Memoir Of Attainment: An Exclusive Interview Of Amjad Khan Chowdhury Of Pran-RFL

Memoir Of Attainment: An Exclusive Interview Of Amjad Khan Chowdhury Of Pran-RFL

Back in 2013, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to interview Late Major General Amjad Khan Chowdhury, Founder and CEO of Pran-RFL group, where we talked about his beginning, dream and entrepreneurship. Mr. Chowdhury passed away yesterday. Surely a sad day for Bangladesh. He was an extraordinary personality and a man of pure heart. I believe our young people have a lot to learn from his work and journey.

Editor’s Note: This interview was taken by Monsurul Aziz back in 2013. Mr. Monsurul Aziz is a Manager, /BTL/Brand & Market Communication at Robi Axiata Limited.

In a calm manner he informed me that the Acting President had signed the papers of my retirement from Bangladesh Army. Keeping my composure I walked back to the program exchanged the due pleasantries and made an exit. Little did I know, this exit would mean an entry for me in to a revolution; a revolution in the agricultural fields of the country.

When gazing out of the window of my office, reflections of my past truly inspire me. Early years at Dhabal Kumar, Saint Gregory, Saint Grailey, Public School of Sargoda and then Cambridge Examinations of 1953 and 1955 were preparing me for something big. Nonetheless, a long academic course did not appeal me much, perhaps which is what led to my enrollment in the Pakistan Military Academy in 1956. Being commissioned in 1959 by securing second position made me feel I was faring quite well. International acknowledgement came when I stood first in a year long defense course that I undertook in Australia with officers from about two dozen different nationalities. Years after the liberation we were fully devoted in rebuilding the nation and army. Quite a bit of my time back then was spent in North Bengal.

In the year 1981 when my friend and the then President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated my time in the army was up. Walking in to his Kulkhani, organized by the armed forces I was taken aback by the reaction of the guests. Everyone seemed to hint at my presence being unanticipated. One of the officials from the Acting President’s office inquired about my presence. Unaware of the circumstances I simply expressed my surprise at his query. In a calm manner he informed me that the Acting President had signed the papers of my retirement from Bangladesh Army. Keeping my composure I walked back to the program, exchanged the due pleasantries, and made an exit. Little did I know, this exit would mean an entry for me in to a revolution; a revolution in the agricultural fields of the country.

Honestly, at that moment I believe I was able to channel my efforts and thoughts in the right manner. I simply refused to concede to the thought that there was nothing more for me to offer to my country. It was apparent the only way for the nation to pay its due respect to independence was by attaining economic emancipation. I wanted to play a pioneering role in the business of agriculture; do the same justice (if not more) to it as I did to the golden uniform, which I once wore with great pride.

My Journey in to Business – The New Beginning

The sheer struggle I had to undertake in the starting years amazed me quite a bit. Having served the nation with blood and sweat for decades, and having handled funds amounting to roughly BDT 300 crores as Quarter Master General (QMG), I assumed it would be easier for me to secure finance for my own business. One refusal to another landed me at the office of the then Managing Director of Janata Bank Mr. Aziz Ahmed. He placed great confidence in my endeavors and sanctioned a loan of 20 lacs. I must say back in those days it was quite a significant amount. My wife owned a house at RK mission road, passed on to her by her parents, which I kept for mortgage. I sold three quarters of my pension fund at about BDT 1, 90,000. Putting all that together I acquired the company Rangpur
Foundry Limited.

At this point I must say my years in North Bengal greatly influenced the acquisition. My dreams of shinning fields of crops soon encountered a harsh reality check. The others in the industry were producing tampered and sub standard products which made it difficult for mine to sustain. Nonetheless, I refused to give up on my business ethics and take part in any malpractices. As fate had in store, the company came to a screeching halt. My contemporaries comforted by saying the existing practices didn’t require me to settle my financial obligations; my conscience spoke otherwise. I believed in my business plan and knew I could turn it around. It gives me great joy today to look at Rangpur Foundry Limited as one of the flagship businesses of the Pran RFL Group.

The sheer struggle I had to undertake in the starting years amazed me quite a bit. Having served the nation with blood and sweat for decades, and having handled funds amounting to roughly BDT 300 crores as Quarter Master General (QMG), I assumed it would be easier for me to secure finance for my own business. One refusal to another landed me at the office of the then Managing Director of Janata Bank Mr. Aziz Ahmed. He placed great confidence in my endeavors and sanctioned a loan of 20 lacs. I must say back in those days it was quite a significant amount. My wife owned a house at RK mission road, passed on to her by her parents, which I kept for mortgage. I sold three quarters of my pension fund at about BDT 1, 90,000.

Having encountered financial adversities in Rangpur, I made my move to the capital. I focused and studied up on agriculture, particularly the use of tube well by farmers. Losses were piling by the year. A change in business focus seemed appropriate. My father was well exposed to the real estate business for some time; I decided to take it further. Forming REHAB was one of our breakthroughs.

Profits from this business were injected to commence PRAN. PRAN stands for: “Programme for Rural Advancement Nationally”. I named it to uphold my vision of an agricultural revolution in rural Bengal. The company was initiated to cater to the global demand for agro products by native farmers. The formula was simple; processing the products in a manner that increases their shelf life, maintaining quality and marketing them in the right manner. I would say we haven’t done all that bad, our first batch of exports went out in 1996 and today we have tapped in to more than 82 countries.

Having encountered financial adversities in Rangpur, I made my move to the capital. I focused and studied up on agriculture, particularly the use of tube well by farmers. Losses were piling by the year. A change in business focus seemed appropriate. My father was well exposed to the real estate business for some time; I decided to take it further.

As they say, once a soldier always a soldier. My perseverance remained intact even after leaving the force years ago, and thus I could not get on board with the fact that RFL and its products did not work. We went ahead did some re-engineering and injected about ten crore taka in it. RFL now has more than 300 products and its revenue have surpassed PRAN. I started RFL with Cast Iron products in 1980 and diversified to the PVC category in 1996 and later to plastics in 2003. RFL’s products include pumps, tube wells, bearings, and gas stoves. It has achieved the prestige of being the largest cast iron foundry and light engineering workshop in Bangladesh. A significant number of the products are exported worldwide.

As they say, once a soldier always a soldier. My perseverance remained intact even after leaving the force years ago, and thus I could not get on board with the fact that RFL and its products did not work.

Present, Future and My Philosophy

Right now, my son is looking after majority of the business. It has been around 20 years since he joined. I am looking after 2 or 3 areas of the company, namely the HR division (selection, recommendation, compensation, benefits etc) and the Dairy unit. Both of which are very close to me.

We all know that Bangladesh has been in chronic poverty for some time. Till date 30% of its people live below the poverty line. My philosophy has driven me to believe poverty may be fought best with dairy. Significant employment can be generated through this sector. Provided the farmers come up with good milk, I will make sure that I buy them and ensure good prices for them.

Our strategies have been quite at par with the ambitions of my youngest son. This is why our portfolio has grown to such a magnitude in a very short time. This year however, I am thinking of consolidation rather than expansion.
As a Bangladeshi I want the rest of the world to know about our country and products. I decided to sponsor a TV show on Zee Bangla to attain this visibility. We are about to invest in India with a new factory in Agortola. This decision is more out of pride of being a Bangladeshi rather than a profit driven investor.

I see PRAN coming up with products like peanut butter and peanut oil in future. We might indulge ourselves in trying to come up with many new peanut products.

Reasons for Success

Our employees at all levels are trained extensively. A school has been instituted for regular sessions in order to motivate the employees. Training sessions are held every Saturday morning from 9.30 a.m. covering issues such as the current markets, IT etc. We keep our team happy and contended with lunch, free medical consultancy, and regular pay hikes. Success is all about people.

My Dreams

My dream is to see women liberated in rural Bengal by earning a living and adding to their household income. I want the dairy business to be one of the leading endeavors in rural areas (we are doing quite well in this). My efforts have always gone out towards eradication of poverty by generating as many jobs as possible (a reason behind the creation of PRAN Dairy).

To encourage the development of our staff we have been sending them to be trained in countries like America, Sweden, and Pakistan. I dream of a world class team at the PRAN RFL Group.

Lastly, I would like to build a hospital in Natore. The healthcare provisions in the area are simply dismal and the suffering of the poor is unacceptable. An institution that can provide quality service to these people will go a long way.

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