people who founded these companies were and are very open minded. As a result, they become not just large businesses but also sustainable brands. That’s how I see it.

Future Startup

Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

What is the purpose of my birth or of anyone for that matter? My life is not a gift to me, it is a gift to others. When I teach marketing I now talk about a new P – which is purpose. I think that purpose is the center of our life and the life of any organization and company as well.

We are here for a reason. That is equally true for a company and brand. Our purpose is what makes us different from others. When we come to identify and understand our purpose, we become a better person, companies become better companies. We can distinguish ourselves from others and contribute to the society better.

If I want to be something, I have to contribute. If I can’t contribute, I’m nothing. That is my simple perspective.

Companies that succeed are open in nature. They are open to experimentation and exploration and change. They are innovators and invest in the long-term sustainability of the brand. These companies are unique and always moving forward. They break norms and take risks and build things that last. Consequently, they fare better during the time of difficulty. Of course, they are system oriented which allows them to move fast instead of holding them back.

Future Startup

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar

People. That’s what I do as a teacher. I try to help people and if I can help some of these people to realize their full potentials, I would be happier. I’m proud of some of the people I worked with. Shariful Islam of Brand Forum is one of them. He takes advice and makes things happen. I’m proud of him. Another person is Dr. Enam Ul Haque, we learn from each other and he is doing some wonderful work. There are scores of such individuals across the sectors who have contributed far more than I have in taking our beloved nation forward. I have had the privilege of working with many and unfortunately, I am not mentioning them in the fear that I may miss someone. My task has been to share with them knowledge so that things go better. I have learned more from them under any measure.

I want to work with people who are very strong in their mind and have a strong passion for the country and the humanity. There are many people out there who can make a difference and want to. I want to help as many of them as possible and be a small part of their lives. I want to be part of people who are not miser in heart and want to give back to the society.

I’m not concerned about my legacy because it does not matter at the end of the day. When I’m gone, I’m gone. Nothing would be a matter anymore to me. I am a religious person and believe that we are created to contribute to the humanity. That is what important to me.

Find your purpose and pursue it. Don’t do anything for making money or earning fame alone. Be honest in your pursuit. If you want to get rich, don’t start a company. That is too hard a choice. There are other easier ways to getting rich such as robbing a bank! That’s easier but no fun in terms of achievement.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just getting started?

Ferhat Anwar

Find your purpose and pursue it. Don’t do anything for making money or earning fame alone. Be honest in your pursuit. If you want to get rich, don’t start a company. That is too hard a choice. There are other easier ways to getting rich such as robbing a bank! That’s easier but no fun in terms of achievement.

Be yourself because everyone else is taken. If you want to be me or someone else then you would never be able to be a better version of me or that other person. But you can be the best version of yourself. This equally applies to companies. Don’t try to be a ‘me too’ company or follow others. Be an original.

It is hard to find two people identical. We are unique and our ideas are unique- an important fact that we often overlook. Have faith in yourself and try to be your best self.

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