Starting as a business of "Hides and Skins" in 1834, the late Lakku Mia's foray into the world of business would eventually turn into a family heirloom, responsibility passed down the years and a steady expansion of efforts leading to the massive business entity that is Anwar Group today. With over a hundred and eighty years in operation, the group has gained a substantial foothold in the local economy through a wide range of local and exported goods and services ranging from automobiles to construction materials, plumbing and real estate. With such a diversified range of wares involved in the business model of Anwar Group, it is very likely that an outsider will be overwhelmed by the idea of having to focus on one particular branch of this massive corporation in the hopes of finding a picture of how things are done. One area where Anwar Group has had a leap forward in terms of innovation, unique selling points and local substitutes for foreign materials is in the construction industry and the vertical integration that resulted in significant progress in the field of real estate.
We caught up with Manwar Hossain, Group Managing Director of Anwar Group of Industries, to pick his brain on the ins and outs of being in the construction and building materials industry as well as being a major player in the local industrial sector.
What are the biggest challenges facing the construction materials industry today?
Manwar Hossain: "The major problems we're facing in the construction materials industry is slow growth, low private sector demand, and the global downtrend in real estate. For an industry like ours, there needs to be a constant flow of steady investment for the business to flourish. However, the combined effects of political chaos, lack of demand and rising levels of corruption and extortion have created a situation where people would rather invest abroad or not invest at all. We're driving the investment out of the country both in terms of real estate holdings and the obvious demand for construction materials that follow the purchases. If we can't find a way to stimulate demand and keep investment inside the country, we'll be in trouble."
Technology is evolving rapidly and its place in the economy is changing. To what extent is this happening in the construction industry?
"Like every other business, technology plays a huge role in determining the direction of the company, the extent of its operations, and the quality of the products that we produce. For a building to stand for decades requires an immense dedication in ensuring quality in the production process. For every single product produced by Anwar Group's building materials division, we make sure to keep updated with the rest of the world on the latest production technology and raw materials processing techniques. We consider it to be good investment to not keep old machines and production equipment running for years, we will usually change them all out within a year or however long it takes for the rest of the world to move on to better equipment. At a national level that gives us public trust, so technology plays a major role in the construction industry and will play an even bigger role in the future."
As one of the most renowned names in the building materials industry, how would you describe your business model?
"Find the best people, invest in the best technology, gain and retain people's trust, and keep building on reputation. It works for any business and it has worked very well for us."
What kinds of changes has your company seen that has allowed it to grow into such a major player in this industry?
"Constant diversification and sensible expansion has brought us to where we are. Recently, Dun and Bradstreet awarded Anwar Group for being the most diversified group of companies in Bangladesh. That diversification without losing the end goal of where we want to be has gotten us where we are today, and hopefully it will take us further. With new products added to our product lineup at every turn, we can also claim to be the company with the highest number of new products in the country. At present our building materials sector produces UVC pipes, fittings, thread, GI fittings, cement sheet, graded deformed bar/rod, electrical cables, and more. No other local company has this much of a focus on the building materials industry, and our vertical integration with the real estate business has left us in a unique position with which we can take our brand even further."
Your organizational culture must empower people. Will you describe your culture for us?
"Our main strength is in our ability to communicate. We do not have a corporate culture where its a top-down hierarchy and anyone who is lower down the ladder cannot speak: we give everyone equal opportunity to speak their minds and contribute ideas and help move the company forward. As long as there are good people being hired and strong inter-personnel relations and communications being developed, our corporate culture will thrive. A big part of that is hiring people who will gel with the rest of the workforce and won't be too reserved to help us grow as a company."
Can you tell us about your growth plans? What are you going to emphasise in the growth strategies of existing businesses?
"Our business is continuously growing, but at the moment we're hoping to emphasise on the growth of our cement and steel mill sectors, with an approximate three times increase in capacity. Along with that, we plan on acquiring government contracts for construction to a greater extent than at present, as we believe a strengthened presence in the infrastructure industry can help us gain an even greater foothold in the private market at the same time."