Raimah Chowdhury, Managing Director of HR Lines Limited on heading a shipping business, bringing global franchises to Bangladesh and the importance of values in both politics and business
As the Managing Director of HR Lines Limited, the only operator of Bangladesh Flag container vessels, what are your day-to-day challenges? Do you think being in a business which is mostly dominated by men, you are more prone to facing challenges than a man?
Shipping is an industry that is constantly evolving and is of changing dynamics. You have to have your feet anchored in the present but also be focused on the future. Being Bangladesh’s only container flag vessel owner and operator places additional responsibilities on us as we are a private entity flying the national Flag. Expectations are high and given that the current feeder scenario has been the sole monopoly of non-Bangladesh Flag vessels literally over decades, the competition is also intense.
I am very fortunate to have a focused and enterprising team that is able to respond to challenges as and when they emerge. Coordinating a 3 Port operation involving Chattogram, Singapore and Port Klang at a time when the latter two are experiencing uncharacteristic congestions and delays and yet maintaining schedule integrity which is so critical for our time sensitive RMG related cargoes, is no easy task.
Although shipping in Bangladesh has particularly been male dominated, I see this more as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Yes, to begin with, a few eyebrows must have been raised but at the end of the day what matters is how I steer, navigate and take the company forward.
As the president of WISTA, Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, what has been your vision and how close are you achieving your vision so far?
When it comes to WISTA Bangladesh, my vision is simple. I want to see women challenging and shifting career dynamics in shipping and logistics in our country. I want to see more Bangladeshi women in operations, in positions of higher management, more women given the opportunity to join the Marine Academy, women sailing on the many ships that call Chattogram Port.
I want women to not just come into the conversation but actually contribute to the changes that are needed to grant women access to these opportunities. Is there anything more incredible than a global network of women coming together to reinvent, challenge and push boundaries in an industry that has been catered by and to men since the beginning?
WISTA Bangladesh is young but we have met mentors, found friendships and shared a common goal that will last lifetimes. It’s just the beginning of a long but exciting and necessary journey.
You come from a reputed political and business family. How did it contribute to forming your persona in both personal and professional spheres?
Whether it be politics or business, they have to be grounded in values – they are both meant to promote the welfare of people and the advancement of the country. My grandfather laid the foundations of our family business and it was only possible because of my grandmother’s support. I am privileged to have a solid base to build on because of them. Looking after our employees and their wellbeing continues to be a priority, as they are the most important pillars of our businesses.
From my grandmothers, I have learned and been left with values of perseverance, patience and sacrifice. My father has always viewed politics as a means to enrich people’s lives and prepare for a better tomorrow. This same motivation also applies for me professionally and personally.
I have been raised to believe that it is not just the commercial success of our ventures but rather giving back to communities is what matters most.
W for Women, U.S. Polo Assn. & Skechers are renowned global franchises. What intrigued you to bring these brands to Bangladesh? How is it going to make its marks in the local fashion scene?
As a third-generation company, we are always exploring new areas of interest in our country. With one of the youngest and most active internet user populations in the world, I admire Bangladesh for being a place that has so much to offer.
The intrigue to bring these brands revolved around the opportunity to offer products and customer service in our country from some of the best retailers in the world. These are all brands that give people the chance to define and redefine themselves and their style. In our world today, this means so much more than fashion and we are so excited to be a part of that movement in Bangladesh.
Since you wear so many hats, how do you ensure a work-life balance?
Technology has been a life-saver for me when it comes to creating a work-life balance during a global pandemic. Being able to connect and work remotely with Karnaphuli Group’s diverse business activities has been both rewarding and refreshing. Outside of work, I am very lucky to lean on a support system of group chats consisting of friendships, sisterhoods and family that keep me constant company. This along with taking the time to self-care, do yoga, hug the pet and human members of my family and read has been a wonderful way to create balance.
How can we have more successful entrepreneurs?
By listening and learning. There has never been a more important time than now to just listen to one another and have conversations that allow people to be open-minded to how different realities maybe for others, despite having a shared goal for a successful venture.
I am proud to belong to a country that has so much energy, creativity, and strength to move forward despite the many challenges we face.
We should all be working to create these spaces to learn from one another on a greater scale in Bangladesh, a place with infinite potential and growth.