“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
Salim Rahman, Managing Director of KDS Group took this quote of General Shinseki to heart when he started in 1997. He has overseen the growth of a conglomerate in the past two decades which would be the envy of many.
KDS Group was founded in 1983 by Al-Haj Khalilur Rahman, the Chairman, and father of Salim. It was established in Chittagong to make their foray into the garment industry in Bangladesh. Today KDS has expanded its operations into Singapore, Hong Kong, and the UK, with plans of expanding into the USA and other countries. KDS exports $350 million worth of garments every year and it is fast becoming the Bangladesh-based multinational that Salim had dreamt of in his 20s.
Salim joined the operations of KDS after completing his schooling from the famed St Paul’s Darjeeling in Eastern India and his BBA and MBA from the USA. His education, away from home and in some of the renowned institutions has equipped him with skills and competencies, from a very young age which have helped him shape KDS into a global conglomerate.
“During my undergraduate days, I read books on the value of building your human capital, which changed my outlook on doing business.”
With talent and years of hard work, he has been able to leave a prominent imprint in the apparels, textiles, accessories, logistics, shipping, IT, steel, securities, and media sectors. He is involved in various segments of the group’s businesses as the Managing Director of KDS Garment Industries Ltd, KDS Hi-Tech Garments (BD) Ltd, KDS Apparels Ltd, KDS IDR Ltd & KDS Fashion Ltd., KDS Accessories Ltd. and Steel Accessories Ltd. Furthermore, he is the Chairman of KYCR Coil Industries Ltd, the Director of KDS Information Technology Ltd & KDS Textile Mills Ltd and the Director of ATN News Ltd.
Salim has been serving the apparel sector as an elected Director of the BGMEA in various capacities. He is also a Director of Chittagong Metropolitan Chamber, a member of the Chittagong Club, Bhatiary Golf & Country Club, Chittagong Boat Club and Chittagong Senior’s Club Limited.
His vision is to steer the industry towards a prosperous future by incorporating the right corporate culture, adopting world-class technologies and practices and harnessing the human capital for manufacturing outstanding products and marketing them globally thereby contributing towards the economic growth of the country.
Over the years, Salim has become a global personality in the business arena. Having been with the organization for around two decades, he has observed and overseen its growth into a massive business entity. However, it has not been a smooth journey, as he explains, “When I first joined I found our management process quite chaotic. This chaos prevailed in every step of our production and business activities, albeit, it still delivered. Even though we were the second group to become involved in the RMG sector and our growth was quite exceptional; when this growth lacks proper planning numerous issues crop up.” He goes on to explain that the growth amidst the disorder has sustainability issues, which needed to be addressed if the organization had to grow in the manner that he visualized.
“It’s a myth that most successful companies exist first and foremost to maximize profits. During my undergraduate days, I read books on the value of building your human capital, which changed my outlook on doing business. I also came across a research regarding large companies and their ability to become sustainable. This research informed me that the successful companies who would be sustainable in the long-run had no mention of making profits in their vision statements. Rather they focused on sustainability by developing their human capital, which automatically made them profitable over the years. Thus, the core ideology of our organization has been, putting profit after people. If you have engaged employees, you will have engaged customers, the rest is maths.” Simply put, first who then what.
He thanks his father for having the vision of sending him abroad during his formative years. This move enabled him to gather knowledge regarding the best business cultures and practices around the world. “After returning home, my mind was brimming with ideas that could be implemented in the organization. We had a Tk 2.5 crore budget, which we would invest in research and development but people were skeptical regarding this plan. Some even suggested that we should invest in a new factory instead. However, my plan was to be a part of an institution which knows how to be forward thinking and without adequate research and development, we would soon be seen as laggards in this fast moving world.”
Salim also knew that it was essential for a business such as KDS to have both forward and backward linkages. He explains, “We were already doing well regarding backward linkages but our movement was still limited to spinning mills and the procurement of raw materials. To move ahead in the race, it is imperative to have strong forward linkages. We are always under pressure from our buyers regarding real value addition and to improve on this aspect you need to make your own designs.”
Bangladesh’s target is to reach $50 billion in RMG exports by 2021. However, Salim questions the industry’s capability of reaching this target due to capacity issues, “According to our roadmap, we have to double our capacity. Do we have the ability to achieve this feat? Not with the current state of our infrastructure and power supply. Our ports are deemed quite efficient but when a vessel is offloading its cargo, how much time does it take? We need to identify the sources of these delays and address them. The deep-sea port is not a solution to the problem. What we require is projects like the ‘Bay Terminal’ urgently to go along with our growth objectives.”
Detailing the human and social capital issues in KDS, he mentioned that only their CEO is of Indian origin while the rest of their employees are local. However, he expressed his dissatisfaction at how the youth were being trained for the corporate world in Bangladesh. “Their outlook was quite astonishing. I found it quite disappointing that what is taught in the schools here do not correlate with our requirements. The learning curve for our students needs to be drastically altered for the future betterment of the country’s human capital.”
Concluding the session, Salim explained, “It is quite demoralizing that we have failed to evaluate and improve upon our own strengths. This sector makes enormous sociological and economic contributions to our country, we have to recognize this. We have to encourage what is positive and energize others to follow the right path.”