Entrepreneurship in Bangladesh calls for support
 Md Asadullah Khan

The budding talents rich in innovative ideas, technical expertise and bubbling with the spirit of doing something that helps them and the country have hardly got the recognition at the proper moment. These people, it must be admitted, have a major challenge to meet to build the economic bridges to the West and other developing Asian countries that will guarantee the hard-won freedom. People in all sectors of the society and belonging to all shades of opinion see joint ventures with western and fast-developing Asian firms as a panacea for revitalizing the stagnating economy of the country.

MUCH of country's fast growing youth force is without job or business. Creation of job opportunity for the unemployed young population either by the government agency or private sector appears to be a remote possibility. The country lags far behind other Asian countries when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship. Few in the country have much appetite for risk -- and as a consequence they are much more likely to seek job of any nature that strikes out on their own. But as competition is getting tough with each passing day, the government must push its citizens to be entrepreneurial. Our people are often likened to ostriches whereas dynamic people of Singapore and Hong Kong are working like high-flying storks. They accept responsibility for their own lives and livelihoods. Let us look at Han, a Singaporean youth who quit a comfortable job in a multinational firm to take over a chicken-curry puff-pastry stall of one of his relations in the late 1993. Borrowing money from his relations, he poured almost $40,000 into that business revamping it with modern production techniques, standardising quality and launching a marketing campaign in a bid to become owner of a world-class food chain business.

The strategy worked exceedingly well. His firm, now doing a brisk business in Singapore, has 14 outlets in the city and earned a million-dollar profit in a year. Han now proposes to expand this food chain business in Malaysia, Indonesia and China. Singapore government is offering incentive to this sort of business by allowing tax-rebate and other facilities for expansion and also offering counselling services to boost further expansion. Unsurprisingly, Singapore (pop. 2.7 million) has a small domestic market and its exporters face tough competition from up-coming countries like Thailand, Malaysia. Indonesia and its traditional rivals like Hong Kong and Taiwan. Nevertheless, people might be wondering if entrepreneurship can take hold in a society that is so highly regimented that even failure to flush a public toilet and throwing a cigarette butt on the street is a civic offence. Happily, democratic practices and authoritarian rule have gone hand in hand in Singapore, propping up a spate of development in the country. If entrepreneurship that means allowing individuals wide latitude to make decisions for themselves can work so well in such a closed society like Singapore, it seems puzzling why it should not take roots in our country?

What is now needed in our country is to cast aside the wheeler-dealer practice in business and to throw away the net of corruption arresting flow of business. Entrepreneurship means taking risks and people don't take risks unless times are bad. In the Bangladesh scenario, times are not only bad: may be, people are passing through the worst of times measured on any scale.

Allowing government fund to small entrepreneurs trying to get off the ground should start without further debate. Agencies working under the government must target the export-driven sectors that are coming up lately i.e. handicrafts, leather goods, food technology, jute goods such as carpet, bag, mat etc. What the government and other potentially affluent people have to do now is to boost personal initiative in people looking for confidence, co-operation and fund for marching ahead. People can be provided with entrepreneurial support in the business and industry such as repair technology and tools-making industry now booming up in the Dolaikhal area of Dhaka city. The government of Singapore made $1.34 billion available to young entrepreneurs in 1991 in a bid to encourage them to go ahead with their ventures in the field of biotechnology, computer-related programmes, food technology and precision tools-making industry. People in the countryside are grumbling about administration's inattention to their needs and this undoubtedly has muddled up relations between the two groups. If people are trying to find answer to this escalating menace of rampant killing of all varieties, abduction of wealthy businessmen and affluent people in urban and rural areas, the root cause can be attributed to inequitable distribution of wealth and impoverishness of the general masses that are often throwing some of them to commit crimes. People are screaming with frustration over the neglect, unsympathetic attitude of the administration and apathy of the potentially rich people to the suffering class, neighbours and relations close to their hand.

As one lamp lights another lamp, so successful entrepreneurs can also kindle hope and interest in aspiring youth force vibrant with energy, education and skill. Speaking about his experience as an entrepreneur at the Dr. Rashid Memorial lecture organised by the 61 batch of engineers of the erstwhile Ahsanullah Engineering College now BUET as a key note speaker in the first lecture of the series on "Entrepreneurship and Engineers of Bangladesh" in BUET Council Bhaban Mr. S. M. Kamaluddin once a bright product of BUET and now Chairman, Concord Group of Industries pointed out that engineers can prove themselves as better entrepreneurs because of their technical knowledge, higher intellect and analytical acumen. Quoting exhaustively from world records, Mr.

Kamaluddin, an engineer and successful entrepreneur who has reaped stunning success in the real estate business, RMG Sector, manufacture of building materials, spoke eloquently of Walt Disney, an artist who could turn into a creative entrepreneur and Ian Gregg, a solicitor in profession who turned into a successful entrepreneur in bakery industry in 1960. The cardinal points for the success of an entrepreneur, he reminded, are: a dream or a vision, belief, willingness to take risks and a determined effort to make those dreams come true. It is therefore essential that an entrepreneur in order to achieve success must look for ideas, product and services and explore new methods of informing a consumer about a product and promote it to them. The biggest challenge for an entrepreneur is to find out the gap and avail the chance of creating business at the most opportune moment, and lastly to explore market. Other than the money factor that motivates all entrepreneurs, a sense of achievement, through creating new values is much more important.

S. M. Kamaluddin of Concord fame, Rabiul Alam of Energy Pac, Kutubuddin of RMG sector, Rashed Khan Maqsood and Mahmudur Rahman in Ceramic industry, all of them engineers and successful entrepreneurs had not bribed their way to the top. S.M. Kamaluddin admitted that to do business they have to influence minds. Standard financial policy decisions can have far reaching effects on the entrepreneurial process causing a positive or highly negative effect.

Incidentally, one can note with interest the way Dhirubhai Ambani a Gujrat born successful entrepreneur rocketed to success. Says Jamandas H. Moorjani, another businessman, "Ambani's success is that he presents his case as if it is for the country's good". A successful entrepreneur, as Ambani was, could get all manner of laws and bureaucratic decisions tailored in his favour. Favouritism alone, however, does not explain his success. He was the first entrepreneur in India, for example, to build world-size industrial plant for his petro-chemical empire. He bypassed state run banks and raised capital directly from the public through stock offerings. As a result, the moribund Indian stock market was resurrected making millions for Indian investors in the past decade. Ambani who owns and controls several businesses namely textile and fibres, petrochemical, export-import, advertising, merchant banking under the flag name Reliance Group of Industries with billion dollar investment succeeded in wooing western investors. Ambani rose from rags to immense riches by bending every bureaucratic rule in sight. Son of an impoverished school teacher, at 17, he left India for Aden, now the capital of South Yemen where he laboured with construction workers at 50 0C heat, stripped to his underwear. Back in Bombay in 1958, he traded in spices and yarn and his family lived in a one-room tenement with a shared toilet till 1964. As Kamaluddin told the gathering, Ambani also recounts that the key to success in business in this region was not merely a great product or a lower price but the co-operation of bureaucrats and politicians. In our own country, as Mr. Kamaluddin recounted a good number of Bangladeshi businessmen, including few engineers cashed in on the policy decisions and made a great debut in clothing export. Bangladeshi exporters ranked top in the Asian region in the years beginning 1990-98.

As for Concord, it weathered crisis after a relatively boom period of business in the construction sector namely reconstruction of highway bridges in the war-ravaged country and gigantic activities in the real estate business, and other state level mega projects like BSB, Jiban Bima, Janata Bank, Petrobangla, BSEC buildings. But with state finances shrinking, there was saturation in all those sectors. The biggest set back came when the Concord's "fly-over" project fell through in the 90s because of government's lack of interest.

As already mentioned, what is important here for the budding entrepreneurs to learn and what Kamaluddin said, is worth noting, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket". A successful entrepreneur, Ambani followed this dictum as he diversified his business from textile to advertising, merchant banking, petro-chemicals to oil refinery. Concord has diversified its activities from real estate to RMG to Fantasy Kingdom, a mega theme project in Ashulia.

In all countries and in all ages, supporting the ventures of new entrepreneurs has helped foster business, industry and wealth. The case of billionaire and media Moghul Robert Maxwell, whose death in the Canary Island in the Atlantic in a luxury cruise vessel in 1991 is shrouded in mystery, is an ample evidence. Maxwell came from a Czechoslovak Jewish family of poor labourers and as a child he often went hungry. He had only three years of formal education. To keep himself alive, he often resorted to selling trinkets. Young Maxwell fled to France and fought in the French resistance movement and was wounded by the Germans. He later escaped to England. He lost his parents, a brother, three sisters and his grand parents in the "Holocaust". He joined British army and rose to the rank of captain in 1945. He was awarded the Military cross for heroism in the plains of Normandy. After working for British intelligence in Berlin, Maxwell returned to England in 1947. During this time he borrowed money from his in-laws to buy a stake in what became the Pergamon Press, a science publisher. The business made him a millionaire and in 1964 he won a seat in the House of Commons as a Labour Party candidate. In 1984, Maxwell purchased the Mirror Group Newspapers, a chain that includes The Daily Mirror, the left-leaning tabloid. In a war with other London tabs, including Rupert Murdoch's Sun, Maxwell increased the Mirror's circulation to 3.6 million from 200,000. Maxwell continued his entrepreneurial skill and journey undaunted. He sought to establish his presence in the US. After purchasing the official Airlines Guides for $ 750 million he took over the Macmillian book publishing firm at a cost of $ 2.6 billion. Because of the debt he accumulated in purchasing these two companies, he was forced to sell Pergamon in 1991.

Maxwell was a man who did everything himself. He acquired a string of high-profile business on both sides of the Atlantic, paying top price for everything. Not everything turned to gold. But Maxwell's case is a reminder how a person with entrepreneurial skill, ambition and lofty desires can reach excellent heights all alone. "Working for the mercurial magnate," says Anthony Deleno, a former managing editor of London's The Daily Mirror, "was both exhilarating and exhausting," he drove his workers as hard as himself.

Entrepreneurship has taken roots in Hungary after the cold war. Steiner, a 43-year-old engineer is a rare-sighted person whose works can inspire our people looking for opportunity, dynamism and market. Starting in 1981 with just one partner, Steiner built a back-yard refrigerator repair-shop into an aggressive, sophisticated firm that is poised for new growth. His Rolitron Co. which has now 220 employees has diversified its production units into water purifiers and "user-friendly" homo-dialysis machines. The company is now targeting a sale figure of $ 13 million a year. The company now counts customers in western Germany, Portugal, Italy and Netherlands.

The history of Rolitron or Reliance or Concord or PCI or Monno or Energy Pac illustrates the problems that private enterprises in all countries starting from Hungary to Bangladesh have been facing. Entrepreneurs have to navigate through the country's still-abundant thicket of red tape, gruelling experiences of inattention, neglect and racing from one place to another. People have to wrestle with endless annoyance that simply make up life here horrible.

But these budding talents rich in innovative ideas, technical expertise and bubbling with the spirit of doing something that helps them and the country have hardly got the recognition at the proper moment. These people, it must be admitted, have a major challenge to meet to build the economic bridges to the West and other developing Asian countries that will guarantee the hard-won freedom. People in all sectors of the society and belonging to all shades of opinion see joint ventures with western and fast-developing Asian firms as a panacea for revitalizing the stagnating economy of the country. That calls for ensuring a climate for investment in the country.

Md Asadullah Khan is Controller of Examinations, BUET.


Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, February 15, 2002


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