PBIL, Investment Banking In Bangladesh, And A Writer’s Life: An Interview With Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan, MD and CEO, PBIL Limited

PBIL, Investment Banking In Bangladesh, And A Writer’s Life: An Interview With Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan, MD and CEO, PBIL Limited

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Writer and Prime Bank Investment Limited Managing Director and CEO, Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan, on how his early life experiences shaped how he looks at life and work, how he started his career, his journey to what he is doing today, his work at PBIL, the current state of PBIL’s business, PBIL’s growth strategies, the state and the future of investment banking in Bangladesh, why culture is critical for every organization, how team PBIL is building a culture of collaboration and teamwork, the challenges for PBIL and its ambition going forward, why empowering people is the best form of management, why leadership is all about setting examples for people to follow, how he manages time to write and the complex nature of creativity, why discipline is key to achievement in life, how we can expand time and get more done, the difference between clock time and real time, and why the beauty of life lies in our ability to endure.

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Could you please tell us about your background and then, your journey to what you are doing today?

Md. Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

I was born and bred in Hajipara village in Narayanganj and had both primary and secondary schooling there. After the SSC examination, I joined the Bangladesh Air Force and became a commissioned officer in 1987. I continued to serve in the Air Force for the next two decades and took an early retirement in 2005.

I completed my MBA around that time with a good score and then joined Prime Bank as the Senior Vice President in the human resource department and was promoted to the head before long. Besides my role as HR chief, I also worked in the marketing department. As I advanced in my career, I reasoned that it is important for me to build my knowledge base so that I have a deeper understanding of the banking industry.

I began with the basics. I requested my company to give me the opportunity to manage a branch. They accepted and made me the head of Banani branch. That year, I was given the best branch manager award and was promoted to the deputy managing director position. As a DMD, I worked in a host of areas including legal division, recovery division, and SME division.

After a while, I decided I need further understanding of my work. I took a study leave and went to Canada where I studied LLM in business at the University of Toronto. I graduated from there in 2015.

In the meantime, I came back to Bangladesh and rejoined Prime Bank. Then, in June 2016, I was sent as part of a deputation team to Prime Bank Investment Limited, a sister concern of Prime Bank. Since then, I have been serving as the Managing Director and CEO of this company. The journey at PBIL has been a rewarding one.

At PBIL, we provide a host of services such as share issue management, underwriting, capital raising and so on. Additionally, we provide technical assistance to companies in merger and acquisition.

As the Bangladesh economy continues to grow, there will be more opportunities around mergers, acquisitions, and other similar deals in the future and to execute these deals there will be a need for technical expertise. And these tasks would be carried out by the investment bankers. The current investment banking scene in Bangladesh lacks the required infrastructure and expertise. I’ve decided to create a talent pool at PBIL who would be ready to take this opportunity. We’ve already selected a group of individuals who we plan to send abroad for advanced training.

Our focus now is on growing PBIL’s brand awareness in the market to attract new talents, clients, and investments. For a more comprehensive development, we would need a conducive regulatory environment as well. Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission has already taken initiatives toward that. A noteworthy example would be legislating alternative investment. We also take interest in this space and are exploring the opportunities to do something there.

To my understanding, the first thing about growing a business is about your people. When I joined, I came to find that people at PBIL were demoralized and unexcited about their work. I made it a priority to change the internal dynamics of the organization and bring back the excitement to work. After some work, slowly the environment and mood have changed, and people started to contribute positively. And when your people start to contribute positively, everything changes.

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Future Startup

As you mentioned, you had a wonderful time growing up, and you went through your share of trials, and tribulations as well. Do you see a connection between the nature of your upbringing and the person you have become today?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

Our upbringing plays an important role in shaping the way we view the world and the person we eventually become. I came from a humble background and from a region which was disadvantaged in many ways at that time. I had to genuinely try and work hard to define the trajectory of my life. Although it was unpleasant to endure challenges at that young age, when I look back today I realize that it was a good training for me.

I’m also greatly influenced by my days at the Bangladesh Air Force. It helped me broadened my horizon and taught me the importance of discipline. I have learned to develop self-control and carry through difficult times. I got a rigorous training there which made a lasting impact on me. I did quite well during my time at the Air Force. Near the end, I was sent to the British Royal Air Force for the final training. I did very well there as well and secured the highest points.

I learned that genius or natural talent is not enough to do well in life, you have to persevere and be tenacious to achieve your goals in our life.

Our services are as good as our people are. To that end, recruiting capable people and giving them proper training remain a regular challenge for us.

Future Startup

Coming back to your work, could you please explain how an investment bank works?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

The scope of an investment bank includes providing assistance with raising capital, issuing shares and bonds, and underwriting and so on. We do a lot of other things including advising, investment supports etc. You could find a complete list of services that we offer on our website.

The business of investment banking is relatively new to our context. While investment banks are the biggest financial institutions in many parts of the world, we have not seen much growth in the space in Bangladesh. However, the reality has been changing slowly over the past couple of years. There is a growing understanding about the sector and the demand has also increased for the services that we provide. It is only likely that it will grow as we go.

Our primary source of revenue is the fees that we receive for the services that we provide. Besides, we have our investment portfolio as well. Currently, PBIL has shares in a number of companies.

My life has taught me that failure shouldn’t be considered as a barrier, it should be an inspiration. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is a quintessence of that idea. Publishers rejected her manuscript 13 times, but that couldn’t break her spirit. Now she’s one of the wealthiest women in the world and loved by billions for her writing.

Future Startup

How have you attracted customers and grown PBIL?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

At the time of my joining, PBIL had a couple thousand customers – mostly need-based and some inactive customers. The team was also small. My first action was to recruit a bunch of new people. As new people joined, the office took a more energetic and vibrant look. Everyone felt motivated.

Then, we reached out to all of the existing customers and informed them about the changes we were bringing in. Some of our customers stopped doing business with us because of piling interest charges. We looked into it and decided to make some policy changes. I authorized as much interest waiver as I could. These changes were well received by the customers and the response was great.

The next thing we focused on was building brand awareness in the market. We have started the task of building the brand and it continues. We arranged various events and parties for our customers to engage with them and give them a sense of association. We also ran a handful of promotional campaigns at that time. All of these activities have helped us to create a new momentum. To our surprise, many customers became active again and started the business with us.

It was a good lesson for me that a small gesture of genuine engagement often makes a huge difference. That’s what we did. We called up our customers. Invited them to our programs. We waived charges for many of them where we could afford. These small changes have slowly made a considerable difference.

Internally, our people started to see that we are not that old institution anymore. They started to see them differently. They started to look at them as a winning team. These have helped us to improve our overall morale. People started to serve our clients better. And our clients also realized that they could now do business with us.

To my understanding, the first thing about growing a business is about your people. When I joined, I came to find that people at PBIL were demoralized and unexcited about their work. I made it a priority to change the internal dynamics of the organization and bring back the excitement to work. After some work, slowly the environment and mood have changed, and people started to contribute positively. And when your people start to contribute positively, everything changes.

Future Startup

What are the challenges for PBIL now?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

Given the nature of our business, we need to provide high-quality professional services to our customers. Finding great people is a challenge. It is a challenge for many other sectors but for us, it a critical one because we are a people driven business. Our services are as good as our people are. To that end, recruiting capable people and giving them proper training remain a regular challenge for us.

There are other challenges such as growing competition and regulatory affair but if we could get the first one right, which is having great people in our team, other challenges are easy to figure out.

Management is said to be an amalgamation of both art and science. However, to me, management is more art than science. You need to employ an especial sort of prudence when dealing with humans.

Future Startup

What do you think about the state of investment banking in the country? What are the challenges and bottlenecks for the growth of the sector?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

The current market size is not that big. There are about 300 public companies doing business in the industry at present. The number of companies going public every year is still pretty slim. The capital market has developmental issues. Having said that, the market holds enormous potentials. The economy has been seeing consistent growth and there are many large companies yet to enter the market. When they join the industry, it will offer better opportunities to individual investors who are seeking new investment opportunities.

People will grab any occasion to make alternative investments as soon as they are available. We need to facilitate the process by providing incentives. Now, it is our job to figure out the incentives and offer them to the customers.

On the challenge part, we should think long-term when we are designing policies and strategies. There is a tendency in every level where we tend to cut corners and look for easy fixes and shortcuts. This is a challenge for our industry from a different perspective. Sometimes, we obsess over the present to the extent that we ruin our future.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned from your journey so far?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

My life has taught me that failure shouldn’t be considered as a barrier, it should be an inspiration. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is a quintessence of that idea. Publishers rejected her manuscript 13 times, but that couldn’t break her spirit. Now she’s one of the wealthiest women in the world and loved by billions for her writing.

Similarly, we have the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who were college dropouts but with their genius and perseverance became international icons.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

Management is said to be an amalgamation of both art and science. However, to me, management is more art than science. You need to employ an especial sort of prudence when dealing with humans.

As a manager, I delegate responsibilities. I set a standard for everyone and monitor their performance. I go easy on my people who make mistakes for the first time, but also signify the importance of efficiency.

Delegation encourages employees to take the initiative in their own accord. When they take the initiative by themselves and remain sincere about their shortcomings, they learn fast.

Future Startup

How do you deal with day to day issues in the workplace?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

Whenever there’s a conflict, I first discuss it with my team members. I believe in consultative management, that is, I consider team effort to be of great importance; and, even the junior-most employee can contribute to decision-making.

I also think depending upon a given situation both top-down and bottom-up management approach can be employed to achieve better results.

Future Startup

How do you deal with stress that comes with your work?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

I want to point out an important thing about stress. Contrary to the popular notion of stress being an entirely negative force, it has many positive aspects too. In fact, there are two types of stress: positive stress, which is called eustress and negative stress or distress.

When you are about to marry, the stress you feel is positive. Positive stress is not necessarily a matter of concern. So, what we need to do is to identify the nature of stress and take an approach accordingly.

To deal with persistent negative stress, I usually get up early in the morning, go for a walk in the park, and take a shower. This straightens my mind and gives me the strength to be more productive throughout the day.

Early morning walk also helps me to ponder upon plots of my new stories. Moreover, since I need to wake up early, I go to sleep early. I also plan ahead for the next day.

The other aspect is: there is a relationship between one’s ability to manage time efficiently and the stress they feel. If you are good at managing your time, you will experience less stress. People who procrastinate and put off their jobs, they usually are more stressed out. Identifying one’s counterproductive habits can also help her/him to utilize time and manage stress.

My stress management approaches have worked for me so far. I’ve become calmer as a person and learned to deal with naysayers and belittlers in a civilized manner. My philosophy now is to convince them to change their views about me by my actions. I engage in what is called constructive engagement. I do my best to keep the friends I have and try to make friends out of enemies.

Future Startup

Tell us about your habit as a writer. How do you get ideas for new stories?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

As I mentioned earlier, I usually get ideas and mull over new plots when I go for early morning walks.

These ideas also come as flash thoughts when I’m working at the office or busy with something else or on the road. In those situations, I jot down whatever comes to my mind. Then, I gather this notes and sit down to develop a coherent plot in leisure times, especially on weekends.

I also feel comfortable writing at nights because of the calm and peaceful environment. I stay awake a few weekend nights in a month, and it helps to get things together and organize a certain story.

Future Startup

What have you been reading lately?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

I’m currently reading Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a fascinating book. It is the story of Mr. Atkinson, a white lawyer, who defends a black person who was mendaciously accused of raping a white girl. This book wonderfully portrays a time in America when racial segregation was still rampant. To Kill a Mockingbird has also been adapted for a film with the same title.

Time, you see, is of two types: clock time – where 60 seconds make a minute and which can’t be changed, and real-time – the real time in which we reside. To elaborate, real-time refers to the comparison between the time needed for one person to complete a job and the time required for another person to finish that same job. One can take one hour to finish a task while another person can take only 30 minutes to do so. There’s a scope for creativity in real time, that is you can re-engineer the process you carry out a job to accomplish it more effectively and efficiently. This is why time management in real-time is important. You can’t control clock time, but you can very much control real time.

Future Startup

A couple of books that you enjoyed reading and would like to recommend to our readers.

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

There’s a short story written by Subodh Ghosh called JatuGriha (The Temporary Home). This particular story has moved me greatly. I’ve gifted copies of it to many people.

I’d also suggest another book written on war-torn Poland during the Second World War called Mila 18 written by Leon Uris.

Another read, not a book per se, instead a letter you may call which has influenced me greatly is a letter of Fourth Khalifa of Islam, Hazrat Ali Ibn Affan which he sent to one of his representatives illustrating how to conduct state, how to choose an adviser, how to decide friend and so on. It is a beautiful read and extremely instructive that we can use in our daily lives.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Tabarak Hossain Bhuiyan

Follow your heart and do whatever you can and do it at your best. However, you also need to have a contingency plan if the plan A doesn’t work.

While at it, I’d like to suggest time management to the young people out there. Time, you see, is of two types: clock time – where 60 seconds make a minute and which can’t be changed, and real-time – the real time in which we reside. To elaborate, real-time refers to the comparison between the time needed for one person to complete a job and the time required for another person to finish that same job. One can take one hour to finish a task while another person can take only 30 minutes to do so.

There’s a scope for creativity in real time, that is you can re-engineer the process you carry out a job to accomplish it more effectively and efficiently. This is why time management in real-time is important. You can’t control clock time, but you can very much control real time.

My last suggestion would never to stop believing in yourself. Every human being is capable of extraordinary achievements. Persevere. When things get tough, endure. The beauty of life lies in our ability to endure.

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Early morning walk also helps me to ponder upon plots of my new stories. Moreover, since I need to wake up early, I go to sleep early. I also plan ahead for the next day. The other aspect is: there is a relationship between one’s ability to manage time efficiently and the stress they feel. If you are good at managing your time, you will experience less stress. People who procrastinate and put off their jobs, they usually are more stressed out. Identifying one’s counterproductive habits can also help her/him to utilize time and manage stress.

Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Sheikh Rahatil Ashekan | cover photo credit: PBIL

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