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'If You Want To Be Happy, Limit Your Ambition": 06 Powerful Life Lessons From Our Long-form Interview With Muhammad A. (Rumee) Ali

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On September 21, this year, we published an interview with Muhammad A. (Rumee) Ali, Chief Executive Officer of Chief Executive Officer at Bangladesh International Arbitration Centre (BIAC).

Mr. Ali is an important figure in Bangladesh’s business scene for several reasons and has a diverse and decorated career. He was the first Bangladeshi CEO of Standard Chartered Bank and ANZ Grindlays Bank, Bangladesh. In fact, he was among the first Bangladeshis to hold the CEO position in any major multinational company in Bangladesh at that time. In his several-decades-long highly impactful career, that continues, Mr. Ali traveled extensively, seen and experienced things.

In the interview, Mr. Ali ponders upon his journey and shares nuggets of insights on life, living, and career. You may read the interview - an immensely insightful and altogether enchanting read - here.

We’ve chosen 06 practical and timeless lessons from his journey that can help anyone navigate the complex realities of life and build a fulfilling career.

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This story is part of our The School Series, an initiative to distill practical and actionable lessons from people who have seen and lived it all and share their experiential lessons with the young professionals.

Avoid negative energy and do your job

Obsession over negative situations, ideas and events is a common thing that many of us do. In fact, that’s how the human brain is wired. We are essentially prone to think about negative experiences more and imagine about it. What would other people say? What would happen if I get rejected? These thoughts often slow us down and compromise our effectiveness at work. Reminiscing over his experience at ANZ Grindlays Bank in Australia where he had to go through a tough challenge, Mr. Ali says:

“I did not pay attention to the negatives. My only focus was to manage my sales and relationship team and set the branch up for success. The main outcome I was looking for was to learn as much as possible and return to Bangladesh with a new understanding of how a bank works in an advanced economy particularly the entire retail banking ecosystem”.

Paying attention to negative things will give you nothing. It will only draw us down. Instead, we should pay attention to the what we can do regardless of the circumstance.

Keep questioning

“The advancement of the human race has been inherently dependent on questioning systems, structure and activities because questions often lead to better answers,” says Rumee Ali. “If we stop questioning there will be no advancement or improvement”.

Question is the ultimate proof of the human curiosity. It is the best way to gain deeper insights and develop more innovative answers to the pressing problems of life.


“Life is about contribution. You can pursue many things, you can achieve many things but at the end of the day, it is about other people not about you”, Mr. Ali says.

“Throughout my career, I have tried my best to remain true to my responsibility and remain honest to myself. Regardless of my position and workplace, I tried my best to contribute. I just wanted to be useful for the country and to the organization I worked for.”

Mr. Ali continues:

“There is no end to our desire. A life of desire seeks more and more for the self. It is, in a sense, a life of poverty because you are never satisfied. But a life of the spirit of contribution does not need much to attain fulfillment”.

Limit your ambition

You might be thinking ‘why should I limit my ambition?’ As in our whole life, we have been taught that having ambition is good. That life is about having and achieving huge ambitions. While having an ambition is good, having limitless ambition is a journey towards a relentless pursuit empty of contentment and fulfillment.

“If you want to be happy limit your ambition because ambition is unending like an all-consuming fire. If you cannot limit it, it will take control of you and destroy you”.

In our life, we want more and more. This never-ending desire often ends up disappointing us and making us miserable. The danger of a desire is that there is no end to it and it always makes us feel insufficient of what we have.

Help people without any expectations

“Never give anything or do any good favor for anyone with an expectation that you will get something in return. Think that you are doing it for the Almighty because he has commanded you to do good things”, says Rumee Ali. “You should never expect a return from the person because he can only return your favor if the Almighty wills, therefore you should expect a return from the Almighty”.

When we give people with an expectation of reciprocity, the entire exchange becomes transaction and it loses its value. It is our ability to give without expectation of reciprocity that makes the magic happen.

If you are into building things, find leaders and put them in charge of things

“You should put leaders in charge of projects if you want to succeed rather than managers”, says Rumee Ali. “A manager will manage the project well and get things done by the book but a leader will focus on the result of the project and be brave and take calculated risks. Managers will not take risks and will not produce the greatest results but the leaders will take risks and will have a greater chance to produce better results. It is very important for any organization to identify people with leadership potential, nurture them and place them in appropriate positions”.

Fariha is a Reporting Intern at Future Startup. She is an undergrad student at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), where she is studying Business Administration. She is also a storyteller at PODIUM’ and the general secretary of Sojag.

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