Noman Group is an example of how a company is built from scratch and how it goes from strength to strength.
In the last few years, the conglomerate won a good few awards as a top garment exporter. But the journey to become a leading exporter was not smooth.
Md Nurul Islam, chairman of the group, said he started his business in 1968 when he used to sell clothes in Dhaka and Narayanganj after buying those from Chittagong. “I did not even have any capital in the beginning. It's hard work that paid off.” Islam said he used to work for a company and run his small business at the same time.
For the last few years, his company has been exporting garment products worth $500 million a year, he told The Daily Star in an interview at his office in Gulshan.
Islam said, when he was able to manage some capital he began dyeing and spinning business. “Then I started to make fabrics and later expanded my business to knitting, terry towel, denim and other segments."
Expansion mainly began after the independence of the country and a breakthrough came after 1987 when banks were showing interest to give him loans. Now the group has 28 factories, he said. “All are running very well.”
Five more factories that were built in 2009 and have been inactive due to a gas shortage will go into production soon, said the 64-year-old entrepreneur.
Around 60,000 people work for his company now, and once the new factories start operations, 30,000-40,000 jobs will be created. Islam said exports of garments will bring an additional $200 million from next year.
His son Abdullah Mohammad Zubair, deputy managing director of Noman Group, also took part in the interview. Zubair and his three brothers and a sister manage the entire business.
Zaber & Zubair Fabrics, a subsidiary of Noman Group, manufactures various home textile items for export, mainly to Europe and North America. Zaber & Zubair Fabrics won HSBC Export Excellence Awards in 2012 under the RMG and textile category with an annual export turnover of more than $50 million.
The company supplies to renowned retailers such as Walmart, Target, K-Mart, PVH, Nitori, Esprit, and HEMA.
Noman Group has targeted several emerging markets in line with their growth strategy. It has already entered the Japanese market, and in 2013, it participated in Heimtextil Frankfurt, Heimtextil Russia, JapanTex and Australian International Sourcing Fair.
Different sister concerns of the group export their products to top global brands such as H&M, IKEA, Target, GAP, JC Penney, Tesco, Li & Fung, American Eagle, Carrefour, Disney, Nike, Zara, Mango and Uniqlo.
Compliance is an important area where the group focuses on the most, Islam said. “I had to spend Tk 300 crore to set up an effluent treatment plant.”
The garment sector is facing a dearth of skilled manpower, especially at the management level, he said. "So most of the top officials of the factories are basically foreigners; they are from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines."
The government should set up training centres to produce skilled manpower, he said.
About the image of the garment sector that was dented by Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza building collapse, he said, "If all factories become compliant and run properly, the sector will soon recover the losses.”
Relationship between owners and workers should be developed through motivational activities, he said.
"Another disaster is shutdown," Islam said. "One day's hartal means losses of millions of dollars for the sector. Political peace is a must for our business to thrive."
Zubair said it is very important to build the four-lane Dhaka-Chittagong highway as soon as possible, as the exporters have to maintain a strict lead time.
At the same time, a deep-sea port is also essential for the sake of exports, Zubai said.
He also called for bringing down bank interest rate for lending to single digits, saying the current rate is too high and not business-friendly.