SETTING THE STANDARDS
Omera received the Best Energy Company Award in 2016 from the Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Tell us about your journey in the petroleum sector.
The Bangladeshi economy is on a rapid rise. Despite harsh challenges, entrepreneurs with passion and honesty can create and nurture valuable enterprises. I am a big optimist when it comes to Bangladesh. I believe that in the next ten years billionaires will be made in this market. When I sold this dream to Bangladeshi students and corporates living in the US, I was considered a joke. Today, the Japanese are buying local tobacco company for staggering $1.5 billion. This is just the inception of many such deals. After ten years, the level of growth will fall and opportunities to such build billion-dollar enterprises will vanish.
I have been successful in the petroleum industry due to my diligence and work ethic. I am also blessed to have the best mentor and guide, Azam J Chowdhury, my uncle, our Group Chairman and renowned figure in the energy industry and private sector. He always emphasized that I should learn the trade from the inside out.
My uncle teaches me everything I know about the commercial and technical aspects of the business. He challenges me to think outside the box. Despite his mammoth successes, my uncle still stands out as one of the most humble entrepreneur’s I have seen and I learn from him every day.
My first assignment was working as the project coordinator of our construction projects outside Dhaka. Moving from New York City to manage local contractors in oil and gas terminals in Mongla, Mirsarai and Sherpur was very different from what I was used to. I picked up project mapping quickly and had to provide progress reports to our board. Meeting the high expectations of the ‘best energy company in Bangladesh’ has always been a very demanding job, but it was a challenge I lived up to.
I spent a lot of time outside Dhaka and understood the aspirations of rural and semi-urban Bangladeshis. With the right quality products and market penetration tactics, most products will do well here. Disposable income is on the rise and Bangladeshis demand for luxury items. Middle-class households now buy hand sanitizer instead of hand soaps and rice cookers instead of kitchenware.
I, along with my team, finished five heavy industrial projects in just two years. We scaled up our infrastructure, shipping, and logistics to a capacity that no competitor could replicate. We invested in the best LPG Terminals and offer Bangladesh the best quality gas, cylinders, stoves, lubricants, solar panels, logistics, shipping and more under the Omera brand. Major power plants use Omera Fuels Limited, our tank terminal, to store their liquid fuel. This makes our installations critical when supporting Bangladesh’s economy.
You were the Valedictorian of Stony Book University in 2013. Tell us about your formative years and education.
My teenage years were spent indulging in the latest gadgets and fusion music. Until 2007, listening to Dr. Zeus on a Sony Ericsson Walkman Phone was cool. Online presence became mainstream from 2008, as influencers picked up wireless connectivity and accessed social media. This had a profound impact on the pop culture of Dhaka.
Losing my father, Kutubul Alam Chowdhury in 2007, was a defining moment in my life. My father toiled to provide me with the best schooling and amenities. To deal with the sorrow of missing him and to respect his memory, I feel I have to be the best at my trade.
I moved to the United States soon after my father passed and Stony Brook University, accepted me for an undergraduate program in finance and information systems engineering. Primarily a science and mathematics school, the university gave me exposure to statistical problem solving and scientific approaches to entrepreneurship. During college, I remained focused, as I knew those four years would define the next 50 years of my life. I achieved Honors status by junior year and scored the highest GPA (Summa Cum Laude) in my graduating class. I was chosen as class valedictorian in 2013, the first and only Bangladeshi among half a million students in the New York state system.
I keep a strong connection with Stony Brook University. My honors supervisor, former department chair, and faculty members visit me in Dhaka. They are like my family.
You encourage the Omera team to participate in athletic activities. Could you tell us about the methodology and how you believe it improves corporate culture? What does your typical workday look like?
I used to box in university and I still train in Dhaka. Sports help us strategize. A key lesson in boxing is to hold the defense position after a jab or cross. It makes us appreciate that our opponent will return an equal or stronger hit. I replicate the same in business; do not go for the kill until you can figure out your opponent’s next move.
I can’t make time to regularly engage in sports, but I encourage our team to run marathons and play soccer. Our corporate cricket team, Omera Tigers, played the Dhaka Dynamites this year. It was a great experience and we will be participating in more events next year.
I spend a lot of time traveling across the country. It helps me understand people’s ordeals alongside giving me a better understanding of the growth sector. When I am in Dhaka, I am planning new businesses with my team, following up on the progress of approved projects, meeting government agencies and making sure Omera has an uninterrupted supply of products in the pipeline. I am also interested in the commercial real estate and am learning this trade on the side.
My team has “creative days”, which we use to map new infrastructure and businesses. Keeping my brain focused is very important. I am very hard to reach and opt out of social media; I don’t entertain unnecessary chit-chat.
“Having a heritage of 30 years in this industry we have invested in state-of-the-art machinery. You will not find a drop of oil in any of our installations. We have access to all the oil majors and we can source any mix of gas and oil at any time. This flexibility helped Omera become a giant in less than four years.”
In less than four years, Omera Petroleum has experienced a turnover of over $150 million. Could you detail how you have managed petroleum supply supporting this growth?
Bangladesh is a fuel guzzling economy. We have to support power generation, industries and automotive sectors with imported fuel. The Bay of Bengal has unpredictable weather and tankers/gas carriers often get delayed. Hence, having the storage capacity to deal with supply shocks across the country is very important. In the private sector, we have the largest LPG storage, Lube Oil Blending Plant, and Tank Terminal. Having a heritage of 30 years in this industry we have invested in state-of-the-art machinery. You will not find a drop of oil in any of our installations. We have access to all the oil majors and we can source any mix of gas and oil at any time. This flexibility helped Omera become a giant in less than four years. At any time, there are at least eight vessels carrying our products.
One of your earliest successes was to set up the first foreign joint venture in the petroleum sector. Please tell us more about this.
Technical expertise is key in our industry. I met Toshiyuki Shimbori, now CEO of Omera Gas One around 2014. He represented Saisan Co. Ltd, the largest LPG distributor in Japan with over 70 years of bulk LPG handling and technology. After two years of intense negotiations and shuttling between Tokyo and Dhaka, we closed our JVC deal in 2016. It’s funny how we closed the deal via one mail thread consisting of over 200 emails, with the subject line reading, “Hi this is Shimbori”.
Omera Gas One today, is by far the strongest bulk LPG and industrial gas technology provider in Bangladesh. My brother Tanveer A. Chowdhury heads its business development and Omera Gas One has experienced tremendous growth as a result. We have taken on large-scale projects such as gas supply to Bangladesh jails via pipeline, economic zone development and the construction of over 30 autogas stations across the country. Gas One Group has recently started operations in Nepal and Thailand as well.
Do you have any advice for young corporates and entrepreneurs?
Take care of your health, have faith and knowledge and they will take care of you. Be smart with your finances. Technology has disrupted traditional assets and liability models. Renting has become cheaper than buying (e.g Uber, Pathao and Airbnb). You don’t need to have the most expensive vacations, watches, and cars at an early age to be successful. Save your money, scan the market for good deals and invest in assets with cash flow. Set a target that in five years, the cash flow from your personal investments will match your future salary. Put your money to work for you, each taka should act as your employee. This will give you financial and mental independence. Familiarize yourself with the laws and appreciate every person you meet. If you are humble and faithful, God’s plan for you is much larger than your own.