Life’s Work: An interview With Asif Iqbal, Executive Director – Marketing, Meghna Group of Industries

Life’s Work: An interview With Asif Iqbal, Executive Director – Marketing, Meghna Group of Industries

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Asif Iqbal is the Executive Director – Marketing at the fast-growing local conglomerate Meghna Group of Industries. Mr. Iqbal is considered as one of the finest business leaders in the country having experience of working in a diverse set of industries starting from FMCG to Telecom to Logistics and Retail to Music.

He is also a renowned and widely popular lyricist with a host of hit songs under his belt. His contemporaries refer him as a “consummate senior marketing and business professional with a razor sharp intellect and savvy people skills, that he is both analytical, creative and objective and has a relentless energy to achieve his objectives.”

In this interview Mr. Iqbal reflects on his journey to what he is doing today, how struggles of our early life shapes our life and informs our worldview in later life, shares his thoughts on communication, marketing, and strategy, trials and tribulations he has had to face throughout his career, his musical career and passion for music and his creative process, discusses his work at Meghna Group as the Executive Director of Marketing where he looks after the FMCG business division and future plans, how mutual respect and customer obsessions shape its internal culture, talks about his idea of soulful brand and explores the eminent importance of our ability to endure difficulties to live a fulfilling life and why giving is more effective yet underrated a strategy for moving forward in life and career than taking. ~ Ruhul

Future Startup

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

Asif Iqbal

I was born in Nalapara, Chittagong. My father was a physician, a freedom fighter, a politician and former member of parliament. He was a Deputy Commander of Sector one during the Liberation War. My mother was a social worker and a politician.

My eldest brother Late Sadrul Pasha was an eminent actor and Filmmaker. My eldest sister Dr. Tazia Irfan is an Oncologist in one of the world’s best cancer hospital Royal Marsden in London. My another sister Adv. Jessieca Irfan is a lawyer. She practices and lives in Chittagong. My younger sister is a housewife who graduated from the UK in Mass Media and Communications with dean’s award as the first Asian Lady to do so from her university.

My wife is an entrepreneur and runs her own venture that produces and exports jute and cotton diversified products like home textiles, bags & shoes. Now my son also has joined the venture after completing his education from University of Essex, UK.

I had a very interesting childhood. I was particularly fond of breaking rules. I seldom cared for restrictions and what was expected of me. I grew up in a turbulent time when as a nation we’re going through a full-blown social reconstruction. I do not remember many stories of my childhood, however, I clearly remember the Liberation War.

I was probably 5 years old at the time. As I mentioned earlier, my father was a Deputy Commander of Sector one. My father and my uncles joined the Liberation war and fought alongside in the sector one. It was a difficult time. For us, being a family of freedom fighters, things were doubly difficult. We had to move from one place to another, from one relative’s home to another to save ourselves.

My elder brother late Sadrul Pasha was a freedom fighter too. I remember these things quite well. After the war, we thought hard days are gone. But we were mistaken. After 1975, we again had to go through difficult times because my father was loyal to Bangabandhu. In fact, he had to flee the country and live abroad in a self-imposed exile for a few years.

I had a difficult early life and had to endure unspeakable ordeals during the war and afterward. But in a way, that I can understand now, those difficult days helped me to develop resilience in me. It is our ability to endure difficulty that determines what we become in our lives.

From my family, I got some very important values that I live by even these days. One of them is patriotism. I came across opportunities to work in the abroad many times in my career but I never felt the temptation. I have always wanted to serve my country. Partly because I had seen the struggle and sacrifice my father and common people made during the Liberation War for this country.

After the Liberation War, we returned to our Nandan Kanon home. I started my schooling at Hillside School – a tiny beautiful school – which is now renamed as Paharika Kindergarten School. After a while, I moved to Saint Placid’s School. Once I participated in Jatiyo Shishu Puroshkar Protyjogita in Collegiate School and seeing my performance on debate and extempore speech my mother was called to allow me to get into Collegiate School. I did my HSC from Chittagong College.

I have been into music since my school life. My elder sister Dr. Tazia Irfan was a music buff. She had a collection of great songs. My early inspiration for music came from her.

I was actively involved in extracurricular activities throughout my education life. In my college, I was involved with Red Crescent Youth. I was nominated to represent Bangladesh in Japan in 1984 in an exchange program.

I was into Table Tennis. In fact, I was a table tennis champion. I was into cricket as well. I played with my team, City Club, in Chittagong first division league. Later, I could not pursue my sportsmanship for my studies. But my love for cricket remains. I also had a Brown Belt in Karate and was in shooting at Chittagong Rifle Club.

After my HSC, I attended Chittagong Commerce College from where I completed my Bcom and then I went to IBA for an MBA.

When I came to IBA, I was involved in a lot of things. I was involved in music. I was involved in sports. All these involvements took a toll on my studies. I did very badly in two consecutive semesters and had to drop out from the 21st batch of MBA.

It was a huge shock for me. Then I went to the Finance Department of Dhaka University where I studied for a while. But I really wanted to complete my MBA from IBA. So I reappeared for the admission test and got qualified for the interview. In the interview board, I made a promise that if I were given a second chance I would work hard to be one of the toppers in the class. Luckily, I got in. This time I worked really hard which paid off. I came out from IBA with CGPA 3.8 and as one of the toppers.

IBA was an eventful experience for me in many ways. I lost my mother when I was in my second semester at IBA. I and my elder brother used to take care of her. I was particularly close to my mother. Losing my mother was a devastating experience for me. I couldn’t sleep properly for the next 6 months. Nothing prepares you for such loss in life. It took me a long time to accept the new reality without her.

She was an extraordinary woman. Very beautiful, calm and of strong character. I’m more like my father – short-tempered. But she was calm and around her was always peaceful.

After MBA, everyone was after jobs at big multinational and local corporations. I decided to go back to Chittagong because my father was alone and he was also having health problems. I did my internship at Unilever in product marketing. I loved the work and challenges of selling FMCG products.

Anyways, I moved back to Chittagong and joined American Express Bank. I had the opportunity to join IBA as a lecturer but I did not find academia that interesting and I politely avoided. American Express Bank was a wonderful place to work. I was youngest in the office at the time and quite popular. But banking was not my thing. Despite that, we did a lot of interesting works during my time at American Express Bank.

Around this time, I came across an opportunity at Unilever and appeared for a written test which I passed. After a while, I got a call from Unilever for an interview but I could not attend despite the fact that I wanted the job. At that time, I was responsible for a project of Starship Brand of Abul Khair Group where we’re doing capital financing from American Express Bank. While I got the interview call from Unilever I was in the middle of an important assignment related to that project which I felt that if I leave might suffer from unintended consequences which seemed beyond professional ethics to me. So to maintain my professional integrity, I decided not to go to Unilever interview and fulfill my duty toward the project at first.

I was very sad. I returned to Chittagong and resumed my work. After a month or so I got a call from Unilever for an interview. They said they wanted to take my interview as a second chance, would I be able to attend? They made it clear that it was an exception since I reported earlier that I could not attend due to a professional priority. I went for the interview on the scheduled day. They interviewed me for almost two hours and then offered me the job.

That’s how my journey at Unilever started where I would continue working for more than a decade. The interesting part was that I joined Unilever at a significantly less remuneration than what I was getting at American Express Bank as a management trainee at that time. But I never regretted it because I was enjoying my job.

I learned a tremendous amount at Unilever. They not only gave me an exposure to marketing but also to sales which helped me to become a complete marketer and understand things more deeply. In fact, I started my career in Marketing.

During my time at Unilever, we did some incredible works. I first started in Tea and my first launch was a big failure. After that, I worked in a host of areas from skincare to sales to marketing and finally, I was assigned to take care of LUX. I oversaw and coordinated one of the biggest comebacks of Lux during my time at Unilever – a project that took multiple years.

I joined Unilever at the end of 1993. From 1996 to 1998, our market share for LUX dropped from 90% to 40%. A 50% decline. It was a huge challenge. Everyone was coming up with ideas and applying new techniques but nothing was bearing fruit.

After much thought, I realized that we need a holistic approach which I proposed to our management who asked me to present the idea to Mr. Aavt Wiberg who was Global Custodian for LUX and President, HPC, Asia visiting Dhaka. At that time, we were facing a fierce competition from a local upstart brand. They came up with a superior product, lower price, and a brilliant campaign. On the scheduled day, I went to Sheraton where Mr. Wiberg was staying and I made a presentation proposing that we should address the challenge according to what’s happening in the market. We need to address product issue, pricing and as well we need to lobby the government to make sure that we are competing on a level playing field. After the presentation and a challenging conversation, he approved the idea.

The next three years we worked really hard and finally launched the new LUX in 2001 and gradually regained the market share.

Afterward, I was sent to Unilever Pakistan to work in building their rural market as a Rural Channel Development Manager. The position was created for me and the goal was to apply the rural marketing concept that we developed in Bangladesh in collaboration with NGOs and others in the context of Pakistan. We worked really hard to put together an effective rural marketing system in Pakistan and within two years we saw a significant growth of rural contribution to the total NPS. I had a great time at Pakistan Unilever. I was given a job level promotion which was first for a Bangladeshi on expatriation in Unilever world. I had other opportunities to explore there but I wanted to return home.

My mother was not there. My father was getting old and he was alone. Moreover, I wanted to come back and serve the country.

After returning, I joined at Marketing. Although I was promised a different position when I was coming back, but things changed afterward and the position was not available anymore. Around that time, Unilever was trying to build Close Up as a mega brand. I was assigned by the then Chairman, Mr. Sanjiv Mehta, now the Chairman of Hindustan Unilever, to oversee the brand. That’s when we created the Close Up One Music Competition which remains one of the most successful activations in the country even these days. It has changed the music industry with an infusion of a lot of new talents. It was a roaring success.

Afterward, I realized that challenge was over at Unilever and I felt a need for change and for doing something different.

Telecom was a booming industry at that time. I got an opportunity at AKTEL, now Robi, and joined as a Head of Marketing. It was an unusual move for me given my background in FMCG. I didn’t know much about Technology but I loved the challenge and the idea of enabling people to live a better life through connectivity but I was prepared to learn that quickly.

I was at AKTEL till 2007. It was an eventful journey. We did tremendously well in terms of business. Our growth skyrocketed during that time. There were bumps as well, mostly came from investors. Regardless, it was a good journey.

After AKTEL, I joined ACI as a COO of ACI Logistics where I worked for the next two and a half years starting and building Shwapno from scratch. Creating Shwapno ground up was a big challenge. It took us a year to understand the whole thing. In the next one year after the launch, we opened 69 outlets at one go. It was a relentless growth.

This was a relatively new concept in our context and proper understanding was rare in the market. There were a lot of gaps, challenges, and peculiarities. The pressure on the business was also tremendous. Initially, we scaled very fast which we had to scale down later in order to meet the business goals. At that time, I was also going through challenges in my personal life. I was not also comfortable with the idea of scaling down and asking people whom I hired to go. After much thought, I decided to step down. I requested ACI management to let me go and continue without me.

After ACI, I pursued my own music label Gaanchill for a brief period of time before joining Meghna Group. But the reality was not great for the music industry at that time. Piracy and other challenges were there. So I had to find other ways to make it.

I joined Meghna Group in early 2011. Since then I have been at Meghna. Over the past years, we have grown our business significantly. I joined Meghna Group because I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the country and the local market. When I joined I did not bring in any new people from the outside rather I focused on enabling existing people who have been with the company.

In the very first year, we had 72% Year-on-Year growth. We launched new products and improved others.

We have managed to grow our brand standing in the market. Fresh is now the number one most loved consumer food brand in the country according to Kantar Worldpanel Global Brand Footprint study.

This did not happen overnight. We had to work hard for years to come here. We receive tremendous support from our management. Our Chairman and our Directors all of them have been extremely supportive of our agenda. I have been given an environment where I can truly show my abilities. I love this place and the work we are doing here.

We have 5000 people in FMCG division and almost 1300 distributors. The challenge now is to go beyond.

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I had a very interesting childhood. I was particularly fond of breaking rules. I seldom cared for restrictions and what was expected of me. I grew up in a turbulent time when as a nation we’re going through a full-blown social reconstruction.

Future Startup

We will be talking about your work at Meghna Group in a bit. Before that, if you look back to your career, was there any particular moment when you felt completely defeated and felt that this is it and then you again recollected yourself and came out as a winner?

Asif Iqbal

It happened many times. It happened when I was working at ACI putting together Shwapno. It happened when I was pursuing a full-time entrepreneur career.

This is a common feeling when you are pursuing something worthwhile. When you are facing such a situation, never make an important decision at that moment. Give yourself some time and never lose your faith.

I never lost my faith in Allah and in my abilities which helped me to keep going.

Future Startup

Apart from your corporate career and professional life, you are an accomplished lyricist. You are also involved in music industry more directly through Gaanchill.

Asif Iqbal

As a kid, I was quite adventurous. I used to do all kinds of things starting from having pigeons to dogs to many other things. In school, I was involved in all kinds of extracurricular and cultural activities such as poem recitation, debate, shooting for television, table tennis among other things. I was also good at study. Trying new things was a passion to me. I was always involved in more than one thing and thrived when I loved the both. This is true for all my life.

The reason I am talking about this is to make the point that I have developed an ability to compartmentalize my focus and carry out two separate activities at the same time. The years of practice now allows me to think about things while working.

The creative work is more of a subconscious exercise. You don’t come up with great ideas trying hard at the office or during a brainstorming session. You come up with great ideas while taking a shower or walking down the street. That’s how creativity works. The thing is you have to make the effort. You have to train your brain and develop the habit.

I have been into music for a very long time. By the time I was starting my career I had written a host of hit songs such as Onnona’ by James, ‘Bohudur Jete Hobe ekhono pother one royeche Baki’ by Ayub Bacchu, ‘Sukh chara dukh’ by Kumar Bishwajit, ‘Tumi ele PAYE PAYE’ by Samina Chowdhury and Naquib Khan and was pretty well known as a lyricist. There was no point of giving up my passion.

Throughout my life, I have been a very observant kind of a person. I try to look at things closely and see beyond what is visible on the surface. One thing I realized early in life is that most people tend to do one thing and often give up on their hobbies or passion for creative pursuits when they get into professional life although if you are a little bit disciplined you can easily pursue your passion on the side. It also feeds our soul and helps us to be more productive at work. But most people choose not to do that or fail to do that. In the very beginning of my career, I decided not to do give up my creative side.

Future Startup

Writing music is an extreme form of creative pursuit which requires dedicated effort. Given your busy schedule, how do you manage? What does your creative process look like? Do you find any specific time for writing music or maintain any routine?

Asif Iqbal

Every opportunity that I get I use it for writing. Over the years, I have developed this habit of writing anywhere and everywhere – I write in the car, while traveling, or in the leisure time.

I maintain a notebook and take notes when a new idea comes to my mind. I think any creative pursuit is about practicing. Through continuous practice, you develop habits that help you to put many things on autopilot. The years of practice now helps me to maintain my creative productivity.

I put active effort to write daily. It is like a chain. If you don’t write one day, you break the chain and have to start from scratch again. Moreover, writing daily allows me to keep up with the changes.

Music is something that keeps my soul alive. It feeds my creative muscle and helps me to be more effective in my professional life.

Future Startup

What do you think about the overall music industry given the widespread piracy, streaming and other changes in the market?

Asif Iqbal

The industry is going through a lot of challenges and hardships. Technology has changed music industry on so many different levels starting from how you make music to how you distribute.

The scenario has also become a lot more crowded. If you put another way, it has become a lot more open. The quality that you produce, the kind of connection that you have to build with your viewers and the listeners are quite different today.

People are exposed to so many different experiences starting from Hollywood to Bollywood to eastern to the western world. Everything is open now. This new world has created a new kind of challenge for the industry.

At the same time, monetization has become a complex affair due to piracy and change in the consumption pattern. In one way, monetization has become easier for independent creative professionals if you look at YouTube and other platforms that have democratized the distribution for the artists across the board. But at the same time, it has become a lot more complex. Album sales and the things like that are going through a rough patch. The industry is suffering quite a lot.

That said, positive changes are also taking place. As I mentioned, YouTube monetization is happening, Facebook will have monetization option soon, there are subscription streaming services and other innovative business models for the creative industry also emerging. I’m hopeful about good days.

The creative work is more of a subconscious exercise. You don’t come up with great ideas trying hard at the office or during a brainstorming session. You come up with great ideas while taking a shower or walking down the street. That’s how creativity works. The thing is you have to make the effort. You have to train your brain and develop the habit.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your work at Meghna Group as an Executive Director – Marketing.

Asif Iqbal

I look after FMCG Division. I’m responsible for the entire operation of the division including marketing and sales to supply chain to HR and admin among other operational affairs.

Food is an interesting category. We’re working with essential products, products that people need and consume every day. This makes our job incredibly fascinating as well as challenging. It is challenging because most of these products are sensitive items and we have to very careful about it.

My Chairman is an outstanding visionary person. Meghna Group of Industries today has footprints in almost 32 industry verticals. The Group employs over 20,000 people and counting. Our plan is to get into 50 industry verticals over the next 3 years.

I love this company and consider myself lucky to be here. We are a happening company and this is a fascinating place to work. Culturally, we offer a lot of opportunities to people to prove themselves. The other reason I love this place is that we are working for the country and the people of this country.

Our ambition is now to go global and become the most admired company not only locally but also globally.

A tremendously growing industry. A couple of factors are contributing to this growth. We have a growing middle class with higher purchasing power. We are seeing a rapid change in consumption pattern and family dynamics across the board. An increasing number of women are working today. The number of nuclear families is on the rise. Consciousness among people is growing about life and living. Convenience is getting priority. All these changes are contributing to the growth of the industry. In the coming years, things will get even more fast-paced.

Future Startup

You have been working at Meghna for over 7 years now. How much has the company evolved over the past years?

Asif Iqbal

We have made significant progress in both metrics: in terms of business numbers and as an organization.

Our market penetration has grown significantly. Most of the categories in which our brands operate we are within the top three brands. We are way stronger as a team today. We have some really great people in our consumer business team.

Our brand recognition has also grown over the past years. We have been nominated as the Best Enterprise last year by the Daily Star-DHL business award.

Operationally, we have introduced technology in almost every aspect of our business. We are doing more in that respect. We understand the importance of technology in order to fuel and maintain our next phase of growth.

Future Startup

Can you please tell us about the organizational culture at Meghna Group? How do people work and collaborate?

Asif Iqbal

We have a set of organizational values that shape how we operate as an organization and how our people work and interact with each other and also how we interact with the external world.

Mutual respect, customer focus, humility, tremendous willpower, protecting the interest of the organization and our customers and staying closer to the earth are some of the values that inform how we work here at Meghna Group.

We encourage collaboration within and between teams and we encourage our people to come up with new ideas and apply independent thinking.

Futura Startup

Are you considering to explore international markets?

Asif Iqbal

We have been very busy in fulfilling the expectations of our local market. It has been a rollercoaster journey.

We have learned tremendous amount over the past years working in the local market and we believe that we now have developed the capacity to serve the global consumers. We are now considering plans to explore international markets. We have many businesses that are relevant to the international market.

We don’t have any specific timeline in mind yet. But we have already started working on it.

I talk about how to make brands soulful. It is an internal thing and when your inside is solid, you can easily change your outside. The soulful brand is not about mere delighting your customers or exciting them, it is about becoming soulful, it is about becoming humane and closer to the heart of your consumers.

Future Startup

As you mentioned, this is a huge organization. How do you align everyone with major strategic changes?

Asif Iqbal

Ever since I joined, we maintain a 3 years strategic plan that is developed through a rigorous collaborative process.

Our culture is very collaborative in nature and we encourage everyone in the team to participate. When designing a strategy or introducing a major change, we take a lot of bottom-up inputs and keep the communication loop open and we engage all the stakeholders in the process to develop a holistic understanding.

Asif Iqbal receiving CMO Asia Brand Leader Award

Asif Iqbal receiving CMO Asia Brand Leader Award

Future Startup

Recently, CMO Asia has recognized you as one of the 50 Brand Leaders In Asia. from your experience, what does it take to build a lasting brand?

Asif Iqbal

Everything starts from consumers. It is more so for a brand. If you want to build a lasting brand it has to be built on strong consumer insight. You have to develop a deeper understanding of your consumers and their pain points and then build backward based on that understanding.

The other thing is change and evolution. Nothing lasts but change. In order to be relevant and maintain the competitive edge in the market for a long time, you have to change and evolve with the time.

This again takes us back to our first point. Unless you relentlessly invest in understanding your consumers and their changing needs and behaviors, you would not be able to evolve. So these two things are tied to each other.

I talk about how to make brands soulful. It is an internal thing and when your inside is solid, you can easily change your outside. The soulful brand is not about mere delighting your customers or exciting them, it is about becoming spiritually honest, it is about becoming humane and closer to the heart of your consumers.

In this competitive world, it is critical that your brand becomes a brand with a spirit and a passion brand not just one that merely delights consumers.

Future Startup

How does marketing work at Meghna Group? What channels and mediums are you using? Also, how does your marketing budget look like, digital and other areas?

Asif Iqbal

For FMCG, scale is an important factor. So we need to be present in all the consumer touch points. One of the strategies is engaging with customers where they go or as they go through their days. We use conventional mediums like TV, Newspapers and others channels. We are in Cricket as well.

Over the past years, we have been exploring digital and it is disproportionately growing. I cannot give you the percentage but I can tell you that it is growing fast. We have already assigned a digital marketing agency to take care of our digital side of communication. So you can imagine that we are very serious about that.

The way we approach marketing is very collaborative in nature. We have partners who work along with our team. Marketing is a critical aspect in FMCG, we invest ourselves heavily in the process to ensure the best possible result. The entire process is iterative in nature.

Future Startup

You have decades of experience in marketing both as a professional as well as in the Academia. From your experience, how much has the industry evolved over the past years? What are the major changes you see in how we communicate or advertise today?

Asif Iqbal

We have seen a seismic change in the industry. The nature of change, in general, is such that when it happens you have to evolve or you will be obsolete. A number of major changes have taken place over the past years, but I think if we look at the few significant ones, it will help explain the rest.

Information has become a commodity. Once access to information was a challenge, today information overload is the challenge. This new reality has changed how we consume information, communicate and more.

The other major change we need to understand is the clutter in the market and the scarcity of attention. Too many things are happening at once. There are too many channels and advertisements and products to pay attention to. See this is a multitasking generation. We are always doing more than one thing at once. Watching more than one screen at once. It is incredibly hard for any single communication or product to break into the market unless you are remarkable.

Making something remarkable is the only strategy that works in a cluttered market where attention is a scarce resource. You have to do exceptional things otherwise you will remain average and people will ignore.

At the same time, access (to anything) has become more democratic. Today, it is easier to launch a product to millions of people just by making a Youtube video or using social media platform. And anyone can do that. If you are doing something interesting, people will notice. It has made the competition a lot different in nature.

On the consumer end, consumers are becoming increasingly active and involved. They can now talk back to brands instantly which was not the case before. More importantly, consumers are now better informed. If you don’t deliver on your promise or screw something up, you have to pay dearly.

On the consumption side, convenience is becoming increasingly popular. New models of consumption are emerging. Food and water are becoming increasingly important to consumers which have made CPG a huge thing.

The other thing is technology. It is changing almost everything and every industry. Marketing is no different. I don’t think it requires any explanation to understand that.

Future Startup

What major changes do you see in terms of communication and advertising?

Asif Iqbal

Advertising in the traditional sense is overrated. I think we are entering into a time when advertising as we know will no more be effective. Everything will be content. We are now more into education, entertainment, and inspiration as a form of communication. Content has a big role to play in each of these areas.

New models of consumption are emerging such as a sharing and subscription instead of owning. These models will require a different type of approach to communication. The future of communication is going to be a lot more interesting and challenging.

Asif Iqbal (second from right) in a BBF Forum Panel

Asif Iqbal (second from right) in a BBF Forum Panel

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Asif Iqbal

I inspire and challenge my people. It is important that you stay consistently motivated otherwise you will not be able to perform at your optimal level. At the same time, without challenge, you will not grow.

Everybody has got potentials to do great things. The problem is that very few of us realize that. As a leader, your responsibility is to help and guide your people to realize their potential and help them to believe in themselves and in their ability to accomplish ambitious feats. This understanding informs my management style.

Future Startup

How do you deal with challenges that come with your professions?

Asif Iqbal

Prayer is a great antidote to dealing with challenges that life throws at us. Submitting to and relying on the Almighty often enable you to deal with hardest challenges of life that nothing would prepare you for. I pray and read Quran on a daily basis that provides me sustenance for the day.

I write lyrics that keeps my soul alive and allow me to take a respite from my work. I am a huge fan of football. I regularly watch football.

I think having hobbies and passion outside of work helps us to declutter our mind and rest after long working hours at the office which in turn makes us more creative and productive at work.

Future Startup

If you look back to your decades of experience, what are the biggest lessons from all those years?

Asif Iqbal

Never be afraid of making mistakes. That said, never make the same mistake twice. The entire point of making mistake is to learn and if you don’t learn from your past mistakes, the whole exercise becomes futile. Similarly, in an organization when you allow people to make mistakes, they will take more risk and initiatives. As a result more innovations will happen.

Believe in your ability to overcome, achieve and accomplish. We often give up too early and doubt our ability to endure. But most of the time, if we try a little harder and stick to it, we can overcome.

Relativity and comparison is always pushed in our family, school and social environment. There will always be a better, smarter, more capable person than you. It’s my philosophy not to compete, rather to create. If you create a new way you become the pioneer which others follow hence you don’t compete.

Then love life and everyone and everything in it. Life is a fundamentally challenging affair. It is tough, at times. Love is what helps us to endure and go through our days with a smile on our face no matter how hard things get.

The power of giving is often underrated in our society. We are always asking for favors, taking things and often flinch when people ask for something from us. Don’t be like those people. Give before you get. Giving is more effective a strategy to moving up in life and career than taking that we often choose because it feels effective to take in the short term. But in the long run, it does not work. Be a giver.

Don’t despair when you come across challenges and difficult times. Difficult times are nature’s way of training and preparing us for life’s challenges. In my early life, I went through the sufferings of Liberation War. Afterward, we had to suffer due to the political circumstances. We never lose hope but at that time, it was hard to endure. But now that I look back, I realize those difficult days prepared me for the greater challenges of life.

If you are starting something from scratch, it is safer to get into space which is relatively less crowded or where you can offer something significantly better than what existing players in the market are offering. This resembles the blue ocean strategy where you offer materially superior products to your customers at a better price than your competitions in the market.

Future Startup

What is your observation about overall FMCG industry in Bangladesh?

Asif Iqbal

A tremendously growing industry. A couple of factors are contributing to this growth. We have a growing middle class with higher purchasing power. We are seeing a rapid change in consumption pattern and family dynamics across the board. An increasing number of women are working today. The number of nuclear families is on the rise. Consciousness among people is growing about life and living. Convenience and health are getting priority. All these changes are contributing to the growth of the industry. In the coming years, things will get even more fast-paced.

The scale is the key for almost every FMCG business. With the rapid urbanization and growing consumerism, achieving scale will be a lot tougher in the coming days.

I think these things will drive the FMCG. I can see more innovation and value re-engineering are happening in the space and further cost efficiency will come as well as consumers will continue to demand faster, cheaper and better solutions.

The challenge is that competition will grow. We live in an open world today. As the market matures, new and better international brands will come to the market creating newer kind of challenges. If you do not have any sustainable competitive advantage then you will not last. I think companies will have to invest more in innovation and product in order to survive and thrive.

Culturally, we look down to people who try too hard, to people who are to some extent extreme or desperate to achieve their goal. But I think desperation is good. Be desperate. Try harder.

Future Startup

What does it take to build a sustainable brand?

Asif Iqbal

If you are starting something from scratch, it is safer to get into a space which is relatively less crowded or where you can offer something significantly better than what existing players in the market are offering. This resembles the blue ocean strategy where you offer materially superior products to your customers at a lower cost but at a better price than your competitions in the market.

The real challenge, however, is not only building a business, it is building a sustainable business that can continuously offer better products at the best possible price.

In order to maintain long term growth and competitive edge, you have to constantly innovate, apply better strategy and find ways to offer low-cost alternatives while keeping constantly updated on changing consumer behavior.

There is no one size fits all strategy. Your job is to constantly experiment and apply best ideas into work. In business and in life, your job is to figure things out as you go.

Future Startup

How do you think about life?

Asif Iqbal

All the arrangements of life are nothing but the preparation for death. This is the undeniable truth. In fact, every day we are dying slowly. Despite the constant presence of death in our lives, we accept this truth abnormally. At times, we forget that we will die one day. We live as if we are here forever. This short constancy called life seems very precious to us.

The upside of the constant presence of death in our life is that, if we pay attention to it, it allows us to stay grounded, act like a mortal human with passion and compassion and look beyond our short-term gain over long-term benefit of the humanity. It pushes us to seek meaning in life over meagre materials.

If you are starting a business, kill your options. If you have options to choose from the most likely result will be that you will not a make a decision and commit. And when things get tough you will switch between your options to avoid pain and difficulties. Until you commit, there is hesitancy and the chance to change your mind which causes inefficiency. The moment you commit yourself to something, things start to happen.

Future Startup

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

Asif Iqbal

I am a soulful passionate guy.

Future Startup

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

Asif Iqbal

Take risk. Taking risk is scary and it is not for everyone but at the end of the day, most things in life that are worth pursuing don’t come easy. Be open to ideas. Experiment.

Culturally, we look down to people who try too hard, to people who are to some extent extreme or desperate to achieve their goal. But I think desperation is good. Be desperate. Try harder.

Seek difficulties and crisis. Our general human tendency is to avoid difficult situations. But in order to grow, you have to learn how to deal with difficulties and come out as a winner. When there is a difficult situation, it can be a conversation or a challenge, embrace it.

If you are starting a business, kill your options. If you have options to choose from the most likely result will be that you will double minded to make a decision and commit. And when things get tough you will switch between your options to avoid pain and difficulties. Until you commit, there is hesitancy and the chance to change your mind which causes inefficiency. The moment you commit yourself to something, things start to happen.

Future Startup

What book have you been reading lately?

Asif Iqbal

I have started reading Great by Choice by Jim Collins, a wonderful read for anyone interested in building a great business. I also enjoyed Jim’s Build to Last and Good to Great.

Seek difficulties and crisis. Our general human tendency is to avoid difficult situations. But in order to grow, you have to learn how to deal with difficulties and come out as a winner. When there is a difficult situation, it can be a conversation or a challenge, embrace it.

Correction on September 16, 2017: This interview has been updated with new information.

(Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Mohammad Tashnim and Khaleda Husna Fariha)

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