Anis A. Khan shares his mantras on corporate and personal well-being and advises to strike a work-life balance in this ‘New Normal’
With our mobility more or less put on hold for the first three months of the lockdown, how did you cope with that? What kind of initiatives were you able to take to stay on top of your health? Finding the Right Balance
It’s a very befitting and timely question. We are living through a difficult time, one of the worst pandemics to affect mankind and nobody knows when it will end and how many years it will take to do so. It has shaken up the whole world. Never has our planet been affected so deeply in the history of mankind. Even Holy Hajj was limited this year with a ceiling of a mere 10,000 pilgrims from just within Saudi Arabia. This is a rare occurrence in the history of Hajj. Also, airlines have been brought to their knees and are bleeding along with the economies of their respective countries. From positive rates, the GDP numbers for most countries have plummeted into the negative territory, except for Bangladesh and a few other countries. Finding the Right Balance
With that background, people have to look at the ‘New Normal’. We have to understand what is the New Normal. The ’New Normal’ was a term first coined by an author of a fictional book, where a group of people lands on the moon to colonize it for human beings. There had to be a new order because people had to be disciplined since resources were rare, thus giving birth to the idea of the ‘New Normal. This term found use in China during their economic crisis when their GDP growth rate came down from double digits to a single digit, and President Xi Jinping in 2014, described the situation as “the new normal”. Another time when this phrase was used was during the 2008 global financial crisis followed by the European and American financial crisis. We are living in the new normal which means we are not in the same state as we were before the onset of the pandemic. We have to find our way in this new normal.
Bangladesh was shut till the end of May, wreaking havoc on the economy because we have a large population, of which about 40 million are daily wage earners like masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, building painters, rickshaw pullers, hawkers, etc., and who were deprived of a living making their families suffer from lack of food, etc. Bangladesh had almost eradicated the hunger situation due to the country’s rapid economic development, however, in the new normal the hunger crisis has reverted. A most heartening development was that the people of the country and many organizations and the state came forward to lend a helping hand to our deprived daily wage earners, but it is still not enough given the size of our population and the way the pandemic shows no sign of abating.
In the first three months of the lockdown, naturally, there was a fear psychosis. We were completely cloistered at home. There were also many sicknesses and deaths happening amongst our immediate business associates, friends, and family circles. My own younger brother, aged 53, passed away on June 3, 2020, from COVID-19. Sunbeams School Founder Mrs. Niloufer Manzur was personally very close and valuable to me. We also lost her. Professor Anisuzzaman, and Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury were my mentors when I used to work for Bangladesh Television helping produce Bangladesh Jatiyo Television Bitorko Protijogita’. I used to invite them, on behalf of Bangladesh Television, as judges and chairman of the debating sessions. We lost them too. We have lost so many more gifted sons of the soil like the accomplished artist Murtaja Baseer, and, recently, the famous singer Ferdous Wahid has been hospitalized. We are unfortunately losing so many of our esteemed personalities and builders of this country. Finding the Right Balance
By nature, I am an optimistic and a positive-minded person. Disappointment and negative things may come my way and I am affected by them, but there is also an inner-mechanism in me that allows me to surmount these negativities and pessimism and come out on top.
On the other hand, I have carried on with my work. After retiring from the CEO position at MTB, I have been busy performing my roles in various capacities. I am now the master of my own time and get to do multiple things in a more satisfying way. The first three months were quite bad, but the previous two months have seen an improvement in the way life is being conducted, as people are starting to adjust to this monumental paradigm shift. I am fortunate to be serving on the board of a few companies and was able to attend their board meetings through various online meeting platforms, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and also user-friendly, at the same time.
I had to work very hard, especially in the last few years, and it was very stressful given the challenging situation in the banking sector. Non-performing loans are a very big problem, and they continue to afflict the banking sector. I also had the opportunity to go on speaking assignments to many prestigious institutions, such as Yale and Harvard, and attending courses at Cambridge and other such centers of educational excellence – all of them together took a toll on my health, and I put on a lot of weight which became dangerous for my health. Since the start of the pandemic, I started exercising on a daily basis for nearly three hours a day and started doing intermittent fasting. The result is that I have seen and felt my health improve, which was much needed to develop immunity and shed weight. I now feel much better and lighter, and I continue to strive to maintain this balanced routine to stay on top of my health. Finding the Right Balance
For professional well-being, learn to delegate work while performing your own responsibilities, hold regular communication meetings, and keep your team informed of new trends, ideas, regulations and plans, which will ensure a strong sense of cooperation and coordination.
Hospitals have been inaccessible to non-COVID patients, how were you able to avail medical services when the need arose?
So far, i.e., over the last five months, I have had no reason to visit a hospital, and whatever ailments I may have had, I had the privilege of consulting my friends who are very experienced and eminent doctors of the country. They advised me on what to do and what medicines to take, and I am fortunate to have a number of pharmacies that provide delivery service to my house. I am grateful to my contacts, friends, and well-wishers for keeping in touch with me via digital media and for their caring and good wishes. Also, some of our family members are doctors, so accessing medical care was made relatively simpler.
Telemedicine is a new frontier and there is a need for drastic improvement in its delivery. A consultation based on advice is easier, however, the process becomes complicated when an X-ray plate or a CT scan has to be viewed through a phone screen. Doctors are pressed for time and usually, their attention is divided between various patients. Telemedicine is feasible for small ailments, but I feel that for a more concrete assessment, an in-person consultation is a better route to take.
What is your suggestion for corporate leaders who are striving to find a work-life balance? Finding the Right Balance
Any corporate leader and anywhere in the world, even before the “pre-normal” times, must have a work-life balance. You cannot spend the whole day at the office. You have to go out and find leisure time for yourself, go to the park and take an invigorating walk or go to the gym to get some exercise. Set some time aside for the family, make time for friends, and for recreational activities, like indulging in a hobby, watching a movie, and reading a book. You must have a work-life balance. If you only work, which I was doing from 9.00 am to 8.00 pm, nearly every day, your health, like mine, would become awful – my blood pressure shot up to 200/110, and it remained like that for many months prompting me to seek medical attention, both at home and abroad, to avoid an imminent stroke. I am a pertinent example because I worked such long hours with little recreation or free time, which made me sick. After that, I started to exercise and carved out free time for myself to pursue other things, which enabled me to return to work with full vigor and focus. I have also undertaken some research on the new normal and after attending many online meetings and webinars, I have realized that it is imperative we take a break from the computer, laptop, tablet, or phone screens.
I should also mention how I coped with the emerging situation during the last two months. Things have begun to improve, as more meetings are now held online, and people, including elderly people, who have hardly ever used a computer before are learning and adapting fast and getting comfortable with it. Presentations can be shared, which I need to do when teaching my students, online, at Independent University Bangladesh’s School of Business. During this ongoing summer semester, I am taking a BBA class with 45 young students, all millennials, of whom I have become very fond of. They are all bright and inquisitive students. Of all the work that I do, of all the board meetings that I attend, I really enjoy teaching my students. In addition to their main course work, I teach them English words and proper elocution, as English is the language of the world and of the internet, therefore it must be learned thoroughly and properly, in order to create a positive impression in the minds of an international audience and effectively represent Bangladesh in the global business arena. I also teach my students ethical standards and smart management practices. I try to make the subject matter interesting with photographs, videos, and animation. This is done completely online. We started online classes on July 5, 2020, at IUB, and, so far, I have completed 12 lectures which have all gone very smoothly. One thing is that in physical classrooms there are always a few students who don’t turn up and some leave early, but since moving to the online platform, attendance and participation has been excellent. However, as far as exams and quizzes are concerned I think those still need to be done in a physical classroom setting. I’ll have to do a test run soon to experience online examination methods. Finding the Right Balance
As an art aficionado, what do you think of the role that art can play in our overall wellbeing?
Art is something that is more than real. Art is imagination. A photographer takes a picture, for that s/he needs to know the art of photography which is understanding the play of different lights, hues, and tones. But the artist has more liberty than a photographer and can be experimental. They can do abstract art, surreal art, installation art, landscapes, mixed media, impressions, prints, and so on. They can do sketches and drawings with pencils, pens, and crayons, charcoal – there is a wide choice of mediums to pick from.
During this pandemic, selling art has become a challenge. There are a lot of struggling artists. I belong to the Society for Promotion of Bangladesh Art (SPBA), the founding chairman of which is Elthem Kabir. Anjan Chowdhury is now chairing SPBA and leading us into the next stage of supporting and promoting Bangladesh art. Then, there are other forums such as Bangladesh Art Week and Heritage Bangladesh Foundation, founded by Niharika Momtaz, currently based in Dubai, UAE and Mohammed Mohsin, Vice Chairman of PHP Group, Chattagram. Bangladesh Art Week organized an online art auction along with interesting cricket and music memorabilia. They called upon me to do the auctioneering. I have had the pleasure of conducting some art auctions over the years and they have all been very satisfying. This time the art auction was different. It was interesting, but we couldn’t reach the sort of audience we could have got into a hall room. Usually in an auction, the art is displayed and the artist is also there, which makes the atmosphere electric and most interesting. We try to align art auctions with various charities. Finding the Right Balance
Last time, SPBA did it with the support of ‘Proyash’, an organization patronized and supported by spouses of the Armed Forces officers. Amongst their activities are running schools for differently-abled children. The students from these schools brought in their artworks with much enthusiasm, and they were all bought by the wonderful art lovers. Also, the art pieces donated by top artists were all sold. During the recent online auction, we managed to sell most of the artworks on offer, but the cricket memorabilia was challenging to sell, given their pricing and now economically challenging times.
Art is very personal, and we need to continue supporting the younger artists as long as this pandemic rules the roost, and of course, beyond.
Can you tell us about your own professional and personal mantra on corporate and self-wellbeing? Finding the Right Balance
In the corporate world, you are given certain responsibilities and job descriptions. First, you have to deliver every task in your job description. You should not venture outside your job description and do someone else’s job. I may be a CEO, but I shouldn’t do the work of a Chief Risk Officer. My job as a CEO will be to strategize, to interact with the board, and regulators and with the top customers. Regular customers don’t normally fall under a CEO’s daily job description. A CEO will be looking into the future and strategy of the company, what additional capital needs to be raised, what more investments can be done and what should be divested. As the CEO, you have to look out for what the competition is doing, then re-engineer processes and service offerings to remain on top of the competition followed by refreshing and updating products and services, so that they remain useful and attractive to the customers. And, with the advent of technological advances, especially the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Internet of Things (IoT), the CEO has to lead the transformation of operating platforms and products and services to the digital world. Finding the Right Balance
For self-well-being – if you do your job ensuring high ethical standards, honesty and integrity you will h`ave peace of mind and solace. Whatever you do, you must ensure that you have not violated the code of ethics. Finding the Right Balance
As for self-well-being – if you do your job ensuring high ethical standards, honesty and integrity you will have peace of mind and solace. Whatever you do, you must ensure that you have not violated the code of ethics. You must ensure that you have not encouraged yourself or someone else to indulge in activities that are in the no-go zone. There should be zero-tolerance for dishonesty and those displaying a lack of integrity. Finding the Right Balance
For professional well-being, learn to delegate work while performing your own responsibilities, hold regular communication meetings, and keep your team informed of new trends, ideas, regulations and plans, which will ensure a strong sense of cooperation and coordination. The team should know the relevant discussions being held in board meetings and stay abreast of new developments in the company. For personal wellbeing, live an ethical life.
What advice can you give to our readers in terms of keeping a healthy mental balance? Finding the Right Balance
You must first maintain focus on whatever job it is that you do. Try to excel in your core competencies. For professionals, my advice is that stick to what you know. If you excel in garments manufacturing, then stick to it. Do not venture off into new sectors, rather you can try creating backward and forward linkages while staying true to your core competency. This will usher in professional excellence and also peace of mind. After that you need to maintain a good family life and try to find time for a vacation to de-stress and relax.
My ardent wish at this time of this raging pandemic is that all our country’s citizens stay safe and well. I would like to appeal and request them to continue observing the COVID-19 health guidelines. You must wear a mask when you go out, sanitize your hands, be mindful to disinfect your clothes when you return home from outside. Take time to exercise because it will help strengthen immunity, and make sure to take Zinc tablets, Vitamin C and Vitamin D to boost your resistance, because this crisis could be around, in some form or other, as the experts say, for at least two more years.