When Muhammad A (Rumee) Ali was appointed the country head of ANZ Grindlays Bank Bangladesh in 1997, he might have searched for another Bangladeshi at the helm of any global company – be it at home or abroad.
Coveted top positions of multinational companies were in fact kept reserved for foreigners.
But now, more than 50 Bangladeshis head multinational companies in the country and abroad.
They are working in leading positions at multinational companies in various sectors, such as banking, telecom, pharmaceutical, tobacco, fast-moving consumer goods, and clothing.
Some of the most well-known names are Imran Khan, Dr Omar Ishrak, Lumat Ahmed, Abrar Anwar, Ata Safdar, and A (Rumee) Ali.
The number of Bangladeshis in leadership positions at multinationals began growing last year. That year, Dr Omar became the chairman of Intel board, Yasir Azman was appointed as the chief executive officer (CEO) at Grameenphone, and Mahtab Uddin Ahmed was appointed as a board member of Ncell Axiata Limited Nepal.
"Everyone in such roles has a story to tell and the stories have something in common," said Mamun Rashid, who was the managing director of Citibank NA Bangladesh for nine and a half years since 2001.
He said multinational companies always appoint local CEOs to facilitate local operations considering several aspects, such as a better understanding of the company's goal, mission, and vision; global outlook; local culture and consumer taste; reputation and emerging risk; and relationship with regulators.
The ability to serve the company is the first quality that multinationals look for when they hire CEOs, he said.
"In an increasingly globalised world, thinking outside the box, respecting core values of the company, upward management skills, reputation, the ability to get the best out of team members, and commitment to success are necessary to lead a multinational," he added.
In the last few years, multinational companies posted their officials abroad to help them gain overseas experience and are now offering them leadership positions in Bangladesh with a smart package, said Mamun, also a managing partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
He said more Bangladeshis would be appointed in leading positions in the coming days.
Berger Paints Bangladesh has a long history of appointing locals in the leadership position, said Rupali Chowdhury, the company's managing director since 2008.
She said they have a number of brilliant people in the pipeline to lead the company. She joined Berger in 1990 as the planning manager and has worked in various departments, such as marketing, sales, and supply chain and systems, in different supervisory capacities.
"I have cross-departmental experience in this company," she added.
Quoting American management expert Jack Welch, she said to develop a multinational in a new country, a foreigner has to head it for up to three years and should develop a local leader during this time for better localisation of the company.
Local officials know the taste of local customers better and also have better knowledge of local culture, laws, and regulators, she added.
Expeditors Bangladesh Country Manager and Managing Director Syed Ershad Ahmed said most of the multinational firms appoint locals in top positions, except for a few, like Chevron.
"Our young professionals are brilliant. They have the capability to lead multinationals," said Ershad, also the president of American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh.
Dr Lafifa Jamal, robotics and mechatronics engineering professor at the University of Dhaka, said the alumni of the university's computer science and engineering department are working in every tech giant, such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, and LinkedIn.
She said IT jobs were once dominated by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) students but pupils of the University of Dhaka, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, the University of Chittagong, and other engineering universities are also doing better now.
Most of the tech companies have recruiting hubs in India, but Bangladeshi students are doing better abroad as they do not have better opportunities here, she added.
Multinationals headed by Bangladeshis
In April 1997, A (Rumee) Ali became the country head of ANZ Grindlays Bank Bangladesh, which merged with Standard Chartered Bangladesh in 2002. He served Standard Chartered Bangladesh as the CEO for over two years.
In 2002, Ata Safdar was appointed as the managing director of Reckitt Benckiser Bangladesh. He served in that position for five years. Currently, he is serving the company as a senior vice president in Singapore.
Golam Mainuddin has been the chairman of British American Tobacco Bangladesh since August 2008.
Kamran Bakr has been an independent director at Robi since February this year. He led Unilever Bangladesh from 2012 to 2017 as its chairman and managing director, and Unilever Nepal as its managing director from 2007 to 2011.
Shehzad Munim has been the managing director of British American Tobacco Bangladesh since October 2013.
Syed Mohammad Kamal has been the country manager of Mastercard Bangladesh since 2013. Prior to joining Mastercard, he worked at Berger Paints Bangladesh, Western Union, and SSL Wireless in leadership positions.
In 2016, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed was appointed as the first Bangladesh CEO and managing director at Robi. He joined the company in 2010.
Abrar Anwar was appointed as the managing director and CEO of Standard
Chartered Bank Malaysia in 2017. Prior to that, he was the CEO of the bank's Bangladesh operations for two years.
In November 2017, Naser Ezaz Bijoy was appointed as the CEO of Standard Chartered Bangladesh. Before this, he was the bank's managing director and head of corporate and institutional clients.
Unilever Bangladesh has appointed Zaved Akhtar as the CEO and managing director. His appointment will come into effect on 1 July. Zaved will also join the Unilever South Asia leadership team. He is currently serving as the vice president of digital transformation and growth, South Asia, in India.
Tahmina Ahmed has been appointed as the additional managing director of Seven Rings Cement. Prior to that, she had been on the board of directors since 2007.
Muin Uddin Mazumder has been the managing director of Sanofi Bangladesh since 2017. He joined the company in 1995.
Lumat Ahmed was appointed as the sourcing category director at French clothing brand Lacoste this year. Prior to that, he worked at a number of apparel sourcing brands in various positions at home and abroad.
Imran Khan was the chief strategy officer at the American multinational technology company Snapchat from 2015 to 2018. He became the co-founder and CEO of Verishop, a livestream shopping app, in November 2018 to bring a new way to discover products and connect with experts and brands on a social commerce platform.
Bangladeshi-born businessman Dr Omar Ishrak became the chairman of Intel's board of directors in May 2020. He will serve the board for seven years.
Bangladeshis in apparel leadership
In July 2019, Ziaur Rahman was appointed as the first regional country manager for Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Ethiopia at H&M. Before that, he had 20 years of experience in the apparel industry.
He started his career as a merchandiser at Allana Group in June 1996.
Shwapna Bhowmick is the country manager for Bangladesh and Myanmar at Marks and Spencer. Prior to that, she worked for global brands like Next and Walmart before joining Marks and Spencer in 2006 as a merchandiser.
Shafiur Rahman has been the country manager for G-Star Raw since July 2013. He started his career as a product developer at Youngone Corporation in March 2003.
Arif Razzaque has been the regional merchandising director at Kiabi International Supply Services Bangladesh since November 2017. Earlier, he served as the country manager at Sears Holdings Global Sourcing and the sourcing hub manager at Carrefour Global Sourcing Bangladesh.