Business runs in the veins of Tanvir Ahmed. In his own words, he grew up in a family where business was a usual way of life.
His father, Kutubuddin Ahmed - a renowned businessman who is the founder and chairman of Envoy Group of Companies - was always a busy man. Nevertheless, he kept Tanvir as an 'entourage' and used to assign him smaller tasks when he was a teenager, the idea being that he would learn from these assignments and one day step into his father's role.
"I was very attached to my father," said Tanvir. "He used to take me to many workplaces. So from early teenage, I got much exposure to business dealings and came to know many people."
It was not like he had to provide much input, but along the path a curiosity mushroomed in the young mind. To this day, it has continued.
This Tanvir Ahmed - already a director of Envoy Group and MD of Sheltech Ltd. – Envoy Group's flagship real estate company - has lately been elected as a director of BGMEA.
One might think that son would get all the roles of father automatically. The reality, however, is the opposite of that.
Just after completing his A Level from Scholastica, it was time for him to choose his future field of career. Having long decided on the fact that his career path lies in the family business, he had actively chased bachelors, masters and other degrees and training with the thought in mind that one day he must lead the industry his father meticulously built up from scratch.
After graduating in BBA from Kingston University in the UK, he went to pursue MBA from Cardiff University. After that, he took a Diploma in Strategic Business and Finance from London School of Economics and then he went to Hong Kong to take a training in Merchandising and Fabrics.
With all these academic feats, he came back to Bangladesh in 2008 and joined Envoy Group.
"When I first joined, two responsibilities rested upon me. First, it is about looking after the existing businesses under the supervision of my father and secondly exploring new ventures," said Tanvir.
"I've explored and successfully implemented many enterprises. Under my reign a new hotel industry, ceramics industry, stock brokerage company were commenced. From 2008 till date, 18 new ventures were explored and I'm confident enough that many more projects will be undertaken in the future."
Businesses saw growth under his leadership. At the same time, existing businesses were remodelled to acclimatise with the present world's business environment.
Tanvir is particularly proud of his contribution in the textile sector. Their denim manufacturing plant, which is also a public limited company and listed in the Stock Exchange, was the first one in Bangladesh to introduce superior "rope dyeing technology". Also, it was the world's first denim plant which got Platinum Leed certification.
"This is not only an achievement for our company," he said with a hint of pride. "For a few years, we were the only company in the entire world to hold that position. I would say this was the flagship accomplishment under my role as the director."
Furthermore, he has taken schemes to restructure the company to make it more professional driven. He is also trying to pull themselves back from being just an owner-centric company. For him, the fact that the founder/owner would be all powerful and the sole decision-maker does not make much sense.
Subsequently, a shift from a person-driven company to a policy-driven company is taking place. And he thinks that these changes are imperative to ensure its long existence, growth and sustainability.
Working out the generational gap
Being a second generation businessman with new ideas, there are obviously differences of perspective and approaches.
"The first generation is more hands-on; as they created the whole thing, they want to do everything on their own and found satisfaction in this. They are definitely more experienced but they also sometimes lose focus on urgent issues. If they focus on strategy rather than day-to-day operations, it will be better for the business."
Every person has his or her way of doing things. And there is always a clash between the experienced people and change-makers. It's experience against new ideas. Tanvir maintains that someone has to make a combination of these two.
"I also have incorporated some ideas which I learned in my courses living abroad. A great example would be that it took me six years to make the system fully paperless and digital. The old guards objected saying there was nothing wrong with business-as-usual 'paper and pen'."
It took time to make them understand the need for digitisation such as using up-to-date websites, using algorithms and AI-based software. Moreover, when they felt they would be replaced, he had to assure them that they would get adequate training and only then they all got aboard.
Becoming the director of BGMEA
The main thing Tanvir desires to do as a BGMEA director is to change the image of the country's garments sector. This sector has contributed to our country to a great degree. For example, this industry is solely responsible for 84% of total exports with employment of tens of thousands of people. Further, surrounding this very industry, other related and supplementary industries have emerged.
"This is a huge industry. But for two bad incidents, the whole industry is suffering. Our image has been tarnished in the whole world. On the flipside, our achievements are not published as much as our lackings."
More than 40 lakhs workers earn their livelihoods from this sector. And 95% of them are women. For him, this is one of the biggest industries that actively empower women.
"We have more than 200 Leed certified companies which is the highest number for any country. We are providing various facilities: fair wage, training, and skill development programmes."
To deal with this, Tanvir aims to create a mechanism to spread positivity. Thus we will get benefits from two sides: RMG's branding of Bangladesh will be very helpful for the nation. Also, outsiders, especially the buyers, would be much more interested to do business here. As a result, Bangladesh's position will be elevated. More and more foreign buyers, investors will come here and do business with full confidence.
"If we can perform this task, the positive effect will be felt on multiple fronts not only in the RMG sector but also in other sectors," Tanvir is quite optimistic. "And also stopping those rouge players for whom the industry's image is tarnished is also a part of my wishlist."
Tanvir says that whether it is RMG or other multinational companies, a big chunk of foreign nationals hold the top level management positions. This indicates an unhealthy state of our corporate world.
"Oftentimes, we rely on them as they are experts in their particular fields. This problem starts from our mid-level management. They do not get adequate exposure, training, and development. This mid-level management should be given priority so that some of them become CEOs and industry leaders.
He wants to actively work on the issue of development of mid-level management in his own companies and for the BGMEA.
Tanvir also talked about another big issue that he has to face: the pricing.
"The buyers are always squeezing us on prices. They don't want to know whether we have green factories or not, they are not willing to give extra price. At the end of the day, it is all about profit. If you just negotiate on the factor of cost, how would you compete with others who will make the offer at a low price having substandard factories?"
"In negotiations, gone are the days when we just used to focus on price. For growth and sustainability, the most important factor has become cutting cost. Here what works best is efficiency. The entire manufacturing process must be systematic and cost-effective."
"One of the keys is manpower. Garments is basically a labour-intensive industry. We will be more efficient when, with the existing workforce and without cutting any jobs, we will be able to increase our production rate," the young director suggests.
However, Tanvir maintains that the scope of automation is limited in the garments sector. Especially after the Covid-19 struck, there is hardly any investment, let alone in automation, use of robotics etc.
"This industry used to export $34 billion worth of garments, whereas now we do approximately 27 billion. To recover from this, we have to make a big leap. There is much uncertainty. At least two to five years is needed to recover, depending on the specific industry," Tanvir said.
"Every market experienced declining growth. As we are a multidimensional business, we were hard hit in some industries. And when we were about to turn around, a new lockdown kicked us back into the crisis. We are not in dire straits but we are just surviving."