Locking horns | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 13, 2008

Column - Sarwar Ahmed

Locking horns

Of the numerous innuendos hurled at us, and thanks to TIB, we are labeled as one of the most corrupt on this earth. So how do you brave this affront and say that you want to do business in an ethical way in Bangladesh? The good news is that we have our own resilient businessmen who have made the impossible, possible. Locking horns against the wind to ensure an ethical business, we have one such stellar, one thousand crore taka performing group, Rahimafrooz.
To make the point, a suave Niaz Rahim, one of the family member directors of the group, gave me their company brochure. Their aspiration, to be the most admired and trusted organisation through excelling in everything we do, following ethical business practices and adding value to stakeholders, explains it all. It is possible to build an ethical business in Bangladesh he says. Ethics means we don't cheat our customers, our shareholders or our employees, and that we are transparent in our activities.
It was indeed a delight and an inspiration to meet Niaz Rahim. His subtle humour will put you at ease. As you talk to him, you feel the energy flow as he explains their vision about lighting up Bangladesh, literally, with Rahimafrooz's renewable energy products and services. And that's not all, it is just not light for the sake of light, but a means to remove the darkness of the curse of illiteracy. This is business with a social purpose at its best.
More over, as Niaz explains, energy inspires social and economic activities. Most of our rural population does not have electricity and there is little they can do after sunset. With the solutions offered by Rahimafrooz, they can extend 'daylight' by another four hours, thereby continuing work beyond sunset.
The group celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2004. That was when the family owned business took stock of their history and where they wanted to go into the future. Indeed, they feel that harnessing the business potential in Bangladesh and beyond, they want to be a Tk10,000 crore company by 2017. Isn't that a big number to aspire for? It is, Niaz says and the number has come from the business units. The business unit heads along with their teams did a bottom up exercise which showed that their organic growth will add up to this magic number.
Rahimafrooz's ventures have always been unusual as they dare to venture in unconventional business areas. This innovative approach has made them either number one or two in their businesses, commanding respect in the market, and market share. This pragmatic but daring 'we can' attitude stood them through the spat they had with an Indian company which tried to thwart Rahimafrooz's batteries entry into India. Locking horns, they resiliently stood up against the mighty company, like David and Goliath and ultimately won the right to export, which they continue to do successfully. This success has led Rahimafrooz to invest in doubling their manufacturing capacities to meet what seems to be an insatiable demand for batteries.
If you haven't read Jim Collin's book, Good to Great, you are missing out a great research work, which explains how companies become great. As you talk to Niaz Rahim, you begin to see the book coming to life, manifesting itself in the way Rahimafrooz works. The book has been an inspiration for them too. You can sense the unmistakable humility and religiosity emanating from him as he explains how their business is like one big family. Their familial ethos flows not only to employees but goes on to their dealers.
Dealers are dear to Rahimafrooz. They have been nurtured, cared and provided with continuous training to carry Rahimafrooz's basket of products and values to customers. As Niaz says, dealers are our partners, our extended family members who need to understand and live the way a family does. That is why we take so much care to make sure they live our values. After all, they are the touch points where customers meet Rahimafrooz. If our dealers can provide a satisfactory experience to our customers, we build brand and customer loyalty.
Successful businesses believe in philanthropic social activities. Rahimafrooz is no exception and have formed their own Rural Services Foundation. The Foundation seeks to better the lives of the poor and has 170 nationwide centres including a school in Bogra for the children of the ultra poor. Keeping pace with their vision to spread light, this school provides free of cost, the best possible light of education to the poorest of the poor.
As we walked out of their spotless office I could not but already admire the quiet determination of Niaz Rahim and his family, locking horns with the future, striving to make Rahimafrooz a great company.

The writer is the managing director of Syngenta Bangladesh Ltd

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