Jane Alam Romel is the Group Chief Marketing Officer of IDLC Finance Limited, Bangladesh’s largest NBFI. Mr. Romel is a voracious reader of both books and reality, and one of the finest thinkers we have had the privilege to interview of late.
In this second part of our conversation, Mr. Romel dive into building lasting brands, how to build and run successful marketing operations, efficiency trap in marketing, the intricate relationship between openness to learning and career success, the discipline of living in the moment, how to deal with the distraction of the modern world and find your center, the power of living a meditative life, and much more. The conversation offers fascinating insights into the changing world of brand building, finding career success in a fast-paced world, and living a good life.
This was a much longer interview. So we had to break it down into two parts. This is part two of the interview, you can read part one here.
Ruhul Kader: IDLC is a 37 years old brand and is at its peak. What does it take to build lasting brands?
Jane Alam Romel: You need to renew the purpose of your brand. A strong brand has a strong purpose. As a brand, you lose strength when your purpose weakens. You need a purpose first, and then you need to work deeply on it. It's important to figure out why you exist, why people should love you and why they should buy your product. Once you have a clear purpose, many other components fall into their place.
Now we have brands like PRAN that have been in the market for many years. They are available in many countries now. Walton has also traveled to many countries. Our pharmaceutical companies sell products in many countries. These are some of the examples of excellent Bangladeshi-origin brands. Yes, we could have done better and we will I hope in the coming years.
IDLC has remained committed to its values throughout its journey. People love the IDLC brand even after 37 years. The IDLC brand is admired, dependable, and trusted. It didn't happen overnight. Neither does living longer alone give you this position in the market. To achieve this, you must create an organization and team that are focused on building a lasting brand.
Ruhul: What does it take to run an excellent marketing and communication operation?
Romel: The first thing is to figure out what the company's objectives and goals are. This will determine what you do as a company. That is the first step. After that comes the questions of people.
People make all the difference. Without the right people, you're in trouble. To me, marketing is both a passion and a job. It is important to find people who are passionate about marketing. When hiring, you must look for certain skills and characteristics. We always try to hire the best candidates. When you have the right people with the right skill set, passion, and talent, everything else falls into place. This is the first thing to be considered.
Next comes the company culture, empowerment, and allowing employees to do their best. IDLC has a culture in which people are empowered to operate and grow. If you have the right people, but you don't give them the right working environment, it won't work.
In my opinion, this is not a hard job. In an organization with the right culture, everything should fall into place.
You need to renew the purpose of your brand. A strong brand has a strong purpose. As a brand, you lose strength when your purpose weakens. You need a purpose first, and then you need to work deeply on it. It's important to figure out why you exist, why people should love you and why they should buy your product. Once you have a clear purpose, many other components fall into their place.
Ruhul: Marketing has over the years become too efficiency-driven and data-driven. However, data is not everything and there are limitations to it. As you mentioned, many of our best decisions are about intuition. Consumers make purchasing decisions in a similar way. Purchasing decisions are often emotional. What do you think about this dichotomy?
Romel: I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution. Too much reliance on data is not a good idea. Great brands are made of emotions. Similarly, data allows you to understand the map and the territory. For me, it's a 50/50 proposition. You have to balance data with intuition.
Ruhul: Do you have a framework for doing that? You mentioned a few things such as observation and having an open-eyed approach to things.
Romel: We invest in research. Then there are the people and the leadership team. Experience is difficult to translate. In addition, things might go wrong sometimes, but you have to allow for that kind of error and experimentation. We must test and learn. Risk-taking is essential.
Ruhul: What does it take to build a successful career in marketing?
Romel: What worked for me is hard work, passion, and dedication. I find meaning in my work, which is helpful. Furthermore, I have been lucky. My job has been made easier because I have worked with some excellent brands. The real challenge is when you are not put in an established brand. For me, I have positively been fooled by randomness (laugh).
When you don't know something, you have to accept it. Acceptance opens the door to learning.
Secondly, you must be open to learning and exploring. Take the time to explore. Don't limit yourself to one category. Explore brands outside your category. Overcome your own biases and beliefs. You need to listen to your team. Listening requires a lot of energy. Listening is not easy. But it is an invaluable ability. Listening is an art.
Many people misunderstand meditation's main purpose. People have turned meditation into activity. Sit quietly. Concentrate on your breathing. Along with it, you renounce everything and live an ordinary life. You sit silently, of course. Breathe in and breathe out. That's meditation. However, there are other ways to meditate. Meditation can be talking, walking, and anything for that matter. As I speak with you, I can experience a meditative state. I listen to you. In this conversation, I am present. It is meditation. We can bring meditation to every aspect of our lives.
Ruhul: We live in a time when distractions of all kinds are rampant. How do you stay centered and focused?
Romel: The reality of our contemporary world is that it is much easier to get distracted than it is to stay focused. However, living a life of rapt attention and focus is far more rewarding than any other life we might imagine.
Now, living in the moment requires discipline. I lead a disciplined life. Thanks to my school, I went to BAF Shaheen School and College, where I learned discipline. It has been invaluable to me throughout my life.
In addition to that, I practice yoga and meditation. I also like to walk and swim in the summer. Meditating has been extremely helpful to me in finding my center. Meditation isn't about sitting for half an hour and focusing on your breathing. The aim is to live a meditative life.
Ruhul: What is a meditative life?
Romel: I see that many people misunderstand meditation's main purpose. People have turned meditation into activity. Sit quietly. Concentrate on your breathing. Along with it, you renounce everything and live an ordinary life.
You sit silently, of course. Breathe in and breathe out. That's meditation. However, there are other ways to meditate. Meditation can be talking, walking, and anything for that matter.
As I speak with you, I can experience a meditative state. I listen to you. In this conversation, I am present. It is meditation. We can bring meditation to every aspect of our lives. You don't come with preconceived ideas. You don't hold onto your bias or prejudices. As you do that, you come to every moment anew, and when you pay attention to this very moment, you are meditating. You don't live by preconceived notions. You live every moment as a new moment, which it is.
When you eat or listen to something, your mind should be quiet. When you do not constantly judge things, your mind is silent. When you have a preconceived notion about something, you are not here. You are not in the moment. You are caught up in the past. You are distracted by your monkey mind. No matter what you do, you are not satisfied when you go to bed at the end of the day. Because your attention wasn't there. You weren't paying attention. That's why you're dissatisfied with not achieving.
A meditative mind lives in the present. You are in the present, don't suppress anything, and open to whatever comes. Of course, you must be ready to listen and understand. Listening can be a wonderful meditation. It requires you to be alert and aware. You need to witness. Be active.
Eating and drinking can be meditation. I'm drinking this watermelon juice right now. You may take it for granted and drink it passively. That's one way to go about it. You can have a completely different experience if you pay attention and witness. This will alter your consumption experience.
The entire experience needs discipline. You need to be disciplined about it. You need to be aware. You need awareness with discipline.
Ruhul: It takes a lot of energy and patience to pay attention.
Romel: Close your eyes, follow your breath, and follow yourself actively for a few minutes. You will see you can do it for a while. After that, your mind will wander. It is crazy there inside your head. When you pay attention, you will notice that it is not your breathing that saps your energy, it is your mind.
The problem is that you are not in the moment. You are not alert. You are not witnessing. The breathing exercise consumes 10% of your energy. The remaining 90% is wasted elsewhere. You are thinking about the past. You are thinking about the future. We waste energy when we are always running between the past and the future.
Ruhul: Do you have a framework to stay in the present?
Romel: There is no framework. Framework, guidelines, can be limiting. You simply remain in the present moment. This is not an easy task. However, you don't need to struggle constantly. If you spend energy, you're not meditating. Meditation happens spontaneously. Being present is meditation. For method, I try to focus on what I'm experiencing right now. But I get distracted. I watch and witness my mind, and when I do that, it returns to me. Our minds love to cheat unconsciously. By watching it, it gets caught.
In my mind, a good life is one in which I do things with all my attention and awareness.
Ruhul: One of your favorite writers Yuval Noah Harari goes to this 60 days meditation retreat, do you have any similar practices?
Rome: I wish I could afford Yuval Noah Harari's retreat. I know where he goes to retreat. I wish to go there. However, it takes at least 10 days without mobile phones and everything. Every year I go on a 10-day retreat, but I check my mobile and work in the evening.
I practice yoga twice a week. I meditate every day for an hour. I try to attend camps. And I try to incorporate meditation into my everyday work. I try to live a meditative life every day. It is useful to take retreats because when you separate yourself from the world, you can see how the mind has been deceiving you. How you chased things with no importance at all. How your ego is unnecessarily busy with prestige and status. When you have some space, you can reflect and see things more clearly.
Ruhul: That’s a beautiful way to put it. Finally, what is a good life?
Romel: I am not the authority to define what constitutes a good life, but I can share my thoughts.
In my mind, a good life is one in which I do things with all my attention and awareness. I feel free when I am able to separate myself from whatever is happening outside. I can't always do this, but I try to be aware, even when I'm giving in to external influences. However, you could think of a completely different way to live your life. There is nothing wrong with it. You are not wrong if you know what you are doing and you are making that decision consciously.