Dilruba Chowdhury, Director of Corporate Planning, East Coast Group, an occassional dancer and a passionate baker shares with Dhaka Tribune her association with the company.
Please tell us about your association with East Coast Group?
East Coast Group (ECG), a leading business conglomerate in Bangladesh, was founded and built upon by my father. As the elder daughter, I feel it is my duty to contribute in the continued success and growth of this business.
After graduating from Regent’s University, UK, I began my career as an intern in ECG. After gathering experience through working closely with the subsidiary companies of ECG, I was given the task of setting up a plastic manufacturing unit. Till date, it has been the most daunting challenge I have faced, as I had to oversee the inception of a manufacturing unit from scratch. This process not only entailed making informed decisions on procurement of machineries, construction of civil works, sourcing raw materials, securing the initial customers, but also required me to familiarize myself with the various government permissions, licenses and permits to be obtained.
I am proud to say that Parkesine Products Limited successfully commenced commercial production in 2010. As the founding Managing Director, it gives me immense pleasure to witness the progression of this company in the relatively short span of time since its establishment.
Subsequently, I was promoted as a director of corporate planning of ECG which requires participation in the core management of the business operation of the entire group. In particular, I am in charge of the Admin & Human Resources Department for the group’s operation in the country.
ECG has investments in some of the leading companies of Bangladesh including Green Delta Investment Company Limited (GDCL). GDCL is one of the most renowned general insurance companies of Bangladesh, which has been successfully carrying on its business with goodwill and reputation for 34 long years. In 2011, I was appointed to the board of directors of GDCL. As a member of the Board I contributed towards formulating policies and strategies with a view to ensure and promote sustainable growth, transparency, increase in shareholders’ values and contribute towards development of the insurance sector. In recognition of my efforts, the board of directors unanimously elected me as the chairman of the executive committee this year.
So far I am grateful to my father for the things which I have been able to accomplish. His guidance, supervision and training have been the cornerstone of my career so far. But I have to overcome more challenges if I want to create an identity of my own; I don’t want to be a shadow of someone else.
Have you ever had to prove yourself to be where you are?
I think I have had to prove myself since day one, and I have to continue doing so. It is not unusual for people I meet to think I am holding the positions solely due to my family background. This is perhaps more so because of my gender and age. However, in most cases after my initial interactions, I believe they begin to realize my strengths, ability and commitment to my professional life.
I am just trying to do my best. I do not fit my father’s shoes, but if I have to go a long way then I have to at least make some sort of credible effort.
Describe your leadership style.
As a leader I strive to achieve a “carrot and stick” policy with my employees. However, my leadership style is very straight forward and at times ruthless. ECG is like family to me but when it comes to decision making, I am very harsh. I believe that I have to be cruel only to be kind. I take very quick but effective decisions and this helps to set an example for others to follow.
I believe that taking such decisions is an integral part of my job description. I feel that we should stick to our own principles; we should not change it because people don’t like it or because people are manipulating it or talking about it.
Can you tell us more about your interest in learning French?
Apart from the fact that I find French very romantic, I took French as second language because our business mostly deals with foreign countries. Most of the business associates speak dual languages. They appreciate it when you take the trouble of learning a foreign language to communicate with them and they give time to listen to you. So I decided that I will learn more than one language.
Being such a busy woman how do you balance work and life?
Most people nowadays do. I am a working woman at the same time, a mother, a daughter and a wife. It is very difficult to juggle family and work sometimes. Everybody says I am a superwoman. I make sure that whatever time I give to my family, or to my work, or to my daughter, is quality time. I make sure that I do not take any work problems back home. I try to take it easy because I know that if I have some pending work at the back of my mind that needs to be resolved, thinking about it is not going to help when I am having dinner with my husband or having a drink with my friends.
Is it particularly hard for women to establish themselves in the corporate world?
It is. Some people might say that women are more forthcoming nowadays but it is still very difficult for women to overcome gender stereotypes because people are still stuck in the middle ages. The corporate environment is very cutthroat. It is very difficult to survive. If you can face it and prove yourself through working, people will respect you for that. There is still a lot left to be done.
What are your visions for ECG?
We are working on a lot of major projects and we are counting on them to contribute to our economy. We have a lot of natural resources but we lack the proper resources to exploit those resources. I have a vision that in continuation of its longstanding involvement in the oil, energy and gas sectors, ECG will be able to make significant contributions to the energy sector of Bangladesh.
If we are successful in setting up the projects as planned, these will contribute to the economy by creating many job opportunities, especially in the rural sector. Most of the times people have to migrate to the urban areas for jobs which is the reason behind the overcrowded urban areas. Our motive is to decentralize the urban growth.
What Corporate Social Responsibility activities are ECG involved with?
We have a diabetic center in Sylhet where we provide free medicine for all diabetic patients, especially the underprivileged people. We regularly send medicines from Dhaka through courier. Doctors come to Dhaka to research for new medicines. We have eye testing machines and centrifuge which are even better than those in Dhaka. My father has opened a school there to provide free education to the children there.
Furthermore, all major subsidiaries/affiliates of ECG have their own extensive CSR programs which have proven immensely successful in the past years.