Scaling the Summit
Summit Communications Ltd continues to reimagine the telecommunications industry of Bangladesh while empowering the country along the way.
You have studied in Singapore, the U.S. and in the U.K. If you wanted you could have pursued a career anywhere in the world. How did the journey into Summit begin?
Summit Group has been around for over 33 years, and I am 31 years old. Being a family run business, my life was always centered on the company. We cousins grew up watching our fathers submitting tenders, opening LCs, and this became our playtime activities.
Our family grew up very close to each other and Summit has been the thread that tethers us together. We have grown up into our own individual and independent selves, but at our core we carry Summit and this knowledge allows us to resolve and adapt to issues as they arise. It allows us to always set aside a singular need and work collectively to find a solution. We have always grown up so closely, not as cousins, but as siblings. It was really lovely that we still get to hold that connection and continuously adapt to each other. My uncle, the Chairman of Summit always tells us, “You can create things together, like five fingers make a fist”. That is something which is close to our hearts, we always realize the importance of being together, and thus multiplying the togetherness to hard work. In our core, there is always Summit.
I studied genetic engineering, and I wanted to become a geneticist and instead, I moved back to Dhaka after completing my undergraduate studies, the enormous growth potential and opportunities in Bangladesh was a definite driving force. I joined Summit as an officer which gave me a broad overview of how the different aspects of the company run.
When Summit Communications began its journey in 2010, I devoted all my time to learn that business. In studying genetics, I learned that your DNA which you cannot see with the naked eye constitutes you and similarly with the internet, you cannot see the fiber optic transmission but it connects the world. This intrigued me!
Your interests lie in nano and hi-tech industries, and you have been actively working towards the vision of implementing Bangladesh’s first hi-tech park. What sort of features, amenities, and facilities can we look forward to?
Dhaka is very crowded now, there are a lot of startups coming up, however with high rental rates and absence of incentives they are unable to truly flourish. The hi-tech park model has worked really well in neighboring emerging countries where townships coupled with incentives were developed; it allowed them to break the barriers of urbanism and thus create a very strong skilled human resource pool as well. The hi-tech park is in Gazipur 40 km away from Dhaka. Eventually, this will introduce the concept of suburban work-life relationships. The government’s immense support towards the high tech industry, and promoting ICT has allowed us to envision the hi-tech park. There is a railway station already in place and commuter trains will soon be introduced along with the fact that the incentives are great and the surety of best quality electricity and fiber optic connectively, we remain excited.
Currently, almost 40% of the space has already been allocated. There is a biotech company being set up, the first of its kind in Bangladesh, which will truly change the landscape of ICT and high tech infrastructure. Along with that mobile assembly is going on, there is also manufacturing of e-cheque books, ATM machines, fiber optics to name a few. We also look forward to opening a training center to harness the flourishing young population in our country and provide them with new opportunities. There’s a tier four data center as well and we are considering building a disaster recovery center for Summit Communications there. That’s the high tech park.
Tentatively when are you expecting to complete the hotels and other auxiliary service buildings of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport? Also, can you elaborate on the new venture Summit Tower?
Recently I have gotten involved with our hotel project, which is a multi-tenanted, and multiuse complex. It has retail space, banquet hall, office space and a five star and four-star hotels. The retail space is already complete and we have started allocating space, but the hotels definitely by the end of 2020. It will be an Intercontinental and a Crowne Plaza connected with a retail space of one million square feet, movie theatre and lots of children entertainment. We are excited to develop this landscape to accommodate and offer such facilities to the changing lifestyles of Bangladeshis as their purchasing powers increase and lifestyle choices evolve. It’s also the first airport hotel which will also enhance ease of conducting business in Bangladesh.
Summit Towers is more of an obvious kind of entry for Summit communications. We have the NTTN license, the IIG & ICX license, and the ITC. It was a natural progression for us to kind of complete the value chain. With the data boom that is expected in the country, we really need these towers to be able to accommodate that data growth, partly because most of the towers are connected now by a microwave, and a microwave cannot handle the upcoming capacity. You have to connect them through fiber. Fiber has limitless capacity; it just depends on the end to end devices. They eventually have to connect with fiber. It will change the landscape of the way the tower businesses operate. Currently each telco kind of holds its own towers, so they are not utilized most efficiently. When a third party takes them on, you can increase the tenancy ratio and one tower can be utilized by many. It makes it more efficient because you are sharing the cost of power and rental as well.
To tell you a little bit more about Summit Communications, we maintain and operate about 44,000 km of fiber optic. It is the largest in the country and currently, we are also providing 33% of the country’s internet bandwidth. Also with ITC, which is International Terrestrial Cable, basically most of the internet comes through the submarine cable – they have to go through routine maintenance, the ITC also provides redundancy to the submarine cable along with secure international private circuits. So that is where we come in, last time when there was submarine cable maintenance, there was zero disruption.
Something that we have recently done, that is very interesting as well as connecting the Bangabandhu Satellite to Earth station with our fiber. What happens with that is, there are about 35 TV stations that we have connected with fiber to the earth station. This way all the TV stations now use the Bangabandhu satellite. Previously they were using the satellites of other countries. Now you are dependent on your own country.
What kind of strategy is SCL devising to expand their outreach to rural communities? What sort of policy support could the industry benefit from to encourage them further?
Nowadays the internet is not a luxury anymore, rather it has become a necessity. I tell everyone that I sit here and I do my grocery shopping, I get my flowers delivered, really internet is not a luxury. How the country is coming forward with encouraging the rural communities, and kind of lifting them up, I truly and really believe that the internet will play and is playing the biggest role. Because our infrastructure is still not very good, in the sense that road infrastructure, or transport wise. So this is it, this is your key to being the overcome the physical barriers. I feel like my sister who is in Singapore, Ayesha, she is the CEO of Summit Power International; I feel closest to her, even though she is in Singapore, because of the internet.
Internet connectivity – this is our key to growing. We have really taken it on and the government has given us immense support. We have now done two projects with the government; InfoSarkar 2 was to connect 3650 government offices in 110 Upazila and 14 districts. We completed that project a month in advance. Then we did InfoSarkar 3 where we connected about 1227 unions in 485 Upazilas in 64 districts. The government themselves has given about $260million. We have invested about $21 million.
Also, we are the only company that has connected the Chittagong hill tracts. A lot of people, do not want to do it because of the terrain and such. Empowering Bangladesh is our goal, connecting the country to the world is our aim. A location shouldn’t be deprived because of the terrain. So we really took the challenge on.
It was an uphill battle. We are so lucky to have go-getters in our team. Their enthusiasm and unbound energy to tolerate bad weather and even then our team worked through the pouring rain and flood. The core is strong that is why we are able to do what we do.
Tell us about your charity with Moyeen Foundation?
Moyeen Foundation is actually founded by my parents in law – Asif and Sadia Moyeen I have been married for over 8 years and they founded this foundation a couple of years ago. Through that foundation, they have done some extraordinary things and I am so happy to be able to help and extend myself in that foundation. They provided the first online school with Jaago in Sylhet, which was started with 40 kids and now it has 200 kids in just one year. Now we are working on expanding the building and space. It’s in Hobiganj. Then there is Operation Cleft, where we work with a Rotary Club of Melbourne and perform cleft lip surgeries for free. To date, about 1500 surgeries have been performed. The third and most exciting of them, which I personally devote a lot of my time to is the Jaipur Foot Camp. We have done this since 2015 and to date, we have fitted 2000 limbs. We do this in collaboration with the Bangladesh Orthopedic Society and NITOR. The Jaipur foot initiative is the ones who came up with the technology of making these low-cost limbs – it costs about 10000tk per limb. We do it for a month. This time our hope is to fit 750 limbs. It is really exciting that I can collaborate with my in-laws and that we do this work together. They are both extremely kind and generous to lend their hands. They also support Thrive, which is another NGO, they provide healthy lunch to 1800 of kids every day.
How has Summit Communication become the success story it is today?
There are a couple of reasons. Normally, for a digital infrastructure company, you invest upfront, then you secure your clients. We went the other direction, we secured our clients and then we; invested. That is unheard of. How do you sell a product that does not exist? We did it. We took in orders first, then we built/leased it. That was number one. We are very proud to provide all our customers with the highest service levels through our 24/7 365 days NOC.
Number two, we were profitable since year 2 operations. That is unthinkable in telcos. Telcos normally go through a slump first, you call it hockey stick growth. But this was different, we are really proud and channel that excitement to get bigger and better every day.
What is the one advice you have for working women to achieve work-life balance?
I started working when I was unmarried, then I got married, now I am a mother. I felt like each step in my life kind of prepared me for the next. A part of it is definitely seeing my father and my uncle. And an even bigger part of this is seeing my chachi and my mother.
Our fathers worked hard for us and that is ingrained within all of us. When we were kids, I remember my father traveling to various places for business, but it was always about the quality of time spent with us rather than quantity. He says, “ I am constantly available without presence.” Our mothers are our safe space, who have literally dedicated their lives to us. We all grew up in cantonment, one would drop us in the morning, and another would pick us up from school. You see you have to have that tag team – that proxy parent. Chachi is also my mom, who is also our chairman’s wife. I have seen the 4 of them as a team, and one of them is always there for us even now and that’s the exact same strategy we replicate. Now my son has my sisters and their children as proxy mothers and siblings! Also, I am very very lucky to have an incredible partner, we share every responsibility equally! Hence, the balance is always there.
My profession is demanding, so devising a balance is key. Being able to adapt to a situation quickly and setting ground rules will bring you a step closer to achieving balance.
My colleagues deserve to see the best version of me. I have an open-door policy, and my number is given to them. So at any point, if they want to discuss, or they need some encouragement I am always there. Our ratio of male is to women is 9:1, to 9 male there is one female. Almost all the teams have women in it.
Another thing I do is to make sure my employees have coffee with me. We will go on rotation, two people from two different teams will come and we’ll have a chat. It does not have to be work-related. We catch up over coffee. Sometimes we will talk about life, sometimes about good things, sometimes about tough things. It’s for me to know them really well. We also have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment which we implement stringently.
The position I occupy demands that I be assertive with a gentle guiding hand. My uncle and father do the same to us and I have learned from them. If you are always in your comfort zone you won’t excel. You have to be out of the zone to discover happiness. It is a bit of an ironic statement, I know. I also set aside time at night where I watch tv shows and read. My son goes to bed at 9.30, then my husband and I hang out. We talk, discuss our day, the coming week, upcoming travels, and that is so important, to have that catch-up period.
I also love to read scientific journals, it’s reminiscent of my earlier days. I like to read about rare genetic disorders and the progression towards its cure around the world. The bottom line is you have to want to learn. Knowledge is power. My uncle repeatedly reminds us to study, even if it is something random. My love of reading scientific journals does not have any implication in the corporate world however it teaches me to understand something new, think of it, reengineer it in my head, ask questions. It makes you inquisitive. You have to yearn to learn, find happiness and love what you do and to adapt to change.
My uncle always tells us not to follow fools or arrogant people. There’s nothing to learn from an arrogant person. Learn to love everyone. Be inclusive, including society and everyone. Those are the foundations of Summit. What we do and how we are doing things and how we are planning to grow, is all tied to the empowerment of Bangladesh and the world. I am a part of Summit as much as Summit is a part of me.