Face to Face with Sharif Shaham, Director of Marketing, Elite Force Ltd.
Sharif Shaham,is the Director of Marketing in Elite Force Limited, one of the largest security companies in Bangladesh which has over 12,000 employees and 16 offices throughout Bangladesh. His dynamic leadership, “out-of-the-box” thinking and early adoption of new technologies paved the way for the modernization of the company by incorporating elements such as Integrated-Branding, HR, R&D, IT and CSR into the company’s operations, which has made Elite Force one of the biggest names in the security industry of Bangladesh. In Feb 2011, for his invaluable contribution to the emerging security industry of the country, he was given the“Best Young Entrepreneur of 2010” award by the Commerce Minister of Bangladesh Government. He is also an active member of JCI Dhaka Central. In a conversation with Future StartUp he talked about business, entrepreneurship, success and many more.
Future StartUp: Tell us about yourself and your passion in life?
Sharif Shaham: Born in 1984, I am the son of a retired Brigadier General from Bangladesh Army. I like to think that I am a meritorious, hardworking, strong willed and self-determined young businessman. I joined the family business organization, Elite Group of Companies, on completion of my higher studies and presently carrying out the responsibility of Director of Marketing in Elite Force Limited, one of the largest security companies in Bangladesh which has over 12,000 employees and 16 offices throughout Bangladesh. I studied Electrical Engineering in USA for a short time, but eventually obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration & International Business from the North South University, Bangladesh.
I am one of the youngest members of the Management team at Elite Force. I joined the company in 2005 and have gained extensive insight into the security industry of Bangladesh. I head the Marketing and IT department and responsible for overseeing and establishing marketing and management policies. I am also overseeing the modernization of the company by incorporating elements such as Branding, HR, R&D, IT and CSR into the company’s operations. I have traveled to more than 38 countries and have visited a number of International Security companies abroad and have brought back invaluable knowledge and resources for my local company.
Passion in life:
My motto at work is “Work Smarter, not Harder” which I try to teach all my officers. Business has always been my passion and I want to expand our existing business to various other sectors and help contribute to the development of this country. I thrive for efficiency and improvement and always on the hunt for a better way to do something, even if it already seems to be doing great. My mission is to extract all the good things that other countries are doing in the corporate world and apply them to our local industry and help young Bangladeshi people get an opportunity to prove themselves and show the world that, “Yes, we can do it too !”I love travelling to different countries and always look for any opportunity where I can gain knowledge and experience from my visit, bring back those new ideas and apply them here in Bangladesh.
Future StartUp: Tell us about “Elite Force”, about its past accomplishment & Future plan.
Sharif Shaham: Elite Force is an award winning, top security service provider in Bangladesh. It provides comprehensive security and logistic service solutions to the growing security needs in Bangladesh. Over the last decade it has attained phenomenal growth in the security service sector. Elite Force was founded in November 1999 by Brig. Gen. Sharif Aziz, with only 17 guards deployed in three organizations. Now the company has over 12000 guards deployed in 64 towns and cities of the country with more than 1200 clients.
It has 16 offices in different districts of the country. The company headquarter is located in Dhaka with regional offices established in Chittagong, Khulna, Sylhet, Barisal, Rangpur&Bogra and regional sub-offices in other areas. Elite Force has successfully earned the trust of Banks in the country and by now has served more than 36 local and international banks and has worked with a number of national, multinational and international organizations, including embassies of China, Brazil, UAE, Brunei etc. Elite Force offers varied security solutions and service packages based on real time need assessment to ensure client satisfaction.
The company provides male and female security guards, inspectors, gunmen, Cash carrying, ATM replenishment, Vaulting, Investigations, Insurance Claim checks, VIP protection, Armed escorts, Dog-squad, Sea-river escorts and a wide range of other security services. The company also provides Logistical support to multinational organizations such as supply of executive staff, peon, tea-boy, driver and caretaker.
Elite Force also conducts Investigations for 32 companies from 16 different countries all around the world. The company hopes to expand our services beyond the borders of Bangladesh and set foot in the International arena soon. Elite Force has been growing tremendously since its founding. The need for security has tripled all over the world and hence, Elite Force has stepped in to fill in gaps in the market. There are over 450 security companies in Bangladesh. However, Elite Force is clearly among the top 2 competitors in the market.
In the last few years, we were able to undertake various projects within Elite Force and helped the company achieve greater success in the industry. In 2009, we shifted to our own 8 storey headquarters called Elite Tower. In 2010, we started our own Garments Unit, under the name, Elite Apparels, which was responsible for the production of uniforms for the thousands of security personnel joining Elite Force. In 2011, we were also able to utilize the power of Information Technology by creating a high quality website for Elite Force through which we got many queries on the security business everyday. In August 2011, we opened our Facebook page which turned out to be very successful. We were able to attract more than 56,000 fans (the highest for any security company in South Asia) to this page where we frequently give security updates and news.
We have recently developed a state-of-the-art training center just 10 minutes away from our Headquarters in Baridhara, in Vatara. The Training center, called Elite Academy, is a separate institution where we train and educate security personnel with the help of professional teaching methods, up to date syllabus, and practical training modules that offer hands on experience to these trainees. We are particularly proud of this Academy as it boasts 5 spacious classrooms with modern equipment and projector screens, basketball and volleyball fields, shooting range, dining rooms, kitchen and mosque built into the facilities. The center even has a dummy ATM that is used to train the students.
We are currently working on the Digitalization of the entire company. We are in the process of testing our own Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software that will automate most of the processes within the company. The software will enable us to keep track of important elements of the day-to-day operations of Elite Force. We are installing Face-detection Biometric devices, fingerprint scanners and modern OCR and scanning devices to completely digitalize our process. A new IT Department has been set up which will house our state-of-the-art server system and document automation system. We hope to contribute to Digital Bangladesh by playing our role in IT.
Future StartUp: What inspires you to become an Entrepreneur instead of taking any other easy way?
Sharif Shaham: In my opinion, every person can chose between two things in life. Either “Follow the leader”, or “Be the leader”. I follow the latter. Being an entrepreneur is the best way to try and make YOUR ideas come alive. It gives you the scope to be more flexible, experiment with what you want to do and be like a free flowing element, rather than be bound by a set of limitations. By being an entrepreneur, I was able to utilize the resources provided to me by my company in my own way and help carve out a successful plan for the company. Moreover, when you do your own work, the value of it will seem a lot more. But mind you, being an entrepreneur has its downsides too. We are more prone to frequent disappointments, failures, extreme hard work and late hours which many may not be able to cope up with.
Future StartUp: How did “Elite Force” get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like.
Sharif Shaham: The idea of opening a security company was my fathers. As the son of the owner, I was given 25% ownership of the company. Although I started working in the company as a Junior Executive in 2002, making small contributions to the developments of the company, I slowly worked my way up to eventually become the Director of Marketing and IT by 2010.
During the early day of forming the company, my mind was inundated with ideas and plans that I had thought would help develop the company. I wanted to make new departments with modern equipment and wanted to do an aggressive branding strategy and had all sorts of ideas. Studying at the University and getting to learn new Marketing and Business theories everyday acted as a catalyst to forming newer and bolder ideas for Elite Force. But as I slowly gained experience, I realized that in the practical world, things are different. I set aside my bold ideas for the time being and focused more on a growth oriented strategy for the company. Eventually when the company grew and captured a large share of the market, I started reviving those seeming bold and unorthodox ideas I thought of in the early days.
Future StartUp: What were the biggest obstacles you faced in your journey to date? And how did you overcome them?
Sharif Shaham: Being in an “Army” family most of my childhood and being used to a military way of leading our lives, it was quite difficult to adjust to a completely new way of life after my father retired from the Army in 1993. Things we took for granted, from the Army were gone and seeing my father working hard to find a way to get in the world of business, which was so much different, proved quite difficult for us. Eventually, I was happy to see my father achieve success in the field of construction, aluminum and security. However, it was very difficult for me to contribute at first to the company during its early years since I had to attend university. Helping a company take its shape was very important to me, so I somehow managed to attend office right after classes ended. I tried to manage both by, doing classes, studying for exams, and also at the same time trying to formulate marketing strategies for the young security company back in 2000.Most importantly, I kept my dedication and perseverance intact and continuously strived to overcome these odds.
Future StartUp: What would you say are the biggest drivers of your success today?
Sharif Shaham: I am a firm believer of the “Secret” method. I actually have a color coded vision board in my office room made of glass. I outline my plans and visions on that board and firmly believe that I will make them happen. On top of that, I try to feel the success before it even happens which directs a good amount of positive energy in me that motivates me and eventually leads me to achieve my goals.
I would also attribute my success today to a few other things too such as being organized, street smart and honest. I am extremely organized. I am totally dependent on to-do lists and task manager software’s. I plan out my entire month and proceed accordingly. Another very important thing is being street smart and book-smart at the same time. When one has a lot of theoretical and book knowledge that is backed up by practical field knowledge, he or she can achieve way more. Honesty is above all. It not only creates a clean self-perception of oneself, but also grabs the goodwill of others that paves the way for success.
Future StartUp: Tell us briefly about your biggest experiences and learning.
Sharif Shaham: Some of my biggest experiences and learning come from the following:
- Army life: My childhood during my father’s tenure in the Army helped me pick up many positive things such as efficiency, management and discipline.
- My father: My father’s constant guidance, inspiration and advice helped me learn a great deal. He taught me to be strong, practical and always to have a thirst for knowledge and excellence.
- Travelling: By travelling to more than 30 countries, I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about how things go about outside. I had the scope to pick up the good things and teach myself things that made me what I am today.
- Early start: By joining the family business very early on in my life gave me the chance to learn more. At the age of 20 I had more business experience than an MBA graduate. This exposure to a practical business world helped me immensely.
- Reading: I am an avid reader. Everyday, I dedicate at least 2 hours at night reading books of interest .I read everything from novels, self-help books to business, science, tech and news magazines and newspapers. Having such an addiction to reading helped me learn a lot more.
Future StartUp: Let’s say if you can start all over again what are the three mistakes you avoid and what are the three positive things you would do first?
Sharif Shaham: “Mistakes are what make us”. Without them, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn from them and come back with a stronger solution and be what I am today. However, three mistakes I would avoid if I got the chance:
- Sports: I never took sports seriously at school or university. I didn’t take part in annual games and rarely took part in sports competitions. Now that I am older, I long for those days and feel like playing those sports that I didn’t. Unfortunately, now I rarely get the times to play even if I wanted to. If I could, I would go back to those days and make a strong sportsman out of me.
- Smoking: Like any naïve teenager, I thought smoking would be a cool thing to do. I didn’t even realize when I picked it up and as years went by, I eventually got addicted to it despite the many reminders about how bad it is for the health. If I could, I would go back to that day during my teens and throw that cigarette away before taking a puff. Fortunately, I still have the opportunity to do that and I will take positive steps to kick the habit once and for all.
- Prayers: My parents are both religious. I used to be too until my rebellious teen MTV mode kicked in. Since then, I rarely find myself saying my prayers, a bad habit that I never looked into. I would go back to those days, change myself and continue to be a religious person. It is so important to be balanced in life, and religion can create a perfect sense of harmony in one’s life. Although I have always been very grateful to God for what He has always given me, I believe it is time that I focus on him too. Fortunately, a positive change I can easily make now.
Future StartUp: What are the biggest obstacles for young Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh in your eyes?
Sharif Shaham: One of the biggest obstacles that a young entrepreneur may face in Bangladesh is the absence of support and guidance he would’ve gotten elsewhere. It is very important that a fresh young entrepreneur get the correct guidelines, knowledge and training from competent and responsible organization, whether they be private or governmental. It is very sad to see that there are very few places in Bangladesh, a young entrepreneur can turn for help and seek counsel. Hopefully we can set up stronger policy initiatives to develop institutions to help create opportunities for young Entrepreneurs of the country for the betterment of our future.
Future StartUp: Advice our “Young Startup Entrepreneurs” who are just going to start their Initiatives and want to bring them to success.
Sharif Shaham: As a young entrepreneur, there are certain business and personal obstacles you’ll have to conquer if you want to become a success. Some of the roadblocks exist for just about everyone, such as where you’ll get your initial funding and how you’ll find time to manage your business, family and school responsibilities all at the same time. However, where there is a will, there is a way. Hopefully these following tips may help you set a guideline for achieving your success.
a. Work Smarter, not harder
b. Be honest and don’t lose your values.
c. Be both street-smart and book-smart
d. Plan ahead. Make 10 year vision plans.
e. Dream big. But start small.
f. Don’t be afraid to fail.
g. Don’t let your age hold you back
h. Don’t give in to negative pressure
i. Always think practical
j. Mind your budget
k. Throw ego out of the window
l. Gather as much information and intelligence before you start
m. Patience…it is indeed a virtue.
n. Be positive and BELIEVE that you will succeed.
Future StartUp: From your perspective what are the 5 mandatory traits/capabilities for an entrepreneur to become successful?
Sharif Shaham: Well, I think following traits are important to become a successful entrepreneur:
- Positive: It the key to all success. If you are positive and believe firmly in the fact that you will succeed, you surely will. The power of being positive helps you remain optimistic and reach for your visions. Remember, when you are your own boss, it’s you who has to motivate yourself. Thinking positively does just that.
- Disciplined:Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline. To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun. Remember, “When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself”.
- Risk Tolerance: No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business. It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that you have to have a good tolerance for risk. An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort. So go ahead…take that risk !
- Organized: Being organized and planning every aspect of your business is not only a must, but also builds habits that every entrepreneur should develop, implement, and maintain. The act of business planning is so important because it requires you to analyze each business situation, research and compile data, and make conclusions based mainly on the facts as revealed through the research. Business planning also serves a second function, which is having your goals and how you will achieve them, on paper. You can use the plan that you create both as map to take you from point A to Z and as a yardstick to measure the success of each individual plan or segment within the plan.
- Passion:What you get out of your business in the form of personal satisfaction, financial gain, stability and enjoyment will be the sum of what you put into your business. So if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, in all likelihood it’s safe to assume that will be reflected in the success of your business–or subsequent lack of success. In fact, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, chances are you won’t succeed. So be passionate about what you do.
Future StartUp: Thank You
Sharif Shaham: Thank You too.
Ruhul Kader is a technology business and technology policy analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at [email protected]