In a conversation, Shawn Hakim, Managing Director, Brüvana Group elaborates on his entrepreneurial journey, the current state of the global economy and how his latest venture can contribute towards growing Bangladesh’s export basket.
You are one of Bangladesh’s top successful business leaders. How did it all start?
Thank you but I think you may have been a bit too generous with your assessment of me. I am far from being ranked amongst the top business leaders in Bangladesh. There are many individuals and companies who are far more established than I am. However, I am an up-and-coming entrepreneur who has had some mild successes in the past. Those smaller successes all started with an idea which we later turned into a reality – and it always was a group effort. I always toyed with different ideas and endeavours but as I grew older, I started applying my knowledge of economics, people’s buying behaviours, and trends that have occurred in neighbouring countries. I was able to put that knowledge into practice and channel that into a business format. So yes, I was fortunate enough to apply my skills in certain businesses, which yielded great results over the years. I wouldn’t say I’m very successful but we’ve enjoyed some prosperity. Or maybe we just got lucky.
Throughout your journey, you have co-founded some of the most profitable ventures in the country. What have been the biggest challenges you have had to overcome?
I was primarily involved with the automotive industry, which in itself is in its infancy in Bangladesh. The current size of the industry is far too small than what was expected a decade ago. If you look at India’s automotive market, it is exponentially larger than that of Bangladesh. Comparatively, Bangladesh’s per capita consumption of automobiles, which includes passenger vehicles and motorcycles alike, is very small when you look at the per capita consumption in neighbouring countries. So there is potential to grow; however, the current global economic turmoil has already slowed down the rate of progress we had. So, a lot of work needs to be done alongside clever manoeuvring. The government of Bangladesh has already initiated a very comprehensive automobile manufacturing policy which gives some of us manufacturers breathing space and scope for savings – which we can then try and pass on to consumers. That said, however, if different manufacturers can pool their resources both in terms of knowledge and investment, we may just survive the downturn that the world is bracing for.
Shawn Hakim, Managing Director, Brüvana Group
Being an effective leader is integral to becoming a successful leader. Could you describe your leadership style?
I have a unique brand of leadership style. I am easily the most hated person in the office because I don’t come here to win a popularity contest. My priority is getting the job done. I am a no-nonsense, old-school, straight-shooting individual. If you look at my desk, every idea on my mind is scribbled down on this giant land drawing before me. This is my Bible, and this is how I do things. I use a simple calculator and make my assumptions, usually trying to stay within 10 to 12% of my own forecasts . Like I said, “old school”.
A few days back, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stressed focusing on personal savings and emphasising food production, indicating deepening economic turmoil. One of the ways we can alleviate the economic stress is by enhancing our exports. Do you have any plans to contribute to our export basket?
Absolutely! Right now, the entire global economy is on edge because of the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine, which has commenced immediately after we had only just started coming to terms with the Covid-19 pandemic. These are unprecedented times, and governments across the globe are desperately looking for ways to weather the storm. For every country, irrespective of socio-economic status, fighting food scarcity will be the utmost priority as we advance. Therefore, our PM made the right call by directing us to emphasise on food production.
This is a difficult period, and we all must come together to avert any impending crisis. Undoubtedly, exports will play a pivotal role in alleviating the pressure on our economy. Currently, our exports are focused predominantly on the RMG sector. There has not been enough entrepreneurship in other industries that could be developed for exports. We are aggressively pursuing an export plan primarily with China in our new venture Brüvana Group, which consists of Brüvana Beverages, Brüvana Distillers and Brüvana Breweries. We are well aware that 99% of Bangladeshi products are exempt from import duties to China and all of our products are on the duty-exempt list. In 2021, Bangladesh imported USD $13 billion worth of goods from China; on the other hand, our exports amounted to USD $683 million to China. We are pleased to say that a large distributor in the Asia Pacific region, based in China has already placed a multi-million dollar order for some of our products in the year 2023. So, if we can capitalise on this gap and start promoting products made in Bangladesh to China, there can be an incredible opportunity to contribute to our export market and help the local market sustain by bringing in a much needed influx of foreign currency.
The government of Bangladesh has already initiated a very comprehensive automobile manufacturing policy which gives some of us manufacturers breathing space and scope for savings – which we can then try and pass on to consumers.
What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
I have many, but if I had to choose, it would be knowing what I am working for. It makes a person efficient and productive. Otherwise, it is improbable to work productively. An individual, in any capacity, irrespective of the industry, has to believe in what they are doing to make any positive change. Whether you are an office staff or a CEO, it’s all in the belief in what you are doing; it automatically brings forth productivity, efficiency and ingenuity.
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