How hard has the business been hit due to this COVID-19 pandemic?
Globally every single industry has been hit hard by this pandemic. The real estate market is also not an exception. The businesses are still going on in this sector, however, if the pandemic keeps on putting everything at a halt, that could spell disaster for the global market value. If we look at Bangladesh’s perspective, most of the real estate businesses are saturated in Dhaka and Chittagong. Many big projects were ongoing and due to the lockdown, the activities came to a complete shutdown and are being delayed for sine die in many cases. That has exerted a negative impact on the market. Around 30-40% of the business will be facing dire consequences due to this kind of limbo. Also, if you look at this sector, it has a complex supply chain. The real estate sector is a juggernaut; with so many elements associated with it, namely cement, steel, wiring equipment, and many more. All these businesses are counting numerous losses every day. That has worked as a spiral effect on the business.
All the other sectors are fearing a new catastrophic wave of unemployment. What is the condition of jobs in this sector?
If we look at the current market, this sector employs almost the same number of people as the RMG sector. With more than 0.1 million white-collar workers and 3.5 million blue-collar ones, this sector has been employing a large number of people and that all might have a big blow should we fail to sustain the tenacity and resilience in the sector. If we look at the GDP contribution of the sector, in our country that is almost 7-8%. In other countries, for example, Philippines, Pakistan, and Vietnam the GDP contribution of the real estate sector is 2%, 2% and 4.51% respectively. From that perspective, it won’t be an overstatement if we say the Indian Sub-continent will be the hardest hit if this sector collapses. However, a matter of hope is that in our country, big name real estate companies have been doing good business for many years. Their pricing and quality assurance have helped them survive repeated blows in the market. This is why I am hopeful of bouncing back in business. Besides, post Covid Bangladesh is expected to become a major global manufacturer hub and thus should also support the industry.
How has RPL been doing during such trying times?
We have a lean organization. With a solid human resource and practical operational activities, we have been operating for many years. You must know that in real estate business, we need to continuously improve and change ourselves with changing taste and global context. Besides, a good communication flow is a must. We try to talk to our clients. They have been very much loyal to us, supportive to us even during such trying times. This has encouraged us to observe the situation some more, instead of making abrupt moves. One thing is for sure, we are not going to cut down prices. This industry already operates in a thin margin. We don’t intend to compromise with quality and want to carry on with the legacy that RPL has always boasted about.
How can the government help this sector to regain its lost mojo?
If you look at this from historical perspectives, this sector has been in the business arena from right after our independence. Now with all these calamities unfolding an utter uncertainty on this sector, we would look forward to the business-friendly government to usher in reforms such as:
- Build a long-term strategy together with the real estate entrepreneurs. The Government should create a separate fund to reduce the interest rates for property buyers and allocate funds for the housing sector from the stimulus package announced to mitigate the impact on the economy.
- From the consumer perspective, home loan interest rate reduction can encourage and welcome buyers to come forward and invest in properties. Government should therefore allow 5% interest rates for 10 years for the first-time home buyers. Government should provide incentives to build and buy real estate in new and emerging areas. Strategies should be initiated to create infrastructure such as educational institutes, hospitals, shopping malls in these emerging areas.
- Quick and immediate approvals on government permissions should be ensured thoroughly.
- Like BGMEA, the Real Estate & Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB), should also establish dedicated Covid-19 test center for the workers along with health advice assistance.
- Government should also reduce the registration cost by 30% to encourage more people to invest in real estate ensuring the progress of the industry. As this industry is manpower driven, given the pandemic situation, if the government incentivizes this sector, it would enable huge employment opportunities immediately.
As a leader of a big organization, what’s your takeaway from this pandemic?
I have always been an eternal optimist. I believe in seeing the glass half full. I believe every crisis comes with a silver lining and those who are smart, they can manage to make it to the end of the tunnel where there is light to guide them towards a new direction. There is no denial of the fact that COVID-19 has posed an unprecedented calamity on businesses, but those who show resilience and withstand this calamity will thrive post corona. We are confident that we shall survive and upon the end of this pandemic, we should be able to cater to the demands as they come. My career spanning three different continents has enabled me to see several trying times and I have always seen how companies that are value-driven could make it. At RPL, we have been delivering quality real estate solutions over a decade and our clientele speaks volumes about how true we have remained to keep our promises.
Tell us something about your leadership style.
I am a taskmaster. Those who work with me appreciate it as this sector requires continuous monitoring. I know the name of all my teammates and what particular job they are assigned to. This ensures a good flow of communication between us. They always have access to me to discuss their problems or maybe an innovative solution. Thus, my leadership style has been such that I try my best to ensure their professional growth. I believe in collaborative effort, whereby the success belongs to the team and the failure is mine. At the end of day, the delivery is done by the team and they are the one to be appreciated, and I ensure that.