Mahtab Uddin Ahmed began his professional career with IDLC Finance, formerly known as the Industrial Development Leasing Company. Ahmed then switched to Unilever, where he held various leadership positions, such as national finance director, during his 17-year stay. After that, the business veteran joined Robi as its chief financial officer in September 2010 before eventually going on to become the company's first homegrown CEO in November 2016.
During the second episode of The Chief Executive Show, Ahmed spoke about his corporate career, crisis management, team management, intrapreneurship and more.
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the world economy, many well-established companies are struggling to survive while others have already collapsed.
But according to the leaders of the firms that have successfully recovered, the reason behind their fall is that those companies never planned ahead for times of crisis.
"Crisis is always seen as a negativity but my style is: when in crisis, look for solutions and opportunities," said Ahmed, also the managing director of Robi.
With this bit of self-wisdom, Ahmed was able to protect the company's interests while boosting employee morale and achieve their trust to accomplish a lot amid the Covid-19 fallout.
"Always focus on people. If you win the people's hearts and minds, they will pull you out of any crisis," he said.
Thanks to the CEO's efforts, the country's second largest mobile network operator continues to flourish as it recently reached the five-crore subscriber milestone despite all the economic uncertainty.
This is largely due to how well the company has adapted to working from home.
Robi's employees enjoyed a smooth transition into 'work from home' as the company has been running a digital agenda for the last four or five years.
"We are all working from home now and the business is doing fine," Ahmed said.
Since the network provider had a pre-existing focus on digital services, it allowed the company to be quick in its response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Robi even initiated a digital healthcare solution for suspected coronavirus patients as soon as the outbreak began, he added.
At a time when most other companies are simply trying to survive the Covid-19 fallout, Robi took a big leap by changing its slogan from 'Ignite the Power Within' to 'A New Experience in Life'.
"Transformations must be done when you are in good shape. Those who are trying to change their business strategies to suit the ongoing crisis will struggle more than those who prepares earlier," he said.
The Robi CEO, known as an eminent corporate personality, once dreamt of becoming a sportsman but eventually found a passion for entrepreneurship.
As a part of his plans for life as an entrepreneur, he began a professional career in order to gain life experience beforehand. However, this experience got him hooked to the corporate world.
"I could not stick to my goals and always shifted. Depending on the situation, I was always flexible," said Ahmed, adding that he believes in switching jobs every two to three years.
There is a lot to learn in the first year of a new job while it is the second year when people start contributing. But in the third year, when things start to feel comfortable, that is when they have to move on to a new challenge.
"The risks in a new job, fear of failure, first impressions – that's agility. That forces you to learn new things every two to three years and helps you reach your goal," he said.
According to Ahmed, leaving Unilever after giving 17 years to the leading multinational consumer goods company was the hardest decision he has ever had to make.
He was even offered a more prominent position with Unilever but as the company had a policy, barring members of its finance division from becoming CEO, Ahmed decided to leave.
Once again, he considered starting his own business but then, an offer arrived from Robi, a promising company which seemed to understand his hunger to become CEO one day.
"It was a new environment, new company and different industry altogether. But I was confident that I could do it," Ahmed said.
Robi is a vast company with hundreds of employees all over the country where team cooperation is very important.
"In some ways, being a team player is more important than being talented. A team member needs to bring something to the table that creates positive creative conflicts that generate solutions," he added.
Ahmed also believes that foresight is a skill that cannot be taught anywhere.
For example, no other company in Bangladesh is prepared to launch a 5G network but Robi is already in the testing phase.
"You have to take decisions based on new information that could be wrong. However, only time can tell whether it was the strategy or execution that went wrong in case of failure," Ahmed said.
Although Ahmed's entrepreneurial plans did not materialise the way he had hoped, his corporate life taught him about the opportunities of intrapreneurship.
Robi formed a new company named Red Dot that brings new solutions to give new experiences to consumers.
Robi also formed an R-Venture, which is a flagship digital entrepreneurship platform, and BD Apps which hosts more than 15,000 apps built by Bangladeshi talents who are earning a fortune.
And all these were made possible as intrapreneurship worked, Ahmed said.
"We are working in a way that shows the way for others. It will be successful only when other corporate houses come forward following footsteps of Robi."