THE TIME IS NOW TO BUILD A BETTER TOMORROW

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In a conversation, Yasir Azman, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Grameenphone Limited, elaborates on Grameenphone’s silver jubilee, the secrets to Grameenphone’s success, and the company’s journey ahead.

 

 

YASIR AZMAN
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Grameenphone Limited

 

 

The ‘Leadership’ factor has been persistent in Grameenphone’s 25-year-long journey. Whether in terms of innovation as a market player or acceptability as an employer – Grameenphone has been among the top ever since. What is Grameenphone’s secret formula here?

Being a leader means you are genuine and humble in your approach to achieving your vision. For us, it was empowering our society through the power of connectivity. From village phone lady, Laily Begum, to Shubir Nokrek of Madhupur forest – who successfully changed their lives and empowered themselves, standing as an inspiration to millions – our contribution of 25 years lies in the stories of empowerment of the people from all walks of life. These stories of empowerment inspire us to continuously keep pushing for greater heights of excellence.
You can be a true leader only when you are fully aware of what your team and your followers require to stay gratified. Trust and transparency are the crucial factors in this process, and I can confidently say that throughout our 25-year journey, Grameenphone put its best into winning and retaining this trust. As a market player and an employer, we focused on delivering what matters most. We opted to remain customer-focused, designing and implementing newer technologies and initiatives to improve the overall quality of our service. As an organisation, our philosophy has been to give our people enough room and scope to explore their skill sets.
Moreover, we have a governance system that ensures we practice ethical leadership, promote diversity and do business in a compliant manner. This hunger for unswerving improvement and uncompromising stance in favour of compliance, I believe, has been our winning formula.

 

 

We now have over 18,700 4G-enabled base stations and acquired an additional 60 MHz spectrum, which is a huge achievement for us and the entire nation. Fast 4G internet shall enhance our communications, opening up newer prospects for collaboration and collective progression.

 

 

What do you think are the essential requirements for a mobile network operator to exceed the typical image of a commercial service provider and establish itself as a brand close to the mass people’s lives? What has been Grameenphone’s strategy in this regard?

Since the moment we commenced our journey in 1997, we have been working diligently to ensure connectivity for all in Bangladesh, bridging the gap between urban and rural populations, starting with the mindset of removing inequalities. Back in 1997, only 1 out of 1000 citizens in Bangladesh had access to telephone services. Now I believe every household has a GP connection. Our mission has always been to make connectivity affordable and accessible with a rural-first approach from the very beginning. During our inception, our mission was to give a voice to the rural population; today it’s 4G in every corner of Bangladesh. A new telephone connection in 1996 cost at least USD 375. Now a GP connection costs USD 1.50. When we began investing in rural areas, it was not a business case, but rather, solving a problem in our society, making connectivity affordable to all.
Grameenphone held on to delivering to this expectation – from its first customer till growing up to this massive family of over eight crore subscribers – our strategy has been simple: investment to serve our customers better. You can always try to be better; there is no end to this quest!

 

What does the word ‘people’ mean to you, considering its weight as the leader of one of the most prominent organisations in the country? In that regard, could you point to a few areas where you think organisations should put more emphasis on motivating their people?

The word ‘people’ means a source of possibilities to me. Every person brings to the table a unique perspective and a whole new set of potential. As a leader, I try to value this uniqueness. This belief is also an integral part of Grameenphone’s company culture, as we almost religiously nurture and promote talent within the organisation. We emphasise upskilling our employees and creating future-ready human resources for the industry. Alumni and ex-employees of Grameenphone are leaving their mark of excellence in leading companies around the world. I think this same area – talent development and ensuring an encouraging environment – is where organisations should always focus on. In late 2021, Telenor Group and Grameenphone set a new Guinness World Records™ title for most users to take an online personal development lesson in 24 hours. It manifests that Telenor employees across the Nordics and Asia always intend to remain at the forefront of upskilling to redefine the term ‘excellence’ and meet customers’ ever-evolving needs in the most efficient ways possible. Some 1,011 Grameenphone employees completed the ‘Growth Mindset’ course and significantly contributed to this achievement of writing a new history of e-learning. It attests to our unwavering passion for and pursuit of excellence.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced almost every industry to reorganise its own strategies and operations. How was the challenge for Grameenphone?

The challenge was as tough for Grameenphone as it was for other large-scale organisations. But we rose to the occasion, as we always believe in standing beside the people and the nation whenever it’s needed. As responsible corporate citizens, we came forward as an emergency service provider and shouldered the responsibility of ensuring uninterrupted connectivity across the country to keep our economy running. The pandemic forced us to restructure our strategy, but at the same time, it solidified our vision and strengthened our commitment to the nation. I want to give credit to all my colleagues for their undaunted presence and contribution throughout the catastrophe, to the regulator and development partners for standing beside us, hand-in-hand, and enabling us to contribute to the society in need. Without such prompt emergency support, the task would have been much more difficult for us.

 

 

Grameenphone has successfully covered the entire nation with 4G connectivity. What new dimension(s) shall it add to the customers’ lives?

Seamless high-speed connectivity itself is a vital necessity right now, unlocking uncountable possibilities for individuals. We now have over 18,700 4G-enabled base stations and acquired an additional 60 MHz spectrum, which is a huge achievement for us and the entire nation. Fast 4G internet shall enhance our communications, opening up newer prospects for collaboration and collective progression. The roots of Grameenphone and Bangladesh are very much intertwined, sharing common grounds for visions and plans. Our objective is to understand the needs according to the origins and deliver through innovation, alongside securing our business goals. As the Connectivity Partner to Digital Bangladesh, this was our due tribute. We are only getting started with what could be an incredible and life-changing journey for millions of people in the next 25 years.

 

For taking the connectivity game to the next level, we must address fibre-related issues, tower related issues, NTTN issues and 4G devices affordability related issues. We now have our eyes on making Bangladesh Government’s Perspective Plan 2041 a vivid reality, and as a digital enabler, Grameenphone is putting its best effort into a technology-driven progression.

 

 

Do you think we are technologically ready to reap the maximum benefits from the available network infrastructure?
We are not one hundred per cent ready, but I would instead look at the brighter side and appreciate how much we have achieved within such a short time. We could do better with friendlier market opportunities – for example, better spectrum affordability, better network infrastructure with more synchronisation of the towers and fibres with Mobile Network Operators (MNO), more avenues for the MNOs to work closer with BTRC, and so on – these can help us create a much-developed mobile service scenario. And thanks to the government, its ministries, and policy-makers, we are already seeing mentionable progress in this regard; however, we believe that as a collective force, we must revisit the current tax regime, which still has a greater scope to be more investment- and customer-friendly. For taking the connectivity game to the next level, we must address fibre-related issues, tower related issues, NTTN issues and 4G devices affordability related issues. We now have our eyes on making Bangladesh Government’s Perspective Plan 2041 a vivid reality, and as a digital enabler, Grameenphone is putting its best effort into a technology-driven progression.

Where do you set the benchmark in terms of Grameenphone’s quality of service augmentation in the coming years?
If you ask me, I would say that the sky is the limit! But for Grameenphone, setting realistic benchmarks is more important than setting higher ones. On the golden jubilee of our independence, we have upgraded all our sites to 4G. Now we have a total of 108.7 MHz spectrum which puts us in a better position to meet the growing digital needs all across the country. Step by step planning gives us a more genuine understanding of our objectives regarding our capacity. We want to establish ourselves as a digital telecommunications service provider and explore possibilities even beyond connectivity, catering to the transforming industry needs, based on digitalisation. I am confident that the SMEs, e-commerce, f-commerce, education, healthcare, and agriculture industries will be beneficiaries of the radical digital shift very soon. Grameenphone wishes to collaborate with all such industries through innovation and technologies like IoT, analytics, and apt 5G services. In the coming years, you will see the maximum utility of the existing possibilities by Grameenphone, and I would like to promise nothing less than that. At Grameenphone, we wholeheartedly believe that now is the time for us to build the prosperous and self-sustained Bangladesh we all envisioned through the power of connectivity.

 

 

Grameenphone has many achievements to be proud of, such as being the highest taxpayer for consecutive years, being the best telecom brand in Bangladesh, winning the Digital Bangladesh Award, and providing the best value for investment in the stock market. What is next for GP?
We are in pursuit of playing our part as a digital enabler for Bangladesh. Connectivity can transform societies, and Bangladesh is a prime example of this to the world. Going forward, our mission will be to strengthen the 4G experience further while getting ready for developing a 5G ecosystem for Bangladesh. As Bangladesh marches forward to becoming a smart country, it is essential for its economy to become knowledge-based by 2041. We want to play our part in this transformative journey. Our next mission is to become a digital telecom with an undivided focus on upskilling the Bangladeshi youth, keeping our future generation safe in the online space and taking visible and actionable positions to safeguard mother nature. The time is now to step up and act.

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