G M Kamrul Hassan,
CEO of Igloo Group

You are the CEO of Igloo Group. Life of a CEO is full of challenges. How do you deal with stress and challenges that come as a part of the job?

The first and foremost thing is to have a good plan. A CEO not only does manage the business; he is also responsible for managing the board of directors and other associated stakeholders. I personally believe that one cannot deliver super performance every day. However, as long as you maintain consistency performance-wise, that is important. Planning also lets you have an idea about the forthcoming challenges. One day you might not perform up to the mark; a good plan will enable you to prepare for the next day and avoid the misfires of today. Having said that, balancing work and personal life also is a demanding issue. As for myself, I have two kids. Since I return home late every night, I try to spend time with my children in the morning. It’s imperative for me to bond with them properly; be it through sharing breakfast in the car or taking them to school. After that I, usually, hit the gym, freshen up and come to the office. Besides my daily chores at the office, I try to participate in social events and absolutely like to render my time in public speaking. I have been in the corporate world for the last 25 years. From a humble beginning, I could come this far and throughout the journey, I have seen that youth everywhere are the changemakers. That’s why through my endeavours, I try to share my hard-earned wisdom with them. I always focus on functional and soft skill development that will enable the young corporates to attain competitive advantage among their peer groups. Apart from that, I run two shows. On ABC Radio, I run talk show called Career Coach on Saturday night from 9-11 pm, where I help them with advice on how to build their career. On every Tuesday, on RTV Digital, I host a show called Passion to Grow from 10-11 pm, where I talk with successful professionals and try to know about their recipe for success. After running a company like Igloo, which is the market leader in the ice cream sector, managing time could be quite challenging. However, I consider the public speaking and show hosting are as ways of giving back to society.

A CEO NOT ONLY DOES MANAGE THE BUSINESS; HE IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR MANAGING THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND OTHER ASSOCIATED STAKEHOLDERS. I PERSONALLY BELIEVE THAT ONE CANNOT DELIVER SUPER PERFORMANCE EVERY DAY

Speaking of career building, when you started, did you ever map it out in your mind?

During my student life, I was already earning money by tutoring or working part-time jobs in NGOs like World Vision; but after the completion of my honours in Bio-Chemistry from Dhaka University, I was sure about one thing: I have to start earning professionally. My job at Nestle gave me the opportunity. From the beginning, I started working in the field level and was earning a handsome amount for a young corporate in the mid-90s. I started chalking out fragmented goals; like what to achieve in the next three years or next five years. From time to time, I looked back and pondered over on my accomplishments; which gave me the idea that I was being able to achieve most of the set goals. This gave me the confidence; the push to work harder; achieve more. When I joined Nestle, it was a new company in Bangladesh Market. In the beginning, there were no senior officers. Among the few people who were promoted to that designation, I was one of them. Eventually, I was made the Team Leader and so on so forth. All these promotions during my 12 years stint at Nestle helped me realize what should be my benchmark. If anyone asks what’s your success mantra, I have only one word for them and that is consistency! Keep doing the good work and reward shall be yours.

“I ALSO EQUIPPED MYSELF WITH AN ADEQUATE UNDERSTANDING OF THE MARKET. THIS DAWNED ON ME THAT IT WAS TIME TO TAKE UP A NEW CHALLENGE. I ALREADY KNOW THE MARKET, THE CONSUMER, THE DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS; AS FAR AS MARKETING AND BRANDING WERE CONCERNED”

You started as a Medical Delegate in Nestle. From there, you ended up in the branding department. What intrigued you to change your track?

I owe much of my hardworking nature to my job as a Medical Delegate aka Medial Representative. They work from dawn to dusk and I have massive respect for these people. If you see it from a different perspective, you can see that these people are very convincing in nature; particularly high skilled professionals as medical doctors require a certain kind of aptness, persistency and excellent communication skill. On top of that, adaptability is a tradecraft medical representatives must-have. When a doctor denies listening to you, handling that rejection without bringing on a frown upon your face can be a tough job. Having flexibility in your nature, thus, will help you gear thru such situations. Last but not least, I am grateful to that job for honing my leadership skills: the way a medical delegate leads a doctor to make a decision on prescribing medicine is no easy task. All these qualities have helped me become a more composed professional that I am today. That being said, I always knew that it was not my holy grail. I knew I needed a bigger sky to fly. Eventually, as I was doing good in my job, I also equipped myself with an adequate understanding of the market. This dawned on me that it was time to take up a new challenge. I already know the market, the consumer, the distribution channels; as far as marketing and branding were concerned, learning a few things would help me land on a new career role.

Was there something in a marketing job that attracted you?

You see marketing, to me, it consists of both science and art. The science part deals with the diagnosis–by which I mean identifying what the consumer wants. The art part, on the other hand, deals with how to sell the product to consumers according to their need. So as I was telling, I had the understanding about how to cook, which I gathered from my field experiences; what I lacked was knowledge about the amount of ingredients that need to be put. I was given the job on one condition: I have to obtain an MBA degree, which I eventually got from East-West University. As I started working, I realized the marketing of a product requires the best utilization of common sense. Then when I joined the branding department, I kept on learning new things from my colleagues every day, about the consumer insight, the market dynamics and dos and don’ts. I consider Nestle to be a wonderful organization where one can learn so much; however, to act upon one’s learning in real life, one must seek for other companies, which gradually prompted me to land on my next couple of jobs in FMCG sector.

What’s your take on the current consumer market?

The potential of the local consumer market is huge. The per capita income is increasing and the beauty of Bangladesh market is people here love to spend more. As far as the market growth is concerned, the rate stands at 10-12% in almost all categories. The factors playing behind such growth are increased product literacy; women empowerment leading to dual income group in the households and rise of nuclear families, which compels families to depend on consumer products–a working mother doesn’t have time to probably spend hours in the kitchen to make breakfast; she would probably buy readymade porotha. If we look at the grassroots level, we also can see that the spending tendency added a new momentum in the Bangladesh economy. Someone somewhere is selling tea to buy rice; the rice seller is buying vegetables for his family, and thus the whole consumer pyramid is contributing to building the Bangladesh economy stronger.

Tell us about the ice cream market. Where does Igloo stand here?

The ice cream market is not very big. It’s a very small, compared to other FMCG. Electricity was a big crisis once; gone are the days of load-shedding. Ice cream is a very logistic-driven industry; you need to ensure temperature from the beginning of the production to end until it is consumed. It starts from -40 degree centigrade in the factory to -18 degree when the customer is devouring it. Thanks to the near-adequate supply of electricity and infrastructural development, the ice cream industry is also growing at the rate of 10-12%. In recent times, we have seen the rise of competitors in the market which we have always welcomed as this empowers the customers with many options. One of the core strengths of Igloo is its big R&D team. Ice cream is not a staple food; it’s more of an impulse food. If we look at our local food habit, we love to enjoy some desserts at the end of our meals. For that, moving on from the readily available western flavours, we have launched locally customised flavours which spelt success for us. Igloo has won Brand Forum’s award for being the number one ice cream brand. It also has global recognition of being among the top hundred trusted brands. If you ask me about the vision, we have started a new thing and that is home delivery of ice creams. Anyone ordering more than 300 taka worth ice cream, will receive home delivery. Initially, we had a poor response, but our persistence in the project paid off; now we are receiving 200-300 orders every day. As a leader, we want to set a trend. One of my personal dreams is to turn Igloo ice cream into the quintessential dessert of households.

Are you happy with the competition in the market?

At Igloo, we have always welcomed competition. It helps the industry in two ways. First, it ensures an abundance of the product in the market; it enhances customers literacy about the product; which is followed by word of mouth and eventually we see a surge in sales. Secondly, competition reminds us that we have to ensure quality to cement our position in the consumer psyche and you learn how to become better through innovation. Having said that, we cannot expect healthy competition. Sometimes one or two of them can end up with stupid rivalry acts. Last year we have seen such attempts being made to ruin our reputation. We have also seen smear campaigns being run on social media being paid by some of the competitors. However, we are thankful to the Cyber Crime Authority of the Government who identified the masterminds behind it. However, being the leading brand, we have accepted the challenge and will keep doing a good job to maintain our superior quality.

How are you ensuring skill development among your workforce at Igloo?

We have always been working with our employees for their skill development. But our job doesn’t end there. We also work with retailers in our supply chain; we listen from them and try to provide solutions as much as possible in our capacity. The aim is to turn them into pure resources. However, we can show them the path but they are the ones who can act upon it to make it come true.

What’s your personal goal in future?

My journey has not been smooth. Nonetheless, I have been working hard and received accolades and rewards. I eventually want to create my own identity; set up my own business. Besides, training and skill development is where I would like to devote myself on. I am the President of Bangladesh Corporate Forum. One of our goals is to develop a better corporate force which is homegrown and can attain the leading position in local conglomerates and in MNCs which are now being occupied by the foreign MDs and CEOs. My working as a show host in Career Coach and Passion for Growth can be termed as the stepping stones toward that goal.

You hit the gym on a regular basis. How important is the fitness of a CEO?

Not necessarily for a CEO, this is important for everyone. When it comes to CEOs, a position like this comes with huge responsibility from dawn to dusk, it’s mandatory to remain fit, or you won’t be able to deliver. Both physical and mental fitness are important for working hard. However, works aside, even for those who are not engaged in any stressful or challenging job, for the sake of leading a healthy life, fitness matters.