Masud Karim Chowdhury, the executive director of Multibrand Workshop Limited, an automobile servicing company, was sitting at his desk, busy talking to someone over the phone. A technician suddenly barged into his room for suggestions on how to handle a car.
Masud hung up the phone and spoke to the technician. If you had been sitting there at that moment, there would have been no way for you to know who the owner was and who was the worker.
"Sir, we should first talk to the car's owner and then decide what to do next," Masud told his technician.
In Bangladesh, where workplace hierarchy can almost resemble a caste system, the worker-owner relationship at Multibrand Workshop is very different. The workers at this workshop not just have easy access to their bosses to talk about any problem, the interaction can best be described as one between peers.
"We always try to empower our workers to have their say. Our motto is 'Customer first and then our employees, and then us'," Masud, the 47-year-old man who deals with the operations and customer care at the enterprise, said.
"This is our business strategy," he added.
Standing on more than one acre of land in Tejgaon Industrial Area, Multibrand Workshop Limited is one of the largest vehicle solution enterprises in the country. The workshop can accommodate around 100 vehicles at a time and services over 2,000 vehicles every month.
Outside of different international brand's dealers' workshops, big businesses rarely venture into the automobile servicing business in Bangladesh. As for workers, in most cases, children who do not show an interest in going to school end up working in roadside workshops as apprentices.
"When these children become adults, they set up their own workshops. The automobile service sector has been continuing like this for ages," said Masud.
However, as many as 300 employees are working at Multibrand Workshop and 26 of them have completed graduation and diploma courses in automobile engineering.
As the name of the company suggests, vehicles from different brands, from high-end to low-end, come to the workshop for repair and maintenance. The workshop has already become popular among vehicle owners.
An enterprise of four brothers
Before venturing into the automobile servicing business, all four of Masud's brothers worked for four different companies.
His eldest brother, Saber Karim Chowdhury, was working in the state-run Agrani Bank as an officer. His second brother, Zahid Karim Chowdhury, worked for a Korean-based company as a general manager and Masud Karim Chowdhury himself worked for Square Textile Limited as a merchandiser manager. Their youngest brother, Ismail Karim Chowdhury, worked for Navana Motors Limited as an automobile engineer.
"We had a long-held dream of going into some sort of business. So, in 2009, we four brothers sat down to discuss what sort of business we should go into. We all came from different professional backgrounds and everyone suggested something that related to their own background," Masud told the correspondent.
"I insisted we start a readymade garment business while another brother said that the carton business would be profitable. The youngest one proposed we venture into the automobile servicing business," recalled Masud.
After detailed discussions, they finally decided that the automobile business holds potential.
"There is no one between the automobile dealers' customer care centres and small street-side small," he explained.
All the brothers invested their savings to start the business in 2009 with Tk50 lakh. The value of the company now touches Tk100 crore.
How it stands out
The automobile servicing company is growing every year. Two things are playing a vital role in this growth. One is 'honesty' and another is 'motivation' for workers.
Masud said that there is considerable dishonesty in the automobile servicing industry in the country. As a result, many car owners cannot trust these workshops. Most of the roadside workshops do not have skilled manpower and as a result, these unskilled mechanics often fail to correctly diagnose the cars' problems.
Car owners often move from one workshop to another with the same problem. Furthermore, there are often allegations against these workshops that they cheat car owners with hefty bills without examining the vehicle properly.
"Another problem in this sector is that many drivers, as well as transport officers from different companies, make unacceptable requests. They ask workshop owners to bill more than what has been spent so that they can make money," Masud informed, adding, "We never entertain such requests."
The company motivates its workers in many ways. The owners of the company share a friendly relationship with the technicians and address them as "sir".
There is a canteen in the workshop and the owners have lunch at the same table along with the workers. The lunch menu is the same for the workers and owners alike.
Masud said, "Workers whose salary is below Tk7,000 can have lunch and afternoon snacks for free and those whose salary is above Tk7,000 have to pay 50 per cent of the food cost."
"We like to think that this workshop has either no owner or every one of us are owners. Starting from the security guard to cleaners to technicians, everyone owns the workshop. This is the principle we hold," Masud added.
"They (owners) speak to us in a very simple way. We work in such an environment that sometimes we feel as if we don't have any bosses," Aslam Hossain, an engineer at the workshop, said.
"You cannot differentiate the owner from the workers," he added
Multibrand Workshop Limited is the brainchild of the youngest of the four brothers - Ismail Karim Chowdhury, who is the managing director of the company. He had a long-held dream of setting up such a workshop.
"My father had a dream of making one of his sons an engineer. To make his dream come true, I entered into Cumilla Polytechnic Institute after passing higher secondary," said Ismail. He continued, "In 1997, after the completion of my education, I started my attachment period at a workshop run by Navana Motors Limited.
"I did my job diligently. One day, Navana announced that they would recruit a few of us in their company after our attachment period ended. My only target was to be one of them," Ismail recalled.
Ismail had worked for more than five years in the workshop. While working with Navana Motors, he went to Bahrain to receive hi-tech training on Lexus. Later, he worked for Rancon Motors Limited and Pacific Motors Limited for more than five years.
"I took around 20 professional trainings on automobile engineering in many countries including Canada, US, UK, Japan, Malaysia and Dubai," Ismail informed.
"In our country, working in an automobile service centre is considered a third or fourth-grade job. Worldwide, automobile servicing jobs are considered first-class jobs and their salary is also high", Ismail said.
"However, people's mindset is changing and more and more educated as well as skilled people are coming into this sector," he added.
When asked about Multibrand Workshop's future plans, Mausd answered, "Our target is to set up a factory for assembling automobiles in Bangladesh as the demand for personal vehicles in our country will keep rising."