What decisions did you take to choose such an impressive career path?
I was always keen on observing people. This hobby grew into a fascination for me at a very early age. As time went by, this curiosity led me to an innate passion for consumer behaviour and marketing psychology. Choosing your discipline becomes more straightforward when you understand your interests and recognise your strengths. I chose to pursue Marketing when most of my college friends were choosing either Accounting or Finance during the admission at the University of Dhaka. I am talking about a time when people hardly knew what the subject was all about and, for most students, it was probably the last option among the four departments in the Faculty of Commerce (now the Faculty of Business Studies) to consider suitable for a so-called perfect future career. I had joined Bitopi Advertising Ltd., the Leo Burnett affiliate in Bangladesh, even before my M.Com results came out, Soon after, I joined Asiatic Marketing Communication Limited, an affiliate of JWT Worldwide, where I handled Unilever’s most prominent brand – Lux. During those days, people usually thought you would be a model if you are a female working in an advertising agency. I had to face a lot of questions as to why, despite my academic results, I chose to work in an agency and not in a bank. My banking career started with HSBC in 1998. I still chose to work in Public Affairs, which was the Marketing department of the bank. Before joining Mutual Trust Bank Limited (MTB), I was the Head of Corporate Affairs & Branding at Bank Asia Limited. The most significant turning point in my career was the decision to join MTB. MTB is a local bank with a global mindset. The Board of Directors and the Senior Management are extremely broadminded. As far as our area of work is concerned, they are always open to new ideas which help us execute and expedite different marketing campaigns flawlessly.
What are the challenges you face working in such a diverse sector?
I think most of my marketing peers in different organisations will agree with me when I say that, when it comes to branding, everybody thinks they know the job. This can be harmful for an organisation as it creates a massive mismatch between the campaign objective and the campaign results. The marketing department should be the custodian of the brand for any organisation. The business units can complement by providing a proper and adequate brief which, at times, becomes a challenging issue for the marketing department. The purpose of marketing is about making noise and enabling the market to find out about a particular product. It also plays a very strategic role in educating consumers. The bottom line – no demand will be generated for your products and services without marketing. Last but not least, as far as the marketing arena is concerned, we still do not have the right people in the right places.
NO CREATIVE CHALLENGE CAN BE ADDRESSED IN AN INFORMATION VACUUM. WE TRY TO COLLECT THE REQUIRED INFORMATION DEPENDING ON THE OBJECTIVE OF THE CAMPAIGN BY GETTING INFORMATION BY DIRECTLY QUESTIONING EXISTING AND POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS AND SOMETIMES THROUGH R&D
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organisation?
As compared to any other industry, the marketing of financial services requires just as much innovation and creativity, if not more. Whether we are trying to develop a theme for our anniversary campaign or craft a slogan for a new product or service, we try to go through the following processes:
No creative challenge can be addressed in an information vacuum. We try to collect the required information depending on the objective of the campaign by getting information by directly questioning existing and potential customers and sometimes through R&D.
2. Organising Brainstorming Sessions
In addition to encouraging brainstorming within the team, we try to stress on how innovation keeps us in the competition. This is instrumental for the success of any campaign.
3. Making Time for New Ideas
We welcome new ideas from individuals and teams and encourage them to keep looking anew at the way they approach their work.
4. Acting on Ideas
An idea has no value if it is not executed and appropriately conveyed. The success or failure of a creative solution depends on how it is articulated. A single concept can be expressed in a number of ways, i.e. visually, mathematically, metaphorically, etc. We need to work on finding the best possible way to communicate with our target group.
Why has there been so less women in the Marketing and Communication sector?
The field of Marketing and Communication is not a crotchety man’s world
anymore. Some of the country’s star women marketers are making a huge impact in the brand management of the banking, telecommunications, FMCG and e-commerce sectors. Having said that, the leadership values, decision making aptitude, team interaction, communication and responsiveness of the female leaders are often misconstrued as a “less-than” leadership style. If the male-dominated terrain feels like a theatre and women have to pretend to be something they are not, it often becomes difficult for the women of the 21st century to overcome the demands and challenges of the Marketing and Communication sector. Women are neither less ambitious than men, nor are they incompetent compared to their male counterparts. It is the mindset of the men that sometimes sidelines women from making a mark in the Marketing and Communication sector. There are, however, a few strong male advocates of women and great male leaders who know how to pave the way for the high growth and engagement of women.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female corporates?
As female leaders, we inhibit our potential as we refrain ourselves from being more assertive and hope that our hard work will speak for us. So, first of all, I would like to suggest that women put in their efforts to build their self-esteem and confidence, and enhance their communication, leadership and decision-making skills. It is important to establish their authentic personal brand so that they can claim the leadership authority they aspire for and bring about a significant positive change in the organisation. In a fast-moving world of disruption and change, it is essential to remember that, to be empowered, women should empower each other to have a collective voice. I would love to see women more system- dependent and less person- dependent; and, this would be my last advice to the next generation of female corporates.
Who inspired you, and how?
Geeteara Shafiya Choudhury has always been my female idol. I have always admired her courage to start an unconventional business in a male-dominated society and the business strategies undertaken by her to pave the way for the growth of her agency by creating global affiliations. My male idol is Anis A. Khan, who is an institution himself. Though he needs no introduction, I would like to take the opportunity to delineate how he has so positively impacted both my professional and personal lives in the last six years. Anis A. Khan is one of the most knowledgeable and intelligent men I have ever come across. While he is a perfectionist, he is humble enough to tolerate some of the unintended blunders made by us. One thing that amazes me about him is that he respects the fact that we all have different backgrounds and that each of us will react to a particular situation in a different way. I will always remain one of the biggest fans of his impromptu speeches. He has, in his way, taught me, how important it is to be the best at whatever I did. Working closely with him for a good number of years, I have learnt to prioritise in both my professional and personal lives. He has been able to change my entire thought process positively without uttering a single word. I wish I had met him at an earlier stage of my career. Nevertheless, I am thankful to have him as my mentor now.
How did you maintain balance in your life as a working mother?
I became a mother when I was preparing for the final semester. I started working a few months after Mashruf was born. It was challenging juggling between work and taking care of Mashruf, but I was lucky that my employers, Reza Ali of Bitopi Group, Aly Zaker and Asaduzzaman Noor from Asiatic were kind enough to allow me to spend my lunch hour with Mashruf. I believe that increased my productivity as I felt less guilty about spending less time with my son. Later, as my job demanded more time, it was incredible to watch Mashruf become independent. He made it so much easier for me eventually. My son has always been and will forever remain my number one priority. I am a mother first, then everything else.