Life’s Work: An Interview With Yasir Azman, Deputy CEO and CMO, Grameenphone

Life’s Work: An Interview With Yasir Azman, Deputy CEO and CMO, Grameenphone

Green-Tea credit bannerYasir Azman is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Grameenphone. Mr. Azman is considered as one of the finest business leaders in the country. Within the Grameenphone he is regarded as a transformational leader and change maker with superior execution capacity. Prior to joining Grameenphone, he worked at ANZ Grindlays Bank, British American Tobacco and has an impeccable track record as a result oriented leader who transforms.

In this interview Mr. Azman reflects on his journey to what he is doing today, shares his thoughts on telecom industry, innovation, leadership and strategy, discusses Grameenphone’s digital strategy, and future plans of the operator, addresses questions around net neutrality, quality and cost of data service, how Grameenphone tackles classic innovator’s dilemma when it comes to innovation, future of its digital services, and explores the eminent importance of hard work and incredible power of our action and why it is critical that our work adds value to the lives of others for a fulfilling life.

While the interview offers a rare window into the inner workings of one of the most important companies in Bangladesh, it is also a ledger of magnificent thoughts on innovation, strategy, and leadership from Mr. Azman. The interview is a compendium of personal anecdotes and lessons, an excellent and intellectually challenging read in its entirety.

Future Startup

Where did you grow up? Tell us about your journey to what you are doing today?

Yasir Azman

I was born and brought up in Dhaka, mostly in Dhanmondi area. My father, Saleh Choudhury, is a journalist and worked for Dainik Bangla until his retirement. He is the current president of Commonwealth Association of Journalists. We are three brothers and I’m the second oldest. I am married to Dr. Shifat Mehreen Kabir. We have a daughter, Ahona and two sons, Zadeed and Edaad.

I was an introvert, like my mother Shaheda Choudhury, throughout my childhood and was largely devoid of active involvement in extracurricular activities. But I had always been with people who were active in sports and other co-curricular activities. Both of my brothers were very active in sports.

I attended Kakoli High School for my SSC and Dhaka College for my HSC. I did my B. Com from National University and later did an MBA from IBA, Dhaka University. I did several executive programs from London Business School and INSEAD.

IBA, to some extent, helped me develop a new perspective on life. I became serious and mindful about what I wanted to do in life. I was learning a lot about business, albeit theoretical, but was always seeking opportunities to apply those lessons to real life problems.

This tenacity, partly, led to a wonderful experience. While at IBA, we – I and some of my IBA friends – started a small technology and education focused company called Maverick. Startup was not a trendy thing yet and hardware and data entry were the two major tech trends. We started small and were running the business on the side while doing our MBA. Due to the intense nature of IBA program, it was quite a stretch for us. Despite all the limitations, Maverick was doing well.

But things started to fall apart after the completion of MBA. Some of our partners suddenly realized that they want to pursue something else in life other than business. Four of our partners- all from Engineering background- decided to migrate to the USA for Ph.D. and higher studies and eventually going to work for big companies. A very natural choice which left rest of us with no alternative other than pursuing a similar path of corporate career. It was a very difficult decision to shut down what we built from the scratch but when the majority of partners decided to discontinue rest of us also had to follow suit.

Although we had to shutter the shop, starting MAVERICK was one of the best things that happened to me. It allowed us to gather practical experience in managing people, running an office, sales and more importantly it taught us the importance of work. I was responsible for marketing and sales and was very active from the beginning. For me, it was about finding myself. We used to work day and night. We would go out in the night with a van distributing promotional posters, putting up banners and everything.

Afterward, I joined ANZ Grindlays Bank- initially as an intern, then an officer. This was back in mid-1999. Another partner joined the same bank as a management trainee and one as a lecturer at the Dhaka University.

After a short stint at ANZ Grindlays Bank, I joined British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) in September 1999 in the sales, distribution, and trade marketing department, largely inspired by the idea that it would give me the opportunity to apply myself more rigorously.

I had a wonderful time at BATB and learned a lot. In 2004 I got an opportunity to work for Pakistan Tobacco Company under an exchange program among the Asian OpCos. It was fairly early stage of my career and came out as a big opportunity to test myself in a different environment and culture. So I took the opportunity. But going to Pakistan was not an easy decision. At that time, I had a one-year-old boy and just blessed with twin babies. My wife left her job, she was a doctor at ICDDRB, and convinced me to pursue my career. I was posted as an area manager and a project manager for merchandising in Islamabad.

I went to PTC for a three months program. The main purpose was my personal development as a manager. But I ended up working for PTC for almost a year. Because when my three months stint came to a close, Marketing Director of PTC called our MD, BATB, requesting an extension of my time as a permanent employee or in some other form. I was told that BATB MD was surprised because it was unusual to get such request for a junior employee. I continued at PTC for almost a year before returning to Bangladesh in 2005. After coming back, I took up a different role as a Marketing Planning Manager.

Around that time, I was approached by Grameenphone but I was not considering a change so I politely declined. After saying no to GP for a while, I gave it further thought and decided to give it a try even though BATB was the best organization for any marketer at that time and still it’s one of the very best places to work in the country.

Grameenphone was a relatively small company with about 4 million users. But I was quite aware of the fact that technology would change many industries and would be incredibly important for the country and the economy. After much thought, I decided to join GP.

Initially, it was a challenging experience. GP was a relatively new organization and in the high growth trajectory. Naturally, growth received more importance than process and systems. Leadership practice and culture were different. Whereas I came from a very matured multinational company with over 100 years of experience. But those challenges rather inspired me to work harder.

I realized that as a senior manager my responsibility is not limited to commercial aspects alone rather I should contribute to the leadership and cultural side of the company.

More than 6 of us joined GP in similar senior level roles in Sales and Marketing. We came together and decided to do something about it. We came to understand that instead of fighting internally over small differences, we need to fight externally and that’s competition. We started working on building a better culture and work practices. Ingvald Lyche from Norway was our leader and he empowered us well.

Now that I look back I think we were quite successful. Today, Grameenphone is the number one brand in the country with a clear positioning that provides leading tech solutions to empower individuals and societies.

Although we had to shutter the shop, starting MAVERICK was one of the best things that happened to me. It allowed us to gather practical experience in managing people, running an office, sales and more importantly it taught us the importance of work. I was responsible for marketing and sales and was very active from the beginning. For me, it was about finding myself. We used to work day and night. We would go out in the night with a van distributing promotional posters, putting up banners and everything.

We have done incredible works at GP to provide best telecom and technology solutions to our users. Today, we are building digital distribution capabilities which would significantly empower our users. We have made equally transformational changes in the past as well. One such move was our decision to rebuilding a completely new distribution model for GP in 2007. In Asia, distribution is as important as Network for MNOs to succeed.

In 2007, as the Head of Distribution and Logistics, I was given an opportunity to transform our distribution model from old structure- which was heavily challenged by the competition and we were losing market share- to a third-party-led model. We took the challenge head on. Within the next six months, we completely transformed our entire distribution model into a third party led model, an incredible feat achieved by my team members. We regained the confidence of our customers after the transformation and our growth resumed.

Through the experience, I learned that engagement from people across the organization could make impossible happen. It is people who make all the difference. It helped me to understand the importance and implications of delegation and empowerment and become a better leader.

In 2009, I took over the role of Sales and Distribution Director. I was told that transformation of distribution model and organization, engagement from people and subsequent results in customer confidence were noticed by senior management in Telenor. I ended up with a call from our Head of Asia at that point of time, now Telenor CEO, Sigve Brekke. He called me one day almost in the mid night in September 2010 and said Azman I need you in India. He was an inspirational leader in Asia and it was a big deal for me when he said I need you in India. Without much thought, I said yes.

I joined Telenor India in October 2010 as the Head of Orissa State Business. Orissa was not performing well at that time and I was tasked with transforming the organization. It took me six months to turnaround the business performance to one of the top ones. It was again people who worked hard with passion and dedication that made the difference. I didn’t apply any magic but I listened to people and we were successful in coming together as a team that helped us to succeed. I remember I even wrote a song for Orissa team and on our passion which was composed and became our inspiration during the tough time to put all out effort.

After the Orissa success, Sigve gave me another bigger challenge. I was sent to Bangalore which was an even tougher market to lead with not so good circle performance that required changes from many dimensions.

After a few months of hard work, business turned around. But we’re having regulatory challenges that led Telenor India to scale down operation in Karnataka.

It was a difficult decision, particularly because we had a great team and none of them would have a job once we scale down the operations. It was a terrible feeling. So I decided to put my best effort to ensure that all my employees are in good condition and have jobs before leaving Telenor India. I don’t know whether I was successful or not but I tried.

I went to the CEOs of all the other operators in India and told them that I have great people in my organization who have huge potentials but they are losing their jobs because of regulatory issues and if you recruit them it would be good for your company. To my surprise, I received amazing responses from many CEOs. When almost all my people got settled, I got into an interview and joined as the Head of Distribution and eBusiness at Telenor Group based in Oslo. It was an opportunity to work for all 13 Business Units of Telenor.

My family joined me while I was shifted to Bangalore. Before joining me in India, my wife was established in her profession as an ultrasonologist in Dhaka. She left her career for the second time and joined me with our three kids. Now that my time in India came to end, my family would have to move again.

In December 2012, my days in India came to an end, with lots of good memories and also with a bit of upsetting feeling my family accepted to move again. It is hard to make progress and take new challenges as a professional without the support of your family, more so when you work in an industry that demands your attention round the clock. I have been extremely lucky to have my family on my side all the time.

India was an immense learning opportunity for me. We were a late entrant there, a startup sort against the giants in the telecom industry. Orissa and Karnataka, although both in India, they were (and are) materially different. It was not only about thousands of miles of distance and east and south, everything from people to language and culture to food to perspectives on life, responding to your marketing initiatives all were different. I became adept at delivering my best outside of my comfort zone and dealing with different culture and people.

It taught me the incredible importance of knowing your people and customers and establishing emotional connections with them in order to be successful. Yes, pricing, product, and distribution all these things are important but expertise is widely available on those areas that you could easily apply.

Moreover, in India, I had the amazing opportunity to see and work closely with one of the very best inspiring leaders in the world, Sigve Brekke, currently the President and CEO of Telenor Group. He was then the Head of Asia and Acting CEO of Telenor India. We human beings are wired to be inspired by action rather than talk. It was incredibly inspiring to see Sigve’s energy, the level of commitment, hard work, ability to inspire and emotionally connect with the team, his genuine care for the people, and at the same time his ability to making difficult decisions under pressure. It was a lifetime opportunity for me.

I landed in Oslo on 3rd January 2013. I was taken over by all kinds of emotions- surprise, fear, and excitement. It was minus 17-degree Celsius on the day I landed. I started working for the Global Commercial team from the next day while also preparing for my family to join.

The day my wife and three of my kids landed in Oslo, it was again around minus 15 degree. We went to a shop for some necessities in the evening, after coming out from the shop five of us realized that we were shivering from cold and understood that all those warm clothes that we brought from Asia have no use in Oslo. The next day we went to shopping clothes.

It taught me the incredible importance of knowing your people and customers and establishing emotional connections with them in order to be successful. Yes pricing, product, and distribution all these things are important but expertise are widely available on those areas that you could easily apply.

Norway was a different life altogether but we managed to survive and succeed as a family as well as in my professional life.

After working for two years, in April 2015, I decided to return to Dhaka and join Grameenphone as the Chief Marketing Officer. At the time, I was discussing with the company for my relocation in Q1-15. Bangladesh was going through a severe political turmoil. From outside it looked worse. My colleagues and friends overseas advised me not to move back to Bangladesh but I wanted to return despite having other options. We had also quite a discussion within the family but finally, we decided to return to Bangladesh.

During my days in Telenor Group, I had the opportunity to travel to and work with all the business units in 13 different countries. I learned tremendous amount working and collaborating across Europe and Asia and tried to contribute as much as possible. We made good progress during that time. It was an experience of reinventing myself.

Working for development and strategy and taking over as the CMO of a company with 50 million customers are two completely different things. Initially, I was quite nervous given the enormousness of the responsibility but my seniors had confidence in me. Recently I read a comment by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, that you should not approach your work like you ‘Know-it-all’ rather it should be ‘Learn-it-all. In my two years journey as the CMO of GP, I think the same ‘learn-it-all’ approach helped me to help the company.

When I returned, business-wise we were doing okay but lagging behind in digital transformation and becoming a very traditional telecom company. The lack of energy and motivation to do something big was apparent. The company was in a comfort zone and was not also making enough changes to thrive in the internet century.

It took us almost no time to realize that we need an organization that is agile and can act fast with deliberation without being caught up in the processes and systems of a big successful organization – that is Grameenphone- in order to thrive in the internet century.

We felt the importance of finding and empowering young talents in the company, people who have no legacy of doing things in a particular way and could take responsibility and do things with speed. I started to channel this idea throughout the organization. There was a massive reorganization at the beginning to build a customer-centric competency driven agile organization.

We realized that the need of our customers in Chittagong are different from our customers in Sylhet or Dhaka and vice versa. In order to serve our customers better, we need to be closer to our customers and be able to meet their needs wherever they are. In order to be closer to our customers, we felt that we need to decentralize our decision-making process and empower leaders who are closer to the customers.

Being the commercial leader, I had to put myself at the front to decentralize our operations by empowering regions. We appointed five circle heads and empowered them to take the call for their business. However, we did not implement these changes all at once. Rather we started with one circle at a time and then based on the result, experience and learning from that circle we rolled out the strategy into other circles.

Technology is disrupting every industry. Every organization will go through this process of disruption. We don’t fully know where it will take us but we know it will disrupt us in a major way. Now we are on another journey (we will explore in a moment) and trying to find people who can challenge us and disrupt us before some outsider does. We are empowering people from inside who could build a new Grameenphone.

My entire management philosophy is around people. I believe that every person is unique and has unique strength. As a leader, your ability to find it out and employ it for the benefits of the organization is incredibly important for your success. If you can do that both employee and the company will benefit.

Throughout my career, I have been seen as a transformational leader and change maker who brings in the new perspectives as well as results. I like to think myself as a result oriented people’s leader who transforms.

I was an introvert, like my mother Shaheda Choudhury, throughout my childhood and was largely devoid of active involvement in extracurricular activities. But I had always been with people who were active in sports and other co-curricular activities. Both of my brothers were very active in sports.

A Message From Blender’s Choice Green Tea

Ispahani Green Tea Native ad image Why is Blender’s Choice Green Tea so special?
Only tea leaves of the finest and high elevation tea gardens of China are used in this blend. The subtle fragrances and flavors of this super tea combine health giving properties with an impeccable taste. The Ispahani Blender’s Choice brings you the exquisite taste of green tea, pure, exclusive and premium class. Know more here.

Future Startup

Our life often changes when we come across some sort of a catalyst, it might be a person, a book, or an event. What was the influence or inspiration that shaped you and contributed to becoming the person you are today?

Yasir Azman

I really feel that you need someone to look up to. Someone who really inspires you. Luckily, in today’s world, there is no boundary who can be that person. It can be one of your deputies. It can be someone you follow online or read about. For me, there were so many such incidences or people around, but I would like to share something I truly mean.

Part of my job at BAT as a territory manager was visiting retail shops to check our product presence and merchandising. I used to have a rather good relationship with most of my retail partners that helped me with my job. Their ability to do things never failed to amaze me. Most of these people had never been to any educational institution but they were skillful manager of their business. They knew why some products needed to be in the front and some on the back. They knew merchandising strategy, inventory management, pricing strategy and everything. These people used to keep probably several hundreds of different types of products and for all of their products, they remember prices and everything in their head. If you ask them for a Kg rice, utensils and a few others product they would easily be able to tell you all the prices at once without any assistance of an ERP system or laptop or anything for that matter.

That was the point when I realized that you need to respect people whoever it is. Every individual is special and has something that is only he or she can do. That was an inspiration for me to look at things differently and not take things for granted or for face value alone and that you should not judge people around you without fully knowing them.

I had the opportunity to work with two amazing leaders in the recent time, Sigve Brekke, (currently Telenor Group CEO and President), during my tenure in India and Petter B Furberg, Chairman of Grameenphone and Head of Emerging Asia Cluster at Telenor, both had significant impact on my way of thinking, looking at life and work.

It is not only seniors, in fact, I often get inspiration from my deputies. One of my deputies Sajjad Hasib who is leading our Dhaka Circle is my continuous inspiration for passion. I learn from my digital leaders Salman, Muntasir, Shabbir and many others in the team. They are way junior to me in years of experience and in the career path but I learn new things from them every now and then. I learn from every interaction I have with people around me. I try to take people seriously regardless of their label in the organization.

Above all, my father has always been an inspiration to me for his honesty and dedication.

Every individual is special and has something that is only he or she can do. That was an inspiration for me to look at things differently and not take things for granted or for face value alone and that you should not judge people around you without fully knowing them.

Future Startup

You have over 20 years of experience in building and helping companies to grow, what are the biggest lessons from all those years.

Yasir Azman

I have worked in many different cultures and geographies both in Asia and Europe representing three different multinationals. My biggest lessons are no different than what has already been said by many.

  • Focus on your present and work hard instead of looking for shortcuts to win.
  • Be transparent. As a leader, if you are not honest and consistent in your communication you will eventually lose your credibility. Even if something is not popular to act or say, being transparent helps build the trust and collective emotion.
  • The idea of thinking big sounds cliche an advice but if you want to be the person who brings about the change, transform and lead greater success for a company, you should cultivate the ability to think big.
  • Relax and let it go. Instead of fighting and competing internally over small differences, people who have the capacity to overlook internal competition and politics and focus on the real work will ultimately succeed.
  • Respect people. Every person has something that he or she is good at, as a leader your job is to put the right person in the right place. In my long career, I have seen time and time again people and an entire team to fail miserably and then again the same people to come out with great success.
  • Give credit to your team. Sometimes leaders make mistake by riding on team’s success. As a leader, it is your job to give credit and visibility to your team, make them shine, and help them build confidence. Allowing team to take credit for the works often helps build trust and eventually help build new leaders.
  • Upgrade before you are replaced. You can’t and should not expect that your position is a certainty and would save you if you don’t improve and change yourself. You should invest in your personal development and learn daily.
  • Execution is the key. I have seen in my early days in FMCG industry how important it is to focus on execution excellence. No matter how brilliant your ideas are, if you don’t put them into work they would bear no fruit.
  • Step back and reflect. Don’t just run. Take time off, think and rejuvenate. Spend time with your family and friends. It is hard to avoid captivating nature of life but we need to actively cultivate stillness into our life in order to see better angels of things and to ensure that our center is solid.
Yasir Azman

Yasir Azman

Future Startup

Grameenphone is celebrating 20 years anniversary, how much has GP evolved as a company over the past years?

Yasir Azman

If you go back to 1997, we first introduced the idea of village phone (Phone Lady) who used to take a mobile phone to connect one village to another, one location to another. GP first introduced the prepaid to prepaid call service which was fairly new at that time.

I would say GP has always been an innovative organization since its inception. However, in a big company, it is often not that easy to move fast and break things. As you grow you become process-oriented, structured and thus slow. GP has also gone through those phases. The uniqueness of GP is in its capacity to turn around and come out of such situation fast and even stronger.

GP’s ability to transform its distribution model back in 2007 was disruptive that helped to connect millions of people in Bangladesh within a short period of time and accelerated overall telecom penetration in the country.

In the recent years, GP has again proved that is is well capable of responding to the demand of time. GP’s endeavor to digitalize its core and introduce new digital services has been appreciated by its customers, both existing and potential.

Over the last 20 years, the company has proven that innovation is at the core of how we operate as a company. Our ambition is to keep inventing and operate as a lean organization so that we can respond to the changes in the industry and respond fast. We want to see Grameenphone at the forefront of digital transformation.

We are now working towards the goal of becoming the preferred partner of our customers’ digital life. We have introduced new digital services to make the lives of our users better. We have focused on Internet for all and started building digital competency within GP.

The most significant evolution, however, is that we have now a group of people who are visionary and want to make a difference. We have brought in new leadership in the digital team and promoted people from our internal team who have both discovery and execution skills.

Grameenphone has always been a customer-centric company. All the success that we have been able to achieve over the years is because we have historically taken our customers seriously. We believe that creating value for your customers is the key to success. We plan to continue doing that in the coming years.

I would say GP has always been an innovative organization since its inception. However, in a big company, it is often not that easy to move fast and break things. As you grow you become process-oriented, structured and thus slow. GP has also gone through those phases. The uniqueness of GP is in its capacity to turn around and come out of such situation fast and even stronger.

Future Startup

How much has the industry evolved?

Yasir Azman

The industry has evolved significantly in the recent years. From voice connectivity provider, it has become the internet connectivity provider. In 2013, when 3G launched we started connecting people through high-speed data. That said, we are yet to meet the pace of global development. In many countries, 4G/ LTE services are already a reality. We hope it will also happen in Bangladesh soon.

If you go to the matured market, telecom operators are now providing entertainment contents big time by acquiring big content providers, media outlets, and even established entertainment and news agencies. In our context, however, we need to have better clarity among the ecosystem players, stakeholders, regulatory level so that all can bring in synergic effect and empower our customers.

Earlier it was voice to data, now we naturally need to evolve into bringing in relevant digital services, be it our own or through partnership. We hope we will see tech neutrality and 4G soon. At the same time, it is important to solve the issues surrounding payment solution. Direct Operator Billing has a cap of 50 BDT only now which does not give motivation to our young entrepreneurs to innovate and develop new services as they don’t have right mechanism to monetize. These are areas industry must evolve further.

Telecom operators have potential to contribute to country’s development needs, i.e. health sector, education, agriculture etc by making right contents easily available to its subscribers. Grameenphone in partnership with Telenor Health already launched Tonic and I think there are much more to be done.

Future Startup

GP is an incredibly large organization. How do you make and then align everyone with major strategic decisions?

Yasir Azman

Grameenphone is known for its superb world class execution capability which says that the organization is well aligned to its strategic choices to execute.

In Grameenphone strategic choices are not made in the boardroom alone. We engage people from all levels throughout the organization while designing a strategy. For instance, we have engaged people from all levels in the process of developing a customer-centric strategy for 2020.

Management regularly engages with all employees to update about the progress, take their feedback and listen to their concerns and questions and bring necessary adjustments. Company-wide participation and engagement are two areas we put importance on while designing a strategy or bringing about any change.

Future Startup

You have launched a host of digital products and services over the past few years starting from payment to ecommerce to entertainment. How do all these services connect with GP’s core product?

Yasir Azman

Our vision is to empower the society. Any service we introduce has to be in line with delivering on our vision. Back in 1997 when GP launched its service in Bangladesh, it was not only for the people living in metros, it truly meant to connect people from all across the country including rural and remote areas. Investments have been made countrywide to build the largest network of the country from the very beginning.

With the evolution of technology, when data came along we launched the idea of ‘Internet for all’. Today, a growing number of people are connected to the internet and they need contents and digital services to make their life easy. Now becoming the partner of our customers’ digital lifestyle is in line with our vision. However, that does not mean we shall build all the digital services by ourselves. Our strategy is to collaborate with the ecosystem players, be it local partners, global or govt to bring in more benefits to our users.

We have seen the emergence of the cashless society in many parts of the world including our neighboring country. There are opportunities to explore in Bangladesh. We probably would not see high penetration of credit cards or plastic money but digital payment would still be incredibly important and would happen as we experience the faster growth of ecommerce in the coming years. To consume contents digitally, be it virtual or physical goods, payment solution is important. These are not isolated services but natural and adjacent areas of connectivity. As a telecom service provider, we have built billing capability, SMS, location intelligence and so forth. Many of these capabilities are expensive and difficult to build.

Today young people have this incredible opportunity to build new digital services, thanks to digital revolution, the world is open to win but it is difficult and often expensive for a young entrepreneur to build some of the assets that I mentioned.

So we plan to create an open economy where startups, app developers, and young entrepreneurs can use our capabilities through API connectivity and monetize their developments. This collaboration is so powerful that a 26 years old young person today sitting in Rangpur can develop his product and use our assets to make it successful. Our ambitions are higher and we are working on initiatives to make it happen.

In Grameenphone strategic choices are not made in the boardroom alone. We engage people from all levels throughout the organization while designing a strategy. For instance, we have engaged people from all levels in the process of developing a customer-centric strategy for 2020.

People at GP

People at GP during an event

Future Startup

On a similar note, how do you think about the overall digital strategy of Grameenphone? One way probably is to think from a platform perspective where you are trying to build an ecosystem with all the products so that you can earn more, retain your users and at the same time attract new ones proposing that a GP number is more than a GP number. On the other hand, as you said, if the number becomes less important an advantage then all these products must stand independently and your strategy looks more like a multi-product strategy. Can you tell us a bit about what’s going on here?

Yasir Azman

You are right to some extent that the number or connectivity has a huge value for us in terms of creating things around it and it being the center of other services today. For instance, Facebook, being a platform itself, is now building different services top of that.

In order to build an ecosystem, you need a platform. In our case, we have the number, which may not be as strong as something like search or social network but it is still incredibly important for us to think like a platform.

However, to me, our customers are the center of everything we do. Digitization is happening fast in Bangladesh. The demand for digital services is effectively infinite. You now consume information to entertainment digitally. We see an enormous opportunity there. In your digital life, we would like to be relevant by recommending most appropriate services you need in real time.

Our product portfolio is not what you see coming from Grameenphone alone. We have a higher number of services from our partners than our own. Some of our services such as Wowbox, Bioscope, GP Music, Tonic all are either through global or local partnership.

On the other hand, My GP, that digitizes our core, allows our users to check balance, activate or deactivate services, pay bills, buy packs, get special offers, and do anything and everything related to telco. We are now seeing additional demand from our customers for more services in the same app which opens up the opportunity to build an ecosystem. Over the time, MY GP may evolve into My Life from a customer perspective that fulfills all your need at one place. It creates immense opportunity for our partners and young developers to reach a huge user base digitally.

Nobody knows how things would work out at the end. You figure it out as you go. It is equally true for all the tech giants. Technological developments are happening fast, all these thoughts may not last for long to realize. It is important that we remove the barrier like DOB, payment solution fast so that we can get to the next level of development to empower our users.

So we plan to create an open economy where startups, app developers, and young entrepreneurs can use our capabilities through API connectivity and monetize their developments. This collaboration is so powerful that a 26 years old young person today sitting in Rangpur can develop his product and use our assets to make it successful. Our ambitions are higher and we are working on initiatives to make it happen.

Future Startup

When you are investing in new innovation how do you tackle the classic innovator’s dilemma that almost all good companies face when it comes to investing in losing new technology innovation given that they already have a winning business and it is logical to invest there instead of something that is not bringing you any revenue?

Yasir Azman

In 2016, during a press conference to announce Nokia’s smartphone division being acquired by Microsoft, Nokia CEO ended his speech saying “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost,” Upon saying that, all his management team, himself included, teared sadly.

I think it answers your question.

Innovation needs to be built-in into the DNA of a company. It should be an integral part of your company culture. Small innovations every day make big difference over a year.

In this internet century, if you are not focusing on innovation and disrupting yourself, you will be disrupted. We have been working hard to make innovation an integral part of our culture and the way we work because it is not possible in a regimented way.

Future Startup

You launched GP Accelerator in 2015. What is the plan for the program going forward? It seems the program is critical to GP’s overall digital strategy.

Yasir Azman

GP Accelerator program is designed to contribute to the development of tech startups in the country. We empower selected startup ideas with the resources they need to build, grow, and go beyond.

We encourage young people to come up with their ideas. If your idea is meaningful and has the potential to make a scaleable difference in the society and businesses we take them through a 4 months program that helps them to turn their ideas into viable business. We are offering these companies space, mentoring and other facilities along with a small seed investment. The program is running its third batch. We have seen incredible response and enthusiasm from the ecosystem.

Our aim is never to take over these companies that we are supporting. Rather our purpose is to help the ecosystem to grow, help the young people to grow, and if that happens our mission is accomplished.

We have Whiteboard- another platform which is more open in nature- where we host digital innovators and facilitate digital innovations through offering free space, mentorship, collaboration among innovators and more. These are our commitment to building the digital Bangladesh.

Innovation needs to be built-in into the DNA of a company. It should be an integral part of your company culture. Small innovations every day make big difference over a year.

Future Startup

What are the plans for ecommerce initiatives? There are questions of net neutrality when you launch a digital service and logically so because you might get extra benefit using your existing infrastructure and create a disadvantage for others. That said, what is the strategy here? Are you thinking it independently or as part of GP?

Yasir Azman

Grameenphone has been doing business in Bangladesh for the last 20 years. It is a responsible company, loved by customers, a brand that has been respectful to the society and operates with long-term commitment.

Grameenphone equally supports net neutrality and we have no interest in or intention of taking undue advantage. We fully support to create a policy to ensure net neutrality.

We talk about building digital services because given the technological development digitization of services and process is a very logical progression for almost every company. In the future, people may not come to our service centers instead ask for same services online.

We started GP online shop which offers our services online. However, when we launched the GP shop with a big media buzz, many ecommerce stakeholders and leaders have not taken it positively.

While we understand their concern, this is something that we have to digitize because this is a question of our existence and there is demand from our customers. Every company has to go through this digitization process. GP online shop is rather a digitization of our own distribution process and another channel through which we want to sell our own products, packages, and services.

Another ecommerce platform that we tried out as an MVP is Kidorkar.com. Kidorkar was a marketplace where small sellers could open a shop for a fee and start selling.

GP exists to provide best voice and data network countrywide. We are waiting to launch 4G /LTE services in Bangladesh when regulator permits. As far as eCommerce is concerned, we have given our views into the policy through AMTOB and wish to work closely with eCab, FBCCI, ICT division and other stakeholders to bring clarity and move forward.

Future Startup

There are a lot of questions around internet quality and internet price. For quality, it is not up to mark in many parts of the country despite the fact that we have 3G and people are paying equally.

Yasir Azman

I don’t want to sound arrogant saying you are not right. Grameenphone has the number #1 network both in population coverage and quality. We have covered more than 90% of the country geographically by 3G technology. All global benchmark shows it’s far better than expected. However, tech neutrality and more spectrum will obviously help to improve the quality further. Tech neutrality is extremely important to ensure seamless indoor experience.

Bangladesh is the second cheapest country in terms of data price. We are providing one of the lowest prices in the world.

This is a competitive market. With the increasing numbers of internet users and volume going up, price is bound to go down significantly. At the same time, increasing volume leads to high investment from the company to manage capacity.

Future Startup

How do people work at GP? Can you tell a little bit about the culture?

Yasir Azman

GP is a customer-centric company. We keep our customer at the center of every decision we make and every step we take. We promote collaboration, innovation, simplicity, transparency, high ethical standard and execution excellence within the company.

We believe in people. We engage and empower our people to bring best out of them.

Future Startup

There are complaints against all the operators of fraud, false offers, and at times too complex offers that people can’t understand. How do you see it?

Yasir Azman

I can not comment on behalf of other operators. Naturally, expectation is high out of a service that is part of your every single moment.

At GP, being simple is one of our strategic priorities, we constantly work on this. It’s a continuous process. Our only strategy is that we are a customer first company. We forgo revenue to protect the interest of our customers. This has resulted in a decline in the number of complaints even when our users are growing.

Future Startup

How do you think about strategy?

Yasir Azman

It is important that you have a vision and a strategy to deliver on your vision. That said, no matter how good your strategy is, your ability to execute is what makes the difference at the end of the day.

Future Startup

How to be good at execution?

Yasir Azman

Simple and clear communication for each and every person in the value chain and relevant services drive engagement of your team members. Engagement bundled with empowerment lead to execution excellence. In the process, you need to be detail oriented so that you can remove obstacles.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Yasir Azman

I would rather talk about my leadership philosophy and I think it would also tell you about my management style.

  • People make all the difference– if people are engaged and if there is a collective emotion you will see the wonder. Every person is unique and has at least one thing that he or she does the best. As a leader, your job is to find that out and ignite him/her to perform. Give your employees the freedom to develop their ideas, take the risk, fail, learn and grow.
  • Action – at the end of the day leadership is about action. As I mentioned, we can talk all the day about strategy and management and everything else but the way we make the real difference is only through our actions. It is critical that we realize the power of our action and lean towards action over everything else.
  • Transparency – we often don’t realize the power of transparency and its ability to build trust, credibility, belongingness, and sustainability. It is often intimidating to be transparent but the return is often higher.
  • Transform – constantly innovate, change and challenge the status-quo.
  • Passion – This sounds too cliche but it is true that if you are not passionate about your work your effectiveness would simply reduce markedly. Passion is not about finding something you love and then only putting your effort, rather it is about applying love in everything you do. Passionate people work with a sense of urgency, excellence, and resilience. It comes from clarity, and it drives engagement and success. It keeps you curious.

Finally, I believe that you need to have a clear purpose of your existence which is equally true for every product and service and company.

People make all the difference– if people are engaged and if there is a collective emotion you will see the wonder. Every person is unique and has at least one thing that he or she does the best. As a leader, your job is to find that out and ignite him/her to perform. Give your employees the freedom to develop their ideas, take risk, fail, learn and grow.

Future Startup

What does a typical day of you look like?

Yasir Azman

My day starts with a very private moment that I try to repeat every single day if I am at home. That is, I love to wake up my kids from bed, all three of them, I keep going to them repeatedly and keep calling them to wake up, each of my three kids responds differently and finally, they wake up.

I exercise at least 3 mornings in a week in order to keep me going. When time permits, I would never miss breakfast with my family. All these happens in a very short span of time. But here I m in control.

My typical day in office is 100% controlled by our customers. As I mentioned, we are a customer centric company. Telecom is a happening industry and it is transforming fast. It demands a lot from each of our employees. During regular office hours, every single minute counts for me and I spend a significant portion of my time in meetings, workshops, reviews or working on ideas.

In today’s hyper-connected world 9-5 office hours is effectively invalid. You are connected all the time and office does not have a set schedule anymore. In that sense, while digital platforms make my life easy allowing constant and real-time communication and collaboration, it also makes my schedule intense.

The idea of work-life balance seldom works for me. If my family needs me, even in a working day, no matter what I will be there and the same applies for my office as well.

Future Startup

How do you think about life?

Yasir Azman

This is a rather new realization for me. I never thought about life or meaning of it seriously until recently.

I think everyone has a purpose and we are here for a reason. I realized that our purpose can, at least partly, be achieved through the organization I’m working for. Since our work takes up such a big part of our life, it is important that we do things that are meaningful to us.

Every person wants to contribute to the society because that’s what adds meaning to our life. Luckily for me, the organization I work for also wants to empower the society. Of course, this is a business organization and it seeks to make a profit. But it has so much meaning in our personal lives and its impact on individual lives and on the society is huge by any measure. At times, a phone call is not a mere phone call, it is more than that. It brings you good news, bad news and much more. The industry I’m working in gives me a kind of satisfaction that we contribute to the society.

Apart from my professional life, I try to help people in my village, Gochia, Derai Thana, Sunamganj. I try to respond while people are in need. I’m aware that I have done very little and time flies but I genuinely want to do more.

Integrity and transparency are important to me and inform how I operate in my personal and professional life.

In today’s hyper-connected world 9-5 office hours is effectively invalid. You are connected all the time and office does not have a set schedule anymore. In that sense, while digital platforms make my life easy allowing constant and real-time communication and collaboration, it also makes my schedule intense. The idea of work-life balance seldom works for me.

Future Startup

We have a huge young population, our median age is 26.3, which is a huge opportunity as well as a challenge. If we fail, this will be our biggest risk factor. How do you think about this opportunity or challenge for that matter?

Yasir Azman

I’m an eternal optimist. I think this is an incredible opportunity for us as a nation. We have a huge young population and most importantly, these people are driven and active and want to do things in life.

At the same time, the internet has brought about unprecedented opportunities for anyone who wants to take it. Access to technology and all the opportunities that it can offer is something that youth should really take seriously.

I see a lot of things are happening and if we can do things in a right way, our youth will see a much brighter future.

Today there is no difference between someone living in Saidpur vs someone in Silicon Valley as long as you have the urge for knowledge and willingness to work hard. If you ask me, I try to explore and learn every day. Connected life is a blessing, we should take advantage of it. Everybody knows it but we often fail to put it into practice that there is no alternative to hard work.

Future Startup

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

Yasir Azman

Yasir Azman

Yasir Azman

We have now this incredible opportunity to learn anything, anywhere. Please utilize the power of the internet and take the incredible opportunity it has brought to us.

Today there is no difference between someone living in Saidpur vs someone in Silicon Valley as long as you have the urge for knowledge and willingness to work hard. If you ask me, I try to explore and learn every day. Connected life is a blessing, we should take advantage of it.

Everybody knows it but we often fail to put it into practice that there is no alternative to hard work.

Be transparent and honest from the very beginning of your career. It is a difficult and intimidating choice but worth trying.

At whatever field you are into, your ability and courage to imagine big will take you to a greater height. Dare to dream big, it says you are as big as your dream.

For young people, I keep repeating two of my favorite quotes. A quote from Nelson Mandela: ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again’. It is backed by one from Steves Jobs: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Future Startup

What books have been reading lately?

Yasir Azman

I have been rereading How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan. I also read and reread Humayun Ahmed a lot. I recently finished reading How to Think Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a masterpiece. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a brilliant read. I also like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Tipping Point and the Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley.

Recently, I accidentally read a book on Makeup, a totally off the track book for me, but I enjoyed it. The central characteristic of knowledge is that it is combinatorial.

Reading is incredibly empowering an exercise. Everyone should read more to live an intellectually satisfying life.

Type to Search

See all results
Shares