Interviews

Matiul Islam Nowshad, Chief Corporate and People Officer, Robi Axiata Limited

We understand that the merger between Robi and Airtel was the biggest ever in the country. How did you approach the Human Resource integration of these two companies? Could you share your experience with us?
Robi and Airtel merger was not only the biggest merger of the country, but also was a new phenomenon in the industry. Wiser by the experience- the Merger Steering Committee members with support from Axiata Group who had already completed a number of mergers in the South and South East Asian markets had made it easier for us to complete the merger, upholding the global best practices.
Along with the Merger Steering Committee members, all the divisions and departments of the merging companies played a crucial role. Our regulatory team played an excellent part along with our corporate affairs team since non conclusive merger agreement was announced.
Our corporate Communication team made sure relevant stakeholders were made aware of the entire merger process to make it transparent to people in general and our customers in particular through effective engagement with the journalists. Even before concerns were raised, our Communication team proactively provided our position on various critical matters of merger. This had helped us to gain the confidence of all our stakeholders on the merger.
We would like to thank the Telecom Regulator under the leadership of Dr. Shahjahan Mahmood, Chairman BTRC and the Posts and Telecommunications Division under the leadership of Hon’ble State Minister, Begum Tarana Halim, MP. Thanks to their patronage, we managed to find solutions for integrating the employees of both the companies as well as various other commercial settlements.
We may belong to a developing country, but I believe, we’ve managed to complete a world-class merger. With the announcement of the merger we were focused on to making the best of both worlds and leverage maximum synergy. The first thing we did was freeze all hiring in both companies as soon as the merger was announced. Although this meant that the existing employees had to take on greater responsibility, we could avoid the painful exercise of letting employees to be made redundant from the merged enterprise. We’re very proud to have been able to make offer and accommodate all our colleagues from Airtel in the merged entity, Robi.
The merger encompassed the integration of not only the two companies’ network and processes but also the integration of human capital. This was of utmost priority for us as we strongly believe in being a company of exceptional performance and uncompromising integrity driven by the most important asset, our human capital.
We’re well aware of the fact that in many cases, mergers don’t succeed due to lack of focus on the people and cultural integration.
In order to address this potential risk, our human resources team had prepared a people and cultural integration plan in light of the global best practices, who guided us along the entire process. The core of any merger is to achieve synergy of business operations to ensure a better outcome. Hence, proper resource planning was very critical to deliver on the business objectives of the merger.
To this effect, our first task was to carefully assess the organization structure and culture of both companies and derive a structure for the merged entity that would suffice to meet the expectation from the merged company. Once the merged company structure was conceived, a job evaluation exercise based on the Hay methodology was conducted for all positions that would populate the new organization.
We felt that in order to deliver on the needs of the business for the merged entity, we needed to create new roles in the merged company structure. Having identified the roles, we conducted a thorough job evaluation exercise using three job evaluation criteria of Hay, namely: know-how, accountability and ability to solve problems. We then mapped Airtel employees into these roles considering their years of service, relevant experience, skills and past performance tracks.
The key to assigning people to these roles was the compatibility of the employee in relation to the demands of the job role. The job description of each role determined who deserves what position in the merged company. The job evaluation exercise was conducted by independent consultants, who further moderated the calibration session that took place with the relevant divisional heads along with the HR functional heads of both companies for ensuring fairness and transparency in assigning the people to various roles.
The Management Council (MC) of Robi and the Executive Committee (EC) of Airtel have reviewed the structure several times. The finalized employee fitment data was endorsed and signed off by the CEOs of the merging companies. A specialized international HR consulting firm, then helped us to harmonize the compensation and benefits for each and every role of the merged company.

“We felt that in order to deliver on the needs of the business for the merged entity, we needed to create new roles in the merged company structure. Having identified the roles, we conducted a thorough job evaluation exercise using three job evaluation criteria of Hay, namely: know-how, accountability and ability to solve problems. We then mapped Airtel employees into these roles considering their years of service, relevant experience, skills and past performance tracks.”

Telecom industry is the largest contributor in implementing the vision of Digital Bangladesh. Do you think, we are producing enough skilled human resources to sustain the growth of the industry?
I think as a country, as companies and as parents we need to address the changing dynamics of the market. The graduates being produced by universities are joining us but we are never consulted while designing the curriculum they study; we could rethink this.
We are going to require engineers, data scientists with new skill set for the future. Since we need students with thorough understanding on Quantitative Business Analytics, the business schools need to focus on it. I believe there is noticeable gaps in alliance between the industry and the academia, in this regard; this needs to be addressed.
Five to ten years back, the top graduates used to look for joining the big organizations. These days, the top 1 per cent of the graduates prefer to have something of their own. Even before completing their graduation, they scan the market to look for gaps where nothing is currently being offered to the consumers. By the time they graduate, they already have their business ideas ready to start their own venture. Going forward, this trend is only going to increase.
The telecom industry still attracts the best quality students, but to sustain this, we need to change the way we operate. We can sustain this trend, only if we can transform the industry to become the hub of creating digital entrepreneurs of the future- that is what our future colleagues would like us to do if they are to choose us as their employer.

Mobile operators across the world are transforming into digital companies. What steps have you taken to prepare Robi for this digital transformation?
Robi is a forward-looking, efficient and energetic company. It has a dynamic organizational structure to address the market needs. The company’s vision is to become the Next Generation Digital Company by 2020. In this regard, we have taken a number of initiatives to support the company vision.
First of all, we are stressing on the need for adopting a digital mindset. Let me give you an idea; we used to consider strategic thinking, as of the key competence of an employee. In view of the digitalization agenda, we have adapted it to include strategic thinking with a digital mindset. I am sure you realize that we are making a fundamental difference to our existing set of our core competence.
Similarly, we are re-skilling our employees; we are fortunate to have the top 1-2 per cent of the graduates still keen on joining us, so it is very easy to re-skill this highly talented workforce. We are also relooking at our core values to accommodate the drive towards digitalization. We have developed a strong competence development program and a center of excellence to ensure proper management of our talents. We believe, such world class facility will also help Bangladesh to achieve its digital vision.
A Professor from INSEAD, some years back, asked me: what was the core problem of the industry? I told him that we were missing out on diversified academic knowledge in our industry. Almost all the employees come from either Business Administration or Engineering background. Students with background in traditional subjects such as Applied Mathematics, Statistics, Economics, Anthropology etc., were not attracted by the industry. Even though we kept it open for them, they were not even applying because they thought they were not on demand in the industry.
Later on, we reached out to the universities and encouraged the students to apply for such positions when they are advertised. As a result, we managed to recruit a handful of fresh graduates from some of these disciplines in our organization. We made this change of approach to remain relevant with the changing market dynamics. As you know, the consumers are becoming more accustomed to digital lifestyle. This requires us to rethink our marketing approach, for which, we need people with diversified academic backgrounds.
The biggest digitalization initiative we embarked on, this year, was the launch of our employee entrepreneurship development programme: r-ventures. It is designed to give opportunity to our employees to pursue their dream of becoming an entrepreneur. The response received from our employees have been truly amazing. We are now grooming the shortlisted ideas.
All the employees whose ideas have been shortlisted have already been trained on Lean Start-up Training to educate them about the right approach to their future digital business. We are also inviting successful digital entrepreneurs of the country to share their success stories with our prospective in-house entrepreneurs. In this context, we believe the role of leaders is not limited to create business leaders of the future; rather, it also involves creating entrepreneurs of digital ventures. Our survival as a next generation digital company will also have some dependence on this. I am very confident that we are on the right track.

“Five to ten years back, the top graduates used to look for joining the big organizations. These days, the top 1 per cent of the graduates prefer to have something of their own. Even before completing their graduation, they scan the market to look for gaps where nothing is currently being offered to the consumers.”

Many fear that technology will make many jobs redundant in the future. In this context, could you please give us an idea about how t jobs are going to evolve in the future?
As long as an individual is adapting to the changes, s/he will never be redundant. Change in technology is nothing new. It has always made certain jobs redundant while creating a lot of new ones. HR and talent managers have a major responsibility in this regard. Their primary role would be to manage the fear of uncertainty of employees, brought about by the innovation in science and technology.
Thanks to continued innovation, we might face a situation where the mobile device will create a massive number of jobs for which we may not have enough human resources. The HR managers would need to arrange basic skills training for the general type of jobs while the existing high-profile employees can be adapted for the high-end jobs. In such a situation, the HR managers’ main concern would be to retain them as these high-end jobs will be of global standards meaning that these people can be employable anywhere within our industry and our CoEs.
Two decades ago, organizational structures used to be static for even three to five years; but these days, we see the structures being changed almost every six months to a year. The intense market competition is forcing the companies to rethink their organizational structure frequently to remain competitive. Going forward, the nature of jobs are going to change. We are going to approach the traditional functions like marketing from a different perspective, we will need to go back to the traditional subjects in order to bring about fundamental changes to our industry which is essential to its survival.

What advice would you give to the students who are going to join the job market in five years’ time?
Back in 1995, in my previous place of work, I used to ask people to specialize in Supply Chain Management and Operations Management. Because, I could see that due to the evolving nature of the global supply chain, Bangladesh would need skilled professionals in this area. Considering this change, I had run a Management Trainee programme, especially for this purpose. I am very proud that all the people we then trained are now the most respected Supply Chain professionals of the country. Back then, all the graduates used to concentrate on brand and marketing but the opportunity was opening up in Supply Chain. Unfortunately, the universities were not offering specialized courses those days.
Right now, my advice to the students would be to concentrate on the subjects of the bygone era, such as: Economics, Applied Mathematics, Statistics, and Anthropology. In future, we would be needing data scientists for the business to grow, and without diverse academic background, the data scientists of the future won’t be able to serve the industry adequately. The marketing professionals of the future will need to have deeper understanding on the socio-economic fabric of the consumers that we serve. We need to come up with unique insights on consumer behavior and apply them to the data being generated by the consumers through their digital lifestyle and come up with marketing campaigns and price propositions to win their hearts and minds.
If a student is already in the middle of his/ her graduation program, but hasn’t yet completed these courses should seriously consider doing them before completing their graduation. If someone has already graduated, s/he may consider going back to the university and do some specialized courses on these topics to be fit for employment for future jobs. Doing what everyone else are doing will not be enough for the kind of technology-led future we are heading towards.

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