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Career and Leadership Lessons From Arif Khan, CEO, IDLC Finance Limited

Arif Khan is the CEO and Managing Director of IDLC Finance Limited. He lost his father when he was a student of class VII, an incident that left Mr. Khan heartbroken and seriously affected his early life. “I was quite a good student in my childhood, always hard-working and getting good grades in the school,” says Mr. Khan to FS in an interview. “But, when I lost my father I was devastated and it took my focus away. As a result, my attention towards studies suffered and I struggled heavily.” He had to work hard for a prolonged period of time to regain focus but it taught him something profound about life and how our struggles shape us as a person.

Started his career in 1991, Mr. Khan has an astounding body of work. Over the past 26 years of his career, Mr. Khan have played pivotal role in the lives of a number of private companies, where he worked in different capacities starting from Probationary Officer to CEO and also in public sector as a Commissioner of Securities Exchange Commission where he headed the Demutualization Project of Dhaka Stock Exchange along with many other big projects.

In an exclusive interview, we published early this year, Mr. Khan shared his journey, experience and education and urges us to seek difficulties in life and have a conscious disregard for the idea of genius in favor of hard work and to ignore the distractions of wealth or recognition or a good position while in a journey of making things happen. Here are a couple hand-picked lessons from his journey. Enter Arif Khan below.

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There is no shortcut in life and stop looking for one.

The most important thing that I have learned is that there’s no shortcut in life. There is very little importance of being a genius. You don’t need to be a genius to be successful, what you need is to work really really hard, persistently. You need to put your everything into your work with a rock solid consistency.

It doesn’t help if you work hard for 3 days straight, then sleep for three days. It doesn’t work that way. You have to consistently work hard and have to consistently compete with your own standard in order to excel and move forward.

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It is important that you understand and value people.

Human resource management is one of the important factors in the success of an organization because no one can do anything great alone. As a CEO I may say I’m the best but it does not work that way unless I have a team. Most important thing for a company is the teamwork.

A team constitutes of a lot of individual characteristics. We need to respect every individual and their opinions. In a team, you have to give opportunities to everyone. Then, you need to modify the course of actions based on everyone’s ideas.

To do that, you need to understand the people around you. Understanding means you need to talk to them, care about them, and give them the feel that you are their family member.

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Incredible importance of teamwork and a common vision.

Teamwork has an interdependent mechanism. We live in an interdependent world. You need to take everyone in, otherwise, collective success will not be an easy thing to accomplish.

As a society we are not very tolerant; but in order to make progress, you have to be. You have to be a team player, respect everyone, listen to everyone and make everyone feel that they are also in the game regardless of their position.

As a CEO, I believe that my team should be as much as a part of decision making as myself. I’m a team player. I’m here only to guide and inspire them. I don’t do much, to be honest. I think the team is the most important component of any company.

At IDLC, we now manage 1,400 people. In order to succeed as an organization, we need to make sure that every one of our people sees the same vision as the management committee does. We try to take care of the needs of our employees in a 360-degree manner. And when you do that, employees returns the favor. They treat the vision of the organization as their own.

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Find the best people and empower them.

We try to hire the best people in the market and give them the freedom to use their inner abilities. We tell them to use their talent and go beyond. As such, when they come here, they all feel empowered.

This culture, I think, is unique in Bangladesh market. Unlike the top-down approach where you direct people what to do and not to, here people come up with a proposal and I just approve. They are the owner of the organization.

From the very top of the management, this organization believes in open and transparent governance. You may know that any bad practice starts from the head. Our governance is our competitive advantage.

And then the culture. Everyone knows that I have some authority to do my job. We have a very empowering, decentralized authority throughout the organization.

I want to empower my colleagues. We don’t have a rigid, 9 to 5 o’clock environment at IDLC. It’s comfortable here. Here we celebrate our successes and don’t let failures dishearten us. We have 2 types of salaries here: a fixed salary and annual variable bonus. If an employee can deliver more than what has been expected of him, s/he gets a fair bonus at the end of the year.

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When in a journey actively resist the distractions and temptation of an easy way out with everything you have got.

It’s very important to believe in what you’re trying to build because the initial stage is often quite tough. You’ll see that positions at big corporations are slipping away and your peers are getting high salaries. It’ll be hard, but you must ignore those.

Almost everyone in the society will try to coax you to go for a change, but you need to be a dreamer to achieve the impossible.

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Find ways to serve people.

Be a giver. Find ways to serve people. I think we can learn this thing from nature that it continues to give without any expectation. The most important and recurring lesson from my 26 years of working life is, when we give without expectation, it comes back to you manifold.

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