Corporate Cafe

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“It is the people working at Berger who have helped it become the market leader. Without their contributions our brand equity would not be where it is now.”

To Rupali Chowdhury, the Managing Director of Berger Paints (a company having more than 50% of the market share) innovation is a continuous game. To keep the ball of innovation rolling, she needs to keep the team engaged, motivated and continuously chasing newer heights. Her positive attitude and ambition, however, has helped her spearhead the multinational’s growth and success and take it to the top of the Bangladesh Paint industry.

As such, running the frontrunner for Paint in Bangladesh, she has a lot on her plate. IBT takes a look at her tempestuous journey as the first female Managing Director of a multinational in Bangladesh.
Having completed her MBA from IBA, Dhaka University, she joined multinational pharmaceutical and chemical company, Ciba Geigy (Bangladesh) Ltd. in 1984. “In 1990 I embarked on my journey in Berger as a Planning Manager and later on, worked in several departments ranging from Marketing to Supply Chain Management.”Her hard work and determination eventually lead her to the top as she took the Managing Director’s chair in 2008.
Running a multinational as renowned as Berger, it isn’t easy to keep the cycle of innovation rolling. “There is no set formula for innovation, which makes it very difficult. One has to test different models in terms of product design, get the consumers’ insight about what more they want from the product and then utilize resources efficiently. As a technology driven company we have to anticipate changes in trends, technological shifts and challenges from competitors all the time – which makes it a continuous game.”
Creativity is the key and Rupali believes in the vitality of its continuity. “Innovation is required in all areas, if you run a production line you have to keep on trying to improve productivity as you are continuously under pressure to reduce costs. Regarding the product itself, product management and R&D need to keep on coming up with new ideas all the time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big; small contributions from different areas can lead to something great as well.”
Not only is she a great administrator, but she also knows how to keep things interesting for her employees. “If we need a brand name or new idea we have internal competition amongst the employees where the winner is incentivized, which keeps the employees engaged all the time.”
Rupali believes that Berger’s greatest asset is the team she works with. “It is the people working at Berger who have helped it become a market leader. Without their contributions our brand equity would not be where it is now.”
Berger’s place as the leader in the industry was further cemented after the launch of their ‘Breathe Easy’ eco-friendly paint in 2011. “Berger was first to introduce this odor free and eco-friendly product with low Volatile Organic Compound which causes the unpleasant odor after painting. We at Berger have always strived to improve our products utilizing the latest technology at our disposal. This series is not only healthier for people but it is also safer for the people in the factory to produce.”As part of its commitment to continuous quality improvement as well as concern for environment, Berger has achieved a number of international certifications such as ISO 9000 (Quality Management System), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System) and OHSAS18001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management).
With the recent trend of more and more women entering the corporate world and shattering the glass ceiling, Rupali believes that it won’t be long before we see more female CEOs heading companies. “Previously we had not seen many women entering the corporate world but that has been changing. Ambitious women have been entering the job market. However, this is a recent phenomenon, hence; there aren’t as many women in leadership positions yet. Soon we will see more women in top corporate positions, provided they continue to work after marriage and child birth.”However, trying to find the perfect balance between work and family can be a struggle especially for the working mothers. “You are always striving to strike a balance but it is difficult to have it all”, as Rupali says.
Alongside being the Managing Director of Berger, Rupali Chowdhury is also the President of the Foreign Investors’ Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Bangladesh (FICCI) where she has to deal with policy related issues regarding foreign investors. She is very positive and optimistic about Bangladesh’s bright economic future. The country has maintained around 6% GDP growth for the past decade and has become a role model in a number of social indicators. Recently we have become lower-middle income country. She suggests that, “We have to build up our physical, regulatory and information technology infrastructure. Consistency is required in government policies and agreements.”According to her, the investors find the acquisition of land to be a major issue when making investment decisions. “Foreign investors will not feel enthusiastic about investing here if the process for land procurement takes over a year to complete. Such barriers are making them shift their projects to other countries and eventually we are losing out.”
Investors from abroad only approach Bangladesh after considering the potential and existing economies of scale of the respective markets. Since the local market is not big enough for many industries, they may consider exporting from this base. Bangladeshi enterprises have a role to play in this score, which can be mutually beneficial. “Those who want to use our country as manufacturing hub may cater local and export market simultaneously. A company will not be able to attain the right economies of scale if it is only targeting the domestic market here. However, local companies can form joint ventures with foreign companies and gain experience from the foreign counterpart for their own advancement in management skills and inclusion of the latest technologies. That way their costs will be reduced and the local companies can provide them with some infrastructural backing to establish a business here.” She believes that human capital is the key resource behind success of a business. Bangladesh has ample trainable, motivated and resilient workforce. From that point of view, Bangladesh is the right destination for investment. Employment creation can be improved significantly through bringing in FDI in manufacturing/ service sector.
For startup small & medium business, sourcing of capital is also a problem because of higher Bank interest rates.
Heading both Berger and FICCI, Rupali has had to adopt different leadership styles which has helped her amass a great deal of experience. She believes that a positive attitude is the key to helping one go that extra mile. “You have to have the right energy levels and a positive mindset. A career oriented person has to continuously strive for self improvement by learning as much as they can from the surroundings. Two people can have the same functional knowledge regarding a subject but what will set them apart is their drive and attitude to go that extra mile.”

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