Syngenta Bangladesh and The Future Of Agriculture: An Interview With Md. Sazzadul Hassan, Managing Director, Syngenta Bangladesh Limited

Syngenta Bangladesh and The Future Of Agriculture: An Interview With Md. Sazzadul Hassan, Managing Director, Syngenta Bangladesh Limited

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Md. Sazzadul Hassan is the Managing Director at Syngenta Bangladesh. Mr. Hassan was born and brought up in Dhaka. He studied Statistics at Dhaka University, after his bachelors in Statistics, he did an M.Sc. in Computer Science when Dhaka University first opened up Computer Science Department and then went on to do an MBA from IBA. Mr. Hassan has a diverse and decorated career spanning multiple industries and countries.

In this interview, Mr. Hassan walks us through his early life and upbringing, reflects on his journey to what he is doing today, his multiple decades of career spanning multiple industries, countries and important roles, shares his thoughts on leadership and growth, talks about his work at Syngenta Bangladesh, its internal culture of collaboration and engagement, current state of the company and its ambition going forward and the future of agriculture in Bangladesh, discusses innovation in the agriculture sector, his management philosophy and why it is important beyond measure to engage people and work as a team, shares his ideas for being an effective CEO, his morning routine and ponders upon the meaning of life and why our greatest satisfaction comes from giving.

This is our first major interview on agriculture and agri-tech and is a compendium of practical ideas, personal anecdotes and powerful insight on the future of agriculture industry in Bangladesh – an intellectually empowering and altogether enchanting read.

Future Startup

Where did you grow up and how was your early life? Please tell us about your journey to what you are doing today.

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

I was born and brought up in Dhaka. Coming from a middle-class background, although I had a regular childhood, it was fascinating in its own way. The fun part was freedom. Growing up, we enjoyed enormous freedom. Unlike my children today, I was never accompanied by my parents to school. Along with other things, it also shows how safe the town was at that time.

There were plenty of open spaces. Playground was not a scarce thing yet. We did not have much access to technology like today’s kids, but for us games were real. We used to play outdoor games even in the middle of the day under the scorching sun and football on a muddy pitch in the midst of heavy downpour! Life was simple yet rich and beautiful.

I did my SSC from Monipur High School and then went to Dhaka College from where I did my HSC. After that, I went to Dhaka University where I studied Statistics. After completing my B.Sc., I changed my major to computer science. Dhaka University just opened the department of computer science and they were offering M.Sc. degree. I got myself admitted to Computer Science and earned my master’s degree in Computer Science. After that, I did an MBA in Marketing from IBA.

I started my professional career at a multinational tobacco company in their trade marketing department. After a while, I moved to one of the largest conglomerates of the country where I stayed for a short while before moving to one of the largest Anglo-Dutch container shipping companies P&O Nedlloyd as a Management Trainee.

That was the turning point for me. I got huge international exposure – traveling different parts of the world, working with people different nationalities and culture. It was a truly dynamic experience.

In 2005, P&O Nedlloyd was acquired by the Danish business group A.P. Moller Maersk Group. I got lucky again, I became the general manager of the new company with key commercial responsibilities.

After working for nearly eight years in the shipping industry, I made apparently a surprise move to Agriculture Industry. To be honest, I did not know much about agriculture industry before joining Syngenta. However, I took the challenge and joined Syngenta Bangladesh as Marketing Director in 2009.

In 2011, I was transferred to Syngenta’s regional office in Singapore to take up the role of Head of Pricing Operations for Asia Pacific Region. This was a great learning experience for me.

In the middle of 2012, I was offered the job of Managing Director of Syngenta Bangladesh. I gladly accepted the offer and came back to Bangladesh to take up the challenge. That’s in short, is the story of my journey so far.

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Growth usually comes from ceasing the opportunity at the right time. Now that is easy to tell, but how do you know when is the right time? One way is to do that is by becoming relentlessly customer-centric. You need to be always close to your customers, understand their needs and come up with the appropriate solutions that make their life easier and better.

Future Startup

Was there any particular moment or event in your career that you consider as your turning point?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

I think there are a few of those. Joining P&O Nedlloyd as Management Trainee was a turning point for me early in my career. Working at P&O Nedlloyd allowed me to have a multinational experience and understand the dynamics of working in a diverse culture. Later, becoming the GM of Maersk Bangladesh had given me the opportunity to push myself further.

However, when I decided to pursue my career in agriculture and join Syngenta, it was yet another defining moment for me. It was an apparently difficult move given that I did not have any experience of working in the agriculture industry, but I was passionate about agriculture and I was committed to making a difference.

Future Startup

You have several decades of experience in leading and growing companies in a host of sectors, what are the biggest lessons from all those years?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

There are a couple things you need in order to succeed at work. You have to be a fast learner and then you have to learn relentlessly. There is no end to learning.

The second most important thing is sincerity and commitment. It is a rare quality to love your work and be committed. When you are committed, you pay attention to details, you work harder and you perform better. Commit.

Finally, be a team player. While we obsess over lone geniuses, in reality, it is almost impossible to produce a great result if you don’t have a great team or if you are not good at working in a team. Invest in developing a collaborative mindset and working together.

Future Startup

For young CEOs, what does it take to be effective a CEO or leader?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

There is no one size fits all formula or set rules that you can use to be effective as a leader. Everyone has their own style and ways of working. However, I believe it helps to be yourself because everyone else is taken.

It is a rare quality to love your work and be committed. When you are committed, you pay attention to details, you work harder and you perform better. Commit.

Future Startup

How do you drive growth?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Growth usually comes from ceasing the opportunity at the right time. Now that is easy to tell, but how do you know when is the right time?

One way is to do that is by becoming relentlessly customer-centric. You need to be always close to your customers, understand their needs and come up with the appropriate solutions that make their life easier and better.

Future Startup

Please give us an overview of Syngenta Bangladesh such as products, size, the scope of operations and team.

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Syngenta Bangladesh is the subsidiary company of the Switzerland based multinational agro-input giant Syngenta AG. Globally it operates in 90 countries with 28,000 permanent employees.

The company has been operating in Bangladesh for over 50 years. Syngenta Bangladesh is a joint venture public limited company where BCIC has 40% shares.

Syngenta’s products and services are widely trusted by farmers in Bangladesh. Like other parts of the world, the company offers crop protection products which includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, micronutrients/fertilizers like Zinc, Boron & Magnesium, PGR (plant growth regulators) and seeds especially rice and corn seeds, high value vegetables seeds like Tomato, Okra, Cucumber, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Chilli, Radish, Watermelon etc in Bangladesh.

Syngenta has a chemical plant in Chittagong where the formulation, fill and pack activities related to crop protection products are done. Syngenta has a modern seeds processing facility along with a dehumidified storage in Bogra.

Syngenta Bangladesh invests heavily in Learning and Development (L&D). The state of the art training facility is located in Bogra as well. It has also got a dedicated R&D (Research and Development) center in the same location.

Nearly 200 permanent employees work at the company. We have 04 warehouses all across the country from where products are distributed. Syngenta works with 400 distributors and nearly 9000 retailers who help us to distribute our products and reach out to farmers across the country.

At Syngenta, we call it co-creation. It is never a top-down approach rather we engage everyone in the team, listen to them and then make the decision. Once you engage your team, everyone feels the ownership and takes responsibility. The other important element is the communication – on time, open and transparent communication is the key to align everyone with the key strategic agenda.

Future Startup

How much has the company evolved over the last five years since you took over as a Managing Director in 2011?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

We have evolved quite significantly over the past few years. We have outnumbered the industry growth rate. From the revenue perspective, it has grown almost two and half times in the last five years with a respectable market share.

Future Startup

On a similar note, how much has the industry evolved over the past couple of years? What are the major shifts? What does the future look like to you?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Crop protection industry has a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 8%-10%. There are some shifts being noticed in the usage of crop protection products. In the northern part of the country, farmers are opting for quality fungicide.

The labor shortage is driving herbicide growth all across the country. Farmers are increasingly looking for high-quality seeds.

The future of the sector is promising as the country has a daunting task to feed its growing population.

To ensure food security for a huge population, productivity would be the name of the game and for that, there is no alternative to world-class technology. Syngenta has the reputation to offer newer and better technology to the growers.

Future Startup

How do you make and then align everyone with major strategic decisions at Syngenta?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

It’s all about engaging with the team in the decision making process. At Syngenta, we call it co-creation. It is never a top-down approach rather we engage everyone in the team, listen to them and then make the decision.

Once you engage your team, everyone feels the ownership and takes responsibility. The other important element is the communication – on time, open and transparent communication is the key to align everyone with the key strategic agenda.

Syngenta is an absolutely technology-driven company. We invest heavily in research and development to come up with best in class solutions for our growers which has helped us to maintain our leadership in the market and deliver the best value to the farmers.

Future Startup

What are the challenges for Syngenta now? What challenges do you anticipate in the future?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

One of the major challenges that we face is the volatile commodity price. More often than not due to low farm-gate price farmers suffer badly in terms of profitability and as a result, they often can’t invest in quality solutions.

The other challenge is the counterfeit and adulteration. Farmers do often get cheated by fake products. These challenges are not unique to us. This is a challenge for every other player in the market.

Two of the key challenges that the industry would face in the future include the reduction of cultivable land and the shortage of water for irrigation.

Due to industrialization, urbanization and population growth, agricultural land is decreasing rapidly. It is hard to find agriculture land even in many semi-urban areas these days.

This is going to be a huge challenge that will require higher productivity from the land that we have in order to meet the demand.

On the other hand, we all know that our groundwater level is getting down alarmingly. In order to deal with this challenge, we have to come up with an alternate means of irrigation.

Future Startup

Can you talk about organizational culture at Syngenta? How do people work and collaborate?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

We maintain an open and a flat organizational culture. Employee engagement is quite high. There are many instances where people spent their entire career and retire from here.

Loyalty is quite high. Company consciously takes many initiatives to ensure a culture of collaboration and engagement.

Future Startup

How does your marketing work?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Marketing is one of the key functions and drivers of success for us. However, our approach is quite different than other mainstream brands because our customers are mainly farmers.

It all starts with understanding customers’ needs and wants. Then working closely with R&D team to come up with the appropriate solutions that would meet the needs of our customers.

Once we have the solutions, we then chalk out the core marketing activities like pricing, campaign, distribution strategy etc. Our marketing team works closely with the sales team to ensure effective execution of the strategy.

As I mentioned earlier, challenges are around volatile commodity price that leads to low income for the farmers, adulteration and counterfeits products in the market, decreasing arable land that would put pressure on productivity and the shortage of water for irrigation. Challenges are opportunities in disguise. In order to ensure food for a growing population, the need for quality agro-input is increasing.

Future Startup

What are the future plans for Syngenta?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Syngenta is clearly number one in Crop Protection in Bangladesh and our goal is to maintain the leadership position strongly.

Going forward, we want to be a dominant player in the seeds business as well within next couple of years.

Future Startup

Technology is changing almost every industry, how do you use tech in your organization?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Syngenta is an absolutely technology-driven company. We invest heavily in research and development to come up with best in class solutions for our growers which has helped us to maintain our leadership in the market and deliver the best value to the farmers.

In terms of managing our business, we are also tech-savvy. We use best IT solutions available, be it communication tool or ERP or connecting with the channel partners or customers.

Future Startup

What are major challenges and opportunities in the agri-business/agri-tech space?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

As I mentioned earlier, challenges are around volatile commodity price that leads to low income for the farmers, adulteration and counterfeits products in the market, decreasing arable land that would put pressure on productivity and the shortage of water for irrigation.

Challenges are opportunities in disguise. In order to ensure food for a growing population, the need for quality agro-input is increasing. At the same time, regulators and other key stakeholders are asking for environment-friendly technology. These open up new avenues for growth for the companies like Syngenta.

Future Startup

As a nation, we are slowly transitioning towards an industrial economy from agriculture one, what do you think about the future of agriculture in Bangladesh?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

The future of Bangladesh agriculture is promising as the country needs to improve its productivity significantly to feed the large and consistently increasing population. And for that to happen we need best in class technologies.

The other thing is that we will see an increase in the use of technology in the agriculture sector that will transform the industry in many ways.

Innovation is going to be the key to deal with multiple challenges that the world is facing today such as produce more agricultural outputs from the less of land, climatic change, pest pressure and pest shift, and resistance management of the chemicals. Many of these challenges can’t be solved with existing solutions and require innovative approaches. Being one of the most important sectors, agriculture requires more innovations today than ever before.

Future Startup

We are seeing a lot of things are happening around agriculture and technology around the world as well as in Bangladesh, to a certain extent, what do you think about future of Agri-tech in the context of Bangladesh?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

As I mentioned, we will see more mechanization happening in the sector, more reliance on technology in almost every aspect of agriculture.

Apart from that, a few other major trends that I see are: farmers will look for high-quality seeds that will give better yields, superior crop protection products, and better agronomical practices.

Future Startup

How do you think about innovation in the agriculture sector?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Innovation is going to be the key to deal with multiple challenges that the world is facing today such as produce more agricultural outputs from the less of land, climatic change, pest pressure and pest shift, and resistance management of the chemicals.

Many of these challenges can’t be solved with existing solutions and require innovative approaches. Being one of the most important sectors, agriculture requires more innovations today than ever before. That’s one of looking at it.

The other way is that we have been seeing a lot of groundbreaking works are happening in this space, new approach of doing things to the new variety of seeds and other products. However, there is no denying that we need more.

Future Startup

What is your take on leadership?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

It is all about living a dream. In order to materialize the dream, a leader has to engage with the team passionately, articulate the dream in a compelling manner so that everyone understands and owns the dream.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

My management style is more inclusive and participatory in nature.

I prefer getting connected with the team members, taking their constant feedback and involving them in making decisions and driving the strategic agenda of the organization.

Future Startup

Do you feel down, if yes, how do you pull yourself up when you feel down?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

Yes, I do. As a human being, I at times feel down which I think every one of us does. Looking at the big picture often helps. We often suffer more in our imaginations.

When we let go of small things that bother us it gets easier to move forward. Focusing on the bigger goals and keeping our eyes on our dreams help us to make progress.

I start my day early when things are tranquil. The advantage of starting early is that morning is when we are at our best both in mental and physical energy. I love my mornings.

Future Startup

How do you deal with stress and challenges?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

I try to take it easy. Over the years, I have learned that we are making of our challenges and crisis.

It is our struggles that make us who we become ultimately. And often challenges do offer opportunities as well.

Future Startup

How do you work? How do you prioritize and manage time?

Md. Sazzadul Hassan

I start my day early when things are tranquil. The advantage of starting early is that morning is when we are at our best both in mental and physical energy. I love my mornings.

A good start of the day is half the job done. I normally try to finish my task well ahead of deadline and always try to avoid last minute rush.

Over the years, I have learned that we are making of our challenges and crisis. It is our struggles that make us who we become ultimately. And often challenges do offer opportunities as well.

Cover photo credit: Syngenta Bangladesh

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