Kazi Food Industries, The Art Of Business and Life: An Interview With Tanvir Haider Chaudhury, CEO, Kazi Food Industries Ltd

Kazi Food Industries, The Art Of Business and Life: An Interview With Tanvir Haider Chaudhury, CEO, Kazi Food Industries Ltd

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Tanvir Haider Chaudhury is the Chief Executive Officer at Kazi Food Industries Ltd. Prior to joining Kazi Food, he was a senior banker and worked at Standard Chartered Bank for 17 years.

Since his appointment as Chief Executive Officer in May 2013, Mr. Chaudhury has been instrumental in growing Kazi Food’s ice-cream business, establishing Bellissimo as a premium ice-cream brand in the market, launching new brands and SKUs and product line. He and his team at Kazi Food Industries have expanded to new territory, have successfully launched Kazi Farms Kitchen, which has become the number one frozen food brand in the country, and grown Kazi Farms Kitchen’s franchise business to over 110 outlets in less than four years and built a solid operation to support its consistent growth.

In this wide-ranging interview we talk about: his journey to what he is doing today, how his early life experience shapes his worldview, the beginning of his professional career, his work at Kazi Food Industries, the current state and future of Kazi Food Industries, future of Ice-cream and frozen food business in Bangladesh, what does it take to grow a business from scratch, mental models, teamwork, leadership, staying motivated, life and much more.

This was a much longer interview, so we had to break it up into two parts. This is the part one, please check us back later this month for the second part of the interview or subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get our stories directly in your inbox.

Enjoy the conversation.

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. The first question is about yourself, please tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today.

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

Simply put, I am a product of the Dhaka University campus. My father was a teacher of Bangla Literature at Dhaka University and was a brilliant scholar. He held the record marks in Bangla literature from Kolkata University, from where he passed his honors and got a gold medal. He held that record for about 15 years before it was broken in the 60s. It was unheard of for a Muslim boy to excel at such level given the socio-economic reality at that time.

My father, Mufazzal Haider Chowdhury, was one of those people murdered on 14th of December 1971. He was abducted from his brother’s house by the Albadar Camp.

My mother hails from the ancestral family of Sher-e-Bangla in Barisal. They were one big family. A.K. Fazlul Haq was my mother’s grandfather on her mother’s side. For a large part of her youth, she grew up in Kolkata in an undivided Bengal.

After the partition, they settled in Dhaka. I had a brother. Both my brother and mother passed away in 2011 and 1990, respectively. I am essentially the sole surviving member of my family.

If you had asked me when I was in my early 20s whether I would be where I am now, I would have thought that there was something wrong with you. Growing up, I was passionate about teaching and wanted to pursue a career in academia. I attended University Laboratory School at DU campus.

I was a fairly good student. It was a wonderful time. The environment was very different from anything that you experience outside. The wives of the Dhaka University teachers were mainly the teachers at the school. Essentially, everyone knew each other, making it a wholesome environment. It felt like one big extended family.

We didn’t know how special the campus was until we left it; we thought every school was like this. From 1972 to 1984, I went to school and college there.

It was a co-education school, we never really learned to see girls any differently from anybody. The gender issue that comes up these days really perplex me. We never felt the difference – girls are just human beings who play with us, compete with us, bested us in a lot of things.

Growing up, I wanted to pursue some sort of career in academia. Academia was the natural choice because everyone around me was in Academia. I thought I was best suited for literature. But reality intervened. Since I didn’t have a father, I realized that I would have to look after myself by having a career. So I chose to study economics and later business.

My mother passed away the year I was appearing for my honors finals. She had developed arthritis in her right side. From that, she had developed a murmur in her heart so she was quite unwell for a while.

One day after the exam I was preparing to go to Calcutta to attend a friend’s event. My mother was packing my clothes when she had a heart attack. I initially did not understand what just happened. She passed away on our way to the hospital. She was in my hands the entire time and I could feel in my heart that her life was gradually slipping away.

The day she passed away, my life had changed once again. I realized pursuing academics would be an expensive option since it would leave my brother burdening the responsibilities. Hence, I decided to pursue an MBA from IBA because there was a very good demand for IBA graduates in the market. I appeared for the IBA exams and got in.

While at IBA, my idealistic instincts took over again. I did my orientation on development management under, possibly the best teacher I had in my life, Professor Muzaffar Ahmed. He was a brilliant nurturing man and a wonderful teacher. By the time he was a senior teacher. Despite that, I had never met a teacher like him who gave so much of himself to his students. He was the best teacher I have ever had.

After graduation, I tried to make a career in the development sector. I worked various short stints at UNICEF, BRAC etc. I worked with Professor Atiur Rahman who later became the governor of Bangladesh Bank for a short period of time. He had a research organization where I worked for a while.

I might have been a little too impatient. I probably had wanted to see a change within too short of a period. After almost one and half years of trying to work in the development sector, I became a little disillusioned. I came to see, in many instances, what they claimed to do they don’t really do a lot of the times.

Donor’s funds were not utilized as well as they might be. Data was not sometimes truthfully represented in the research that they do. I thought if this is the way it’s gonna be, then I am compromising on my quality of life. With my degree, I could have been making more money. I’m not doing it because I want to be doing something worthwhile with my life. If that’s not going to happen then why am I compromising with my quality of life?

I had a friend who was applying to various banks at that time. One day he dragged me from my house on a hartal day. We took a rickshaw ride from Gulshan 1 to Motijheel, where the head office of Standard Chartered Bank was back then. I sat outside, while he submitted applications for both of us. I qualified through the written exams and interviews and got into the bank. The rest is history. I ended up working there for 17 years.

Surprisingly enough, I did fairly well at the bank. I went up through the ranks fairly fast, became a senior manager. Eventually, I became part of the management committee of the bank, ran various businesses and recorded good growth. The way SCB’s network is right now, my team and I had a fair bit to do with that.

Over my tenure in retail banking, the bank acquired the business of ANZ Grindlays Bank. Also the American Express Bank license and portfolio of the bank as well. Eventually, they sold the American Express banking venture altogether. But at that time, we suddenly had a large number of additional branches to manage.

Because of the combined presence of these three, we ended up having 2/3 branches in the same locality. We took the call of moving some of those branches around. There were two branches in Dhanmondi, we took one to Mirpur, hence SCB ended up becoming the first international bank to go to Mirpur.

There was a branch in Motijheel as well which we moved to Chawk Bazar. This was again a fairly novel thing to do since no one thought of it. Then we came up with SME banking and a few new propositions which should work in places like Mirpur and Chawk Bazar. They turned out to be good decisions since those branches did extremely well and continue to do well even these days.

At that point, I was also the Head of Shared Distribution, which was the customer touch points consisting of branches, phone banking, ATMs, internet banking etc. The internet banking that they have now, we had applied for it a long time ago, for things like 3rd party transfers from the account to Bangladesh Bank. Took a little while, but eventually, it started bearing fruit.

Then I moved to corporate banking as Head of Transaction Banking, which is the core of banking. We recorded a very good growth. My team and I was there for 3 years. In that three years, we took a business of $38 million dollars onshore, $25 million dollars offshore to about $80 million dollars onshore and $50 million dollars offshore.

One of my fondest experiences in SCB was when I handled brand of SCB from the retail banking side. Not many people knew SCB during that time. We had to build the brand as something that you could actually depend on and encourage you to come to us as a banking of choice.

We did many interesting things that, mostly, FMCG companies used to do. We did campaigns in restaurants. We would collect business cards that we would then drop in our databases and then call them, write to them to get them open an account and take our services. I was the Head of Marketing at that time. And then when the credit card business came in with the acquisition of Grindlays Bank. With that came lots of campaigns which were very brand focused. Those were the things that I really enjoyed doing. I have always enjoyed thinking about brand and building brands.

Long story short, in 2012 certain things happened at the bank. The structure and relationships changed. Tragedy struck my family with the death of my only brother, hence I was looking for a change which eventually led to joining Kazi Food Industries.

When the opportunity to work at Kazi Food Industries came, I thought although this was different from what I did, I would probably be able to add value to the brand building. And I knew what it was like to build businesses. I managed a big business of 80 million USD, I thought this should not be much of a challenge which I later came to find that as quite an underestimation of challenges of building something from scratch.

The experience at Kazi Foods turned out to be very different, to my surprise. You think you’ve dealt with everything you need to and view it from the outside as already done and dusted. However, it is not. Building something up from scratch is the most difficult thing to do. No matter what you might have experienced previously, it’s never a cakewalk. However, I have been having a lot of fun in doing it.

Growing up, I wanted to pursue some sort of career in academia. Academia was the natural choice because everyone around me was in Academia. I thought I was best suited for literature. But reality intervened. Since I didn’t have a father, I realized that I would have to look after myself by having a career. So I chose to study economics and later business.

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Future Startup

I would like to talk more about Kazi Food Industries in a moment, before that I want to learn a little more about your personal story. As you mentioned, you had a wonderful time growing up, and you went through your share of tragedies, trials, and tribulations as well, do you see a connection between the nature of your upbringing and the person you are today and the way you operate?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

I was 3 years old when the war broke out. Even though at that age it’s hard to retain any memories, I remember certain vivid images. There were fighter planes flying over our head. Many unusual things were happening. It was a very different time.

Our family used to take shelter at my grandfather’s house. I remember staying up very late at nights and see men with long hair and uniform, opening cupboards and finding ammunition and rifles. I recall my father’s abduction fairly vividly, even though I was very young.

Growing up on that campus and knowing who my father was, it was a heavy experience. You go through life as it is and there are certain things that you wish you could have done better. But I don’t think much of that.

My household was very scholarly. There were books all around. To this day, I’m a voracious reader. My head is still occupied with what I just read a while ago and what I will be reading later.

Some of my fondest memories are from British Council, discussing books with friends and writing fiction occasionally, which were then circulated around the classroom.

My upbringing and where I grew up had everything to do with who I am now. The time was different. We had a lot of both physical and mental space. Especially in a place like Dhaka University, where everyone was the same in terms of income and social respectability etc. We thought to be into academia was the normal thing to be and everyone was naturally nurturing.

People were honest and compassionate. Everyone cared for each other. It was a very idealistic kind of environment. There was a lot of freedom. We never had to worry about security or what others might think.

In terms of work, I spent 17 years being a banker and a senior one at that. I could not have done it if I hadn’t enjoyed it. Although given a choice, I probably might not have chosen it.

It’s very high-stress profession and very competitive in nature. Especially SCB, where I spent my entire banking career, is a very competitive organization. Work environment was demanding in nature. Excellence was the norm. We survived all that because we enjoyed it and we were doing things for the first in many cases.

When you get to be a manager, you imply certain values like treating people fairly on the basis of their merit and not discriminating between any class and gender. I have always tried to do that.

Equity has been a priority for me throughout my journey which has a lot to do with my upbringing. If I interview two candidates for a job and there is a Bengali Muslim and a Minority and they perform equally well, I would take the minority. If I interview a Bengali Muslim man and a Muslim Woman, I would take the woman. This is an issue of principle and how I look at the world. I think it has a lot to do with my upbringing.

My upbringing and where I grew up had everything to do with who I am now. The time was different. We had a lot of both physical and mental space. Especially in a place like Dhaka University, where everyone was the same in terms of income and social respectability etc. We thought to be into academia was the normal thing to be and everyone was naturally nurturing. People were honest and compassionate. Everyone cared for each other. It was a very idealistic kind of environment. There was a lot of freedom. We never had to worry about security or what others might think.

Future Startup

Now tell us about your journey with Kazi Food Industries. How did you end up here? Also, it would be great if you give me an overview of your operations and business.

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

I know the owners of Kazi Food Industries for a long time. They were not in FMCG business before. Towards the end of 2012, I had a discussion with one of the owners of the company who mentioned about this retail food business they were opening up with an ice-cream brand and that they were planning to introduce the brand at the Trade Fair.

Bellissimo, our premium ice-cream brand was launched at the Dhaka international trade fair in January 2013. It was a runaway success. I did not join yet but I was closely observing.

The people behind this business are extremely well educated. They are responsible and socially conscious. They will do exactly what they say they will do in terms of quality and standards and they have deep pockets to invest in order to offer quality products.

As I mentioned, the brand was introduced in January 2013 but it hadn’t launched in the market in terms of promotion and availability. It was available in some superstores, but there wasn’t any brand shop and no communication in terms of commercials or media launch.

I joined Kazi Food Industries in May 2013. Within the first week of June, we did a media launch for Bellissimo with a TVC. We procured freezers and injected them into superstores. Then we invested in infrastructures, setting up depos, transports for refrigerators and a team of people.

Within 2014, it was doing extremely well and had become the largest premium ice-cream brand in the country, if not the only.

We were doing 25 crores of sales when the industry was about 650 crore back then. The premium ice-cream brand is really not that deep. We had our freezers and we had Bellissimo but if you don’t have SKUs at other price points, what happens in this trade is that other people push their products onto your freezers. We decided that by the beginning of 2014 we would have another range of ice-cream which eventually led to the launching of Za-n-Zee, a mass market brand.

This took our sales to a whole different level. In 2016, our ice-cream sales was about 112 crore, which was about 12% of the market. It’s a big challenge because there are many big brands dominating the market and keeping your freezers pure, so to speak.

From 2013 to 2016, we pushed and pushed. It helped us to grow at a rapid pace but at the same time, it also caused some issues in the market. We found out the many of our distributors were not serious about growth and committed. There were credit issues as well. In many locations, we were not doing as well as expected.

We spent 2017 cleaning the market. Getting new distributors on board. Pulling out freezers from wrong locations and putting them in the right locations, along with controlling credit etc. While we did that, we kept sales running, even though it dropped a little bit. We are now in a much better shape.

This year we have focused on a renewed growth push. We are investing more in the brand. Shakib Al-Hasan is our brand ambassador for the Za-n-Zee brand. We’ve many new SKUs which are very exciting, like the Kulfi ice-creams which are doing extremely well. We have introduced a new premium range called Bellissimo Creations, which is 450ml tubs. It has been doing very well as well.

From 2014, we got into the frozen food business as well. We consciously named it KaziFarms Kitchen. The parent company itself is one of the largest companies in the sector in Bangladesh, in terms of overall size. It’s also one of the most respected companies because of the way it has conducted its business. People trust the brand and we wanted to leverage the trust and take it further.

As I said, we launched in 2014. Within a couple of years, it overtook other company which had the dominance in the frozen food market. By 2017, we have become the undisputed number one in the country.

This year we are leaving the competition far behind because we have many more SKUs which are doing extremely well. We’ve also entered into dry fish, jams, jelly, and few shrimp items.

The frozen food market is a little over 160 crore. Last year we did about 46 crores of sales. This year we’re looking to about 85 crores. Hence, we are also expanding the frozen foods market.

At Kazi Farms Kitchen, we’ve also franchised out the brand to small franchisees who have small fried chicken shops using our brand. Although it is, to some extent, modeled after the CP model, our outlets are very different in terms of design, ambiance, and experience. You can sit in these shops and enjoy your food. The shop experience is very different.

We have about 110 outlets now, with a well-rounded experience in most of them. We think people have taken the brand to heart and they really like the experiences that we have offered. We get feedback and such on social media all the time, which is overwhelmingly positive.

We’ve taken our branding very seriously. This is not only about communication. We make sure that we deliver on our promises. If we claim that our products have certain ingredients and don’t contain certain other harmful ingredients, we make sure that we follow through and deliver exact quality products.

We have to acknowledge our partners and agencies who have been of tremendous support. We did a lot of work with Interspeed marketing, to begin with on Kazi Farms Kitchen and Za-n-Zee.

Bitopi did a lot of work on Bellissimo and Za-n-Zee as well. Adcomm has also been instrumental in terms of Zaa-n-Zee and Kazi Farms Kitchen branding.

We’ve taken our branding very seriously. This is not only about communication. We make sure that we deliver on our promises. If we claim that our products have certain ingredients and don’t contain certain other harmful ingredients, we make sure that we follow through and deliver exact quality products.

Future Startup

How big is your team now?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

In the sales organization, it is about 80 people. With the head office staff, it is about 115. If you look at factories, we have about 200 people there because a few of our products require human intervention.

Future Startup

You mentioned that when you decided to take up the job you underestimated the challenges, what were the major challenges that you faced in the early days?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

As I mentioned there, building anything from scratch is an entirely different ball game. We had to ensure many of the challenges of an early stage company.

After we started, the competition has intensified. Many ice-cream brands had been launched over the last 4 years. The large brands had begun to closely guard their positions in the market. Like the banking industry, the competition was intense here as well and some of the measures adopted by the competitors had not been very savory.

The industry itself needs to evolve as well. The quality of human resource and the distributor infrastructure is not very professional. We need to be working with a better type of distributor, a more enlightened and professional group of distributors.

However, we have done things very differently. For instance, our salespeople or in general staff are not comprised of people who go from one ice-cream company to another. We have taken people from other FMCG companies, Telcos and so forth and not from traditional ice-cream companies. This was done because we did not want to poach people from the same industry. And at the same time, when people change industry they bring in other sets of skills into the mix.

I would say things are now going very well for us.

Future Startup

You launched Bellissimo in 2013 and then Za-n-Zee in 2014 and Kazi Farms Kitchen in 2014. In an interview with Independent TV, you said, your market share (ice-cream) reached to 7 percent by December of that year and in 2014, you saw a brilliant growth. Today, your share is about 12%. In the frozen food category, you are the market leader now. What have contributed to achieving this growth?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

Essentially we have done some clean-up last year. We pushed very hard. I came from a culture where there is no quarter given not asked for. I will expect you to do what you say you will do.

We did a lot of things for growth. Most importantly, we offer the best products in the market. If we are saying that there is 10% milk fat, that we are giving you the best frozen food products, and that we don’t use DDT in dry fish, you will get exactly that. That has helped to build trust. If you taste our ice cream you would see the difference.

Growth is all good but it also came with challenges for us. Now in hindsight, if we had planned for a more steady progress rather than the breakneck speed we had adopted, it would have been better.

Having said that, whatever harm was done in trying to go so fast in terms of credit building and taking on bad distributors and so forth, all the problems have now been addressed.

I’m comfortable with the team we have now, all of them possessing one skillset or the other, and now we are poised to take that next step.

We think our products are the best in the market. By large, people tend to agree with us, in terms of quality. If that’s the case, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t dominate this market. And that is our intention, to dominate the market.

Future Startup

You have built some very successful brands, in terms of awareness and acceptance, within a very short period of time. Bellissimo, Za-n-Zee and Kazi Farms Kitchen. Could touch upon a bit about the philosophy and strategy behind each of these brands?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

The brains behind the Bellissimo strategy, Zeeshan, and Zahin, two of the directors of the company, they grew up in the US and are big fans of ice-cream. They thought that even if you have Movenpick, which provides premium and parlor ice-cream, retail or the regular ice-creams have never tasted this good as what they had in the US. So why couldn’t we have an ice-cream brand here in Dhaka as good as those in the US?

They thought of what constitutes a good ice-cream, what sort of ingredients should go there. How should we call this ice-cream, so that the customers are attracted to it? What should the brand elements be in order to give that sort of premium feel?

All these things were thought out and the brand was launched. This is basically the story behind Bellissimo’s conception. I was not part of it initially.

Later we changed the brand a little. We have found out later that the particular look and feel of the brand has appealed to a certain group of people. It was making it very difficult to go beyond that group with that brand character. So we ended up changing the character to some extent. The brand is now much more approachable.

Now you’ll see many colors in Bellissimo ads, appealing to the younger people. Our tagline has become “You deserve better”; this is an answer to the question of “why would you buy Bellissimo?” because “you deserve better”.

With the branding that we have done, we have tried to attach a character to each brand. Bellissimo is your elegant and aspirational kind of brand. Over the period it has also evolved into a more approachable kind.

We never wanted to give the impression that it is beyond anyone’s reach. It’s not really that expensive, in terms of the value that we attach to it. These are some of the best ice-creams you’ll ever have.

Za-n-Zee is a youth-focused brand. It is more about fun and having it break-free. This is because young people tend to be like that. They prefer freedom, adda, and fun.

For the initial positioning of Kazi Farms Kitchen, we found out that there is an opportunity to be a category leader. There is no company that is synonymous with the category; Kazi Farms might just be on its way to that.

Initially, we did not talk about the quality of the brand itself or it’s particular features. The advertisements talked about the fact that what would you serve if guests come unexpectedly or you need readymade food; you serve Kazi Farms as if it’s the only option available. The idea was to position ourselves as the category itself. It has evolved since.

Now that people consider Kazi Farms Kitchen as the category leader, we are addressing the trust issues which is a common concern among people when it comes to food products in Bangladesh.

Our communication now is around the idea that you can trust Kazi Farms Kitchen blindly. That we provide quality that we promise.

Future Startup

What are the plans going forward?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

We think our products are the best in the market. By large, people tend to agree with us, in terms of quality. If that’s the case, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t dominate this market. And that is our intention, to dominate the market.

We have made plans in terms of logistics and are revamping the team and having distributor support as much as possible along with plans for increasing the capacity in the factories.

Bellissimo has a natural market, it should be selling about 2 crores each month. We’re a fair distance away from that but by next year it should be the case. If that happens, we should be hitting the 27/28 crore mark.

And by next year, Za-n-Zee should be doing about 10 crores per month. This is a huge number at this point, but by next year we should be doing about 200 crores in terms of ice-cream which would put us at 17-18% of the market.

In terms of Frozen Food, our target is to get to 100 crores by next year. If that happens, then we would be the number one brand in the country in terms of frozen foods market.

For our franchise outlet network, the numbers should be around 210. There is a ceiling for these outlets, as we have observed with other similar business. However, we are expecting that the market will grow by the time we get there.

You only get this one chance to go around. This is one chance. You get these mere 70-80 years so make the most of it – make good memories, be a decent person, be empathetic, try to do your bit for the fellow person. If you have it in you, make a mark. Try to do something good or of distinction that you will be known for.

Future Startup

Ice cream market is just getting started in Dhaka. The current household consumption is significantly low. On the other hand, refrigerator penetration is growing rapidly. At the same time, competition has also been growing in the market. What’s your take on the market as well as on the growing competition?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

We have very low per-capita ice-cream consumption in Bangladesh. There is a huge room for growth. It’s not like competitors will have to fight each other, we can grow together.

The number that we are aiming should be a breeze as the market continues to grow. Some stuff does affect the market like political stability or even the weather.

However, since Bangladesh is a tropical country and the world is getting warmer, along with people gaining more purchasing power and the median age being 26 – all these should help.

Competition does come but sometimes they don’t behave in the most responsible ways and suffer as a consequence. We have seen companies going out of business in this category.

We made some mistakes ourselves as well but thankfully we caught ourselves earlier on in the game when we realized it and took corrective measures.

We are not thinking much about competition, rather delivering best possible products to our customers is our priority for now.

Distribution is obviously going through a revolutionary change.

Future Startup

Many people say that your price is higher than other similar brands. While a higher price is understandable for Bellissimo, being a premium brand and such, but Za-n-Zee is a mass market brand. Do you have a pricing strategy of your own?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

We’ve actually taken the pricing structure of two large companies and pegged ourselves consciously against the pricing structure.

We’re not higher; we’ve pegged to their pricing. However, it is true that for that price the value that we offer is a bit higher than other companies which are why our margins are somewhat smaller.

That is something we are looking at. I don’t know if we need to increase prices or do something about the allocated costs, but we need to increase margins and be a more profitable company.

People are not machines. They need to make sense of what they are doing to themselves. You can’t just treat people as cogs in the wheel where they are doing something because of their position in the organization. I never try to do that. I recall a time when I was in that position once.

Future Startup

Technology is not only changing industries but business models as well. We have seen companies like Dollar Shave Club disrupt men shaving industry in the US which Unilever later bought for $1 billion. Do you see any disruptive changes in the ice-cream or frozen food category due to this? Do you plan to explore new areas, for example with distribution, e-commerce etc?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

Distribution is obviously going through a revolutionary change. In a city like Dhaka, where traffic has gotten worse over the years, people don’t like to move much.

Take, for instance, Dhanmondi has suddenly become a restaurant hub like Banani and Gulshan, because people don’t want to go anymore because of traffic.

This is why home-delivery services and e-commerce service are seeing good traction. This scenario will change further in the coming days.

We’re not complacent with these things. We are on Chaldal so that we can reach more people. We are exploring other opportunities as well. We’re rolling with the changes.

In terms of technological change in this market, we are fortunate enough to be led by people who are very progressive and who are very aware of what’s happening in the world. If an opportunity arises, we will explore opportunities in these areas.

Putting right people in the right places, empowering them to run things on their own, monitoring them and giving them guidance in the form of conversation and not in a prescriptive way. That’s how I try to manage.

Future Startup

You have 25 years of experience in building and growing businesses, what are some of the biggest lessons from your journey so far?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

Being transparent – you need to explain to people why they are expected to do what you’re telling them to do.

People are not machines. They need to make sense of what they are doing to themselves.

You can’t just treat people as cogs in the wheel where they are doing something because of their position in the organization. I never try to do that. I recall a time when I was in that position once.

You need to motivate people by telling them what their work means and what their role is and how they are contributing to the organization.

You need to make people understand that you are responsible for what you say you will do. You may be a manager or you maybe delegating work, but the responsibility stays with you.

Never take things casually. If you say that you would something on a certain day, you have to do it accordingly.

I have learned that monitoring is important. If you expect something to be done, you have to monitor it diligently.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

In summary, it’s empowerment. I am not the kind of person to micro-manage and tell you how to do your job.

I will pick out the best possible people for the roles and empower them to get things done. I will say that it is their shop and they have my complete backup to call their own shots.

Then I will monitor that person. I monitor by having conversations with that person: what they have been doing and their thoughts on it.

When you ask someone about their learning and thoughts on a particular experience, it’s telling what they talk about first and what they prioritize. Their perception of a situation gives you the idea of how a certain person views the world and how they go about it.

Putting right people in the right places, empowering them to run things on their own, monitoring them and giving them guidance in the form of conversation and not in a prescriptive way. That’s how I try to manage.

A leader has to be a powerful storyteller, who can create those myths. If you create the myth that Kazi Food Industries is the best place in Bangladesh to work in and if you’re an effective storyteller, at some point people will start believing you. People will buy into your stories and people will recognize the fact that you believe in your stories. Hence, they will trust you.

Future Startup

What are a few things that you’d do differently if you could have a chance to start over?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

I’ve always wanted to write, so probably I would have started writing a book a long time ago.

I would have traveled more. I still haven’t been to Latin America, so that’s something I need to do.

In terms of being a professional, I wish I had been more assertive at certain times of my career. There have been times where I’ve taken a step back when I knew it was not the right thing to do. It’s a complex structure in an MNC. You have various stakeholders and various people and interested parties etc.

If I had not done that, then things might have taken a different course. Whether it would have been good or bad, but I would have been more at peace with the result.

I don’t regret things I have done, I just regret some of the things that I haven’t done.

Future Startup

Do you have any mental model or principles that you adhere to in order to maintain work and make decisions?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

It has mostly to do with letting people understand how they are contributing to the organization. Even if they are peons or guards, they need to understand the big picture, the meaning of their work and this is what he does.

There is a story about a sweeper at NASA who was extremely meticulous about her work. One day a person asked her why are she so meticulous because a tiny flaw in sweeping does not matter in the great scheme of things. She then asked the man what he thinks she was doing there? The man asked her the same question back. She replied I’m putting the first human being on the moon. This understanding of purpose is what moves people

Give people a sense of the big picture and how they fit into it and why their contributions are crucial, the rest should follow.

I take all the pressure from my work-place and leave it somewhere when I go home. I do my own thing there. Mindfulness and being in the moment are something I have to get better at. Generally, I am in the moment kind of person and that helps but I think I have room for improvements there.

Future Startup

what are a couple of business sectors that you think will be really big in the next couple of years?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

Pharmaceuticals are doing well, shipbuilding has taken off too. Electronics will do much better too since companies have been coming in and are already doing great work.

Value-added T&G things are taking off as well but since it contains 80% of our export, we cannot have a situation where the only USP is the price. This space is already being taken away so we will have to have quality and branding. It will happen hopefully since we have a wonderful talent for branding.

E-commerce should also take off in Bangladesh. Home-delivery and similar convenience services will off since the socio-economic and demographic reality in Bangladesh favor these types of business.

Future Startup

How do you think about life, in the sense that it is short and we will not be here for long?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury

You only get this one chance to go around. This is one chance. You get these mere 70-80 years so make the most of it – make good memories, be a decent person, be empathetic, try to do your bit for the fellow person. If you have it in you, make a mark. Try to do something good or of distinction that you will be known for.

Do not be hung up on nationalism or religiousness or judgemental behavior. Be an open person and take in all that life has to offer.

If you’re fortunate enough to be given a station in life where you are able to partake some of those bounties then you are fortunate since billions of people do not have that.

If you have it in you, make a mark. Try to do something good or of distinction that you will be known for.

Stop giving yourself excuses so that you can keep doing it. “These are the reasons I would not be able to do this” stop giving this excuse. Look at why you should be able to override all of these excuses and still do it. Many people say I don’t have enough for this or that. That’s the worst kind of excuse.


Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Shabiba Benta Habib

Update on May 17: The interview has been updated with new information related Kazi Farms Kitchen’s dry fish.

Update on May 22: In 2016, Ice-cream sales of Kazi Food Industries was about 112 crore. It was previously mistakenly mentioned as 212 crore. It has been updated.

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