Rumana started her career in BATB as a Management Trainee after completing her BBA from IBA, Dhaka University. She performed various roles covering specialist areas like reward, talent and generalist streams of business partnering including the area of Supply Chain HR. Before taking over the Head of HR role Rumana was playing the role of Regional HR Planning & Reporting Manager in the Asia Pacific Region based in Hong Kong. Rumana is the first local female Top Team member of BAT Bangladesh.
BAT is such an expansive organisation. As Head of HR, how would you describe your job in a nutshell?
I look at this job very simply. I see it as enabling the other functions of the organisation. So it's almost like being the lubricant in the wheels of the organisation. As HR you make sure organisation has the best human resource. Sometime we as HR professional give more focus to process and become process-obsessed overlooking the purpose.
What do you like most about working in HR?
I think HR is the unique function where the balance of heart and head is very critical. You have to look after the commercial side of the business as well as the interest of the people side, both of which are very critical to the success of the organisation. That balancing act has been an amazing journey for me so far.
You're the first female head in BAT Bangladesh. What kind of challenges have you faced as a female leader?
To grow women in the organisation is a continuous challenge. I did not face less challenges in the early years of my career. As you go up the leadership, it's get more challenging. Just before I took the role in the executive committee I could feel the walls telling me, “Accha dekhbo kemon kore.”
I think the best way to deal with a challenge is to not change as an individual. You have to keep caring about the people and caring about the business. There were challenges, like when I took business cases to senior leadership who were not used to dealing with females working with millions of pounds of investment. So it's very critical how our leaders deal with it. I had and have very open and unbiased line managers who really made me feel comfortable and evaluated me based on my capability, not my gender. Of course in our society, the corporate world continues to be dominated by males and we as females have to take along our male colleagues in our journey of equity. You cannot work in isolation.
Battle of Minds is in its 12th year now. How has the journey been so far?
We gave birth to Battle of Minds around 2004. It was a very small endeavour that started in a small room in East West University. Back then it was just a case competition. Firstly, we were trying to spot talent. Secondly, we were trying to see what we could do to bridge the gap between academic life and professional life. Today it's not just a competition – it's a life-changing experience that we offer to individuals. It helps them realise what they're good at, what they're bad at, how they need to prepare for the corporate world, what instincts they have, so that they come out as stars at the end of the day at whatever they do.
There has been criticism regarding Battle of Minds conflicting with the Tobacco Act. What is your opinion?
First of all, we are a responsible and compliant company doing business here for over 100 years. We would not do anything outside the compliance factor and we respect the laws of the country fully – that is our biggest pride.
Battle of Minds is a talent initiative completely for university students and it has nothing to do with the product we manufacture and sell. The theme of the competition is always based on contemporary business topics that are relevant for the new talents, and helps them to understand the corporate world.
But there are perceptions about it that are otherwise because of a lack of understanding of the law. I would urge critics to explore fully about this platform and not be counterproductive to something that is so productive to the students and the future generation of the country.
Back to HR for a bit. What do you think is the importance of developing HR in Bangladesh as a whole?
I think HR is a very critical function and at the national level, we should have a Human Resources Ministry. We have a labour ministry, but the way the Bangladeshi economy is growing, we need professional talent development, which is currently not done in a very structured way. I believe that our youth is the biggest asset of our country, and converting our youth into real value would be through Human Resource development. That could mean IT skills, semi-skilled jobs, leadership skills. You can buy machines, you can buy brands, but you can’t buy people.
What is your opinion on the recruitment process in the country? Do you think there are flaws in it, or it could be better?
Today there are many companies which have structured recruitment processes. However, I believe we are still very academic-focused in our recruitment processes. We are not as focused towards the needs of the job. We look at certain criteria, which do not match the needs of the job or the needs of the organisation.
What’s the worst thing somebody could do at a job interview?
If they project a different self. Because the people on the other side will know. We are not looking for clones. We are looking for individuals who bring a difference. That person is missing out on an opportunity just because he or she is not putting his or her real self out there. If you’re not yourself in the interview, you’re not going to be yourself in the organisation and the organisation might not be the right fit for you.
Battle of Minds is like a grooming process that BAT provides to university students outside the organisation. What are some grooming processes inside BAT?
You learn every single day during your time at BAT. Even our GM went for a training a couple of weeks back. So developing yourself never ends. That's the first philosophy this organisation has.
We have trainings which help people to acquire skills. We put them in jobs, 'crisis' situations and various projects. They learn and they crawl and they climb. Then they jump and they leap through those initiatives. We take risks with our young talent who come to the leadership level. You cannot just risk an individual with a big job. We make sure they are supported through good coaching and mentoring programs so that they are set up for success.
I also think exposing our talent to the international stage makes them more confident. And when they go to our headquarters, they don't see the business from one point of view, they see it from 180 different points of views (as BAT operates in more than 180 countries globally). The more culturally sensitive you are, the better you can deal with different issues and the better you will do at the top.
One thing to be mentioned is that we develop business leaders so we give them a very good orientation to the business. It's not like you're working for external affairs or HR or marketing, you are working for British American Tobacco Bangladesh's business. You're not compartmentalised to think that you just do one job. You need to know how your job is connected to the rest of the organisation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s getting into HR?
The best piece of advice I would give is to find out what the business needs rather than what HR can do. As an individual, you have to see beyond your self-interest, you have to be selfless. Rewards will follow.
And the million-dollar question: how do you decide that somebody is BAT material?
Attitude. That's what's most important. It's not skills, it's not intelligence – you will be checked for those. We want to see sharp, resilient individuals, who can take failure and respond to it – that is where attitude comes in.
The interviewer is Sub-Editor of the career publication of The Daily Star. She is also a junior at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.