The first thing that will catch your attention in the room are the long tinted windows. On a lazy afternoon you could sit for hours staring outside and observing the daily hullabaloo of life in Gulshan. A tall shelf stands at one corner of the room – stacked with framed photographs, degrees, and certificates; a culmination of Md Sheikh Shadi’s lifetime achievements.
Mr Shadi is the chairman of Assure Group, a known primarily for its real estate business and building technology in Bangladesh. He was almost middle-aged, but not quite, with tousled hair and a kind face. He was sitting on an intricately designed chair that resembled a throne, as he graciously welcomed Fintech to his apartment in Gulshan for a chat.
Fintech: We would like to begin by learning more about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you receive your education?
Sheikh Shadi: I was born in Kushtia, and that’s where I spent my childhood amongst all the nature and greenery. I completed my H.S.C. from Kushtia Government College, and then finally I completed my M.SS in Sociology from Dhaka College .
I used to be a tutor while I was studying, I would teach to the children, and also help out my dad with his local different business. I worked with several governmental and non-governmental institutions as contractor and learned more about business, and that eventually gave me the opportunity to establish Assure Properties ltd. in 2006.
Fintech: How did you venture into the real-estate and construction business?
Sheikh Shadi: I always had the intention of starting my own business. My journey into real estate began when I bought an apartment. I soon realized that there was a huge gap of information and understanding of customer service, customer needs and demands among the businesses. So I decided that if I could take a new approach to real estate business and implement these changes, I would be able to revolutionize the sector.
I can proudly say that I have worked really hard, and really well, and was successful in all the challenges that I encountered in this business. That’s why today Assure Group is known among some of the top 10 companies in the country.
Fintech: What were some of the challenges or struggles that you encountered when you first entered this business? Is it any different now?
Sheikh Shadi: To be honest, there aren’t really any specific struggles involved in the real estate business, even when I began, or today. Here’s the thing – a home or shelter is one of the basic necessities for mankind. There will always be a demand for it, no matter what. So what matters most is how you approach the business, what innovation can you bring to it, and once you establish a good understanding with your client’s demands, you can easily begin working towards a successful business.
What I believe is that you can’t just do business for money. You’re offering a service to people, and it is crucial that you gain customer satisfaction from your services. You’ve to ensure that you are aligned with customers, landowners, competitors, and other stakeholders, to offer the best service. When you do that, there are little chances of facing any struggle or crisis. For example, if I have 5 taka, I could import products with it and earn more money by selling those. But, I won’t. I would rather earn less money but work for my country, my people, and ensure that I am offering them the very best. You cannot just run a business for yourself, you’ve to think about the society and the country.
Fintech: Frequent earthquakes are a big concern for people in the real-estate business. What are you doing to combat that? What plans do you have?
Sheikh Shadi: Bangladesh has become an earthquake prone country, with increasing risks of frequent earthquakes. We obviously cannot accurately predict when and where an earthquake is going to happen, but we always keep natural disasters in mind when we are working on a new project. We follow the strict guidelines from BNBC for infrastructure and architecture, and we can assure that any of the Assure buildings are capable of handling an earthquake within 7.5 magnitude. We are constantly planning ways to ensure more safety in the buildings that we build.
Fintech: What latest technological advancements have you incorporated in your work? Or plan to involve in the future?
Sheikh Shadi: See, if we are talking about reenforcement, cement, sand, we use the latest resources available in our country. This year Assure has a new slogan: Green Building. Green Building refers to using latest technologies, latest materials, most importantly to conserve energy. For example, you usually use 5 litres of water to wash hands for 1 minute. Those water taps cost about 1500 to 2000 taka, and the water flow is excessive. The taps we are using cost more, about 5000 to 7000 taka, but will save a lot of water by reducing water flow to just 1.5 litres.
Similarly, when it comes to electricity, our buildings are designed in such a way that you wouldn’t need to turn the lights on during daytime, sunlight will be sufficient. Therefore, you’ll be saving more electricity. Moreover, as they are called green buildings, we will ensure that there’s a lot of nature and greenery involved as well. The walls will be painted as such that there’s no dis-temperment issues, and the windows and doors will not be plastered, and will remain the same for 100 years. In the end, these buildings will not just be highly functioning, safe, and energy saving, but will also be a treat for the sight.
Fintech: That’s a wonderful plan. Do you have any overseas training on this matter? Or do you receive any support from foreign experts?
Sheikh Shadi: To be honest, Assure Group is very different from other companies in this market. We function more like a corporate. We have 13 different departments and people looking after each department. Most of us travel within the country and overseas, we visit and facilitate lectures and seminars, starting from Dhaka University to other global institutions. We meet with competitors, researchers, experts, some local, some foreign, and we brainstorm together and exchange our ideas and concepts. We look at the kind of buildings England has built 20 years ago and wonder what setbacks do we have that we haven’t been able to make the same building in our country. We also look at buildings that England is building now, and we develop plans on how we could build the same too, because they’re humans, and so are we, so if they can do it, why can’t we? We want to do something new, something better, and so we are researching, developing, and using latest technologies to ensure that we are progressing further.
Fintech: In the last 10 years you’ve successfully taken and completed about 200 projects. That’s a lot of projects! Can you tell us more about what that experience has been like?
Sheikh Shadi: In the beginning, we used to take about 5 projects a year and the completion dates were proposed for around 24 months. But, we completed them in 18 months, and they were all 6 floor buildings. We have never compromised with quality, and we have always maintained consistency with handing over projects on time, if not before the deadline. This has been true for us yesterday, today, and will continue tomorrow. We will always maintain our punctuality and quality – absolutely no compromises with either.
Sometimes the landowners come to me and I say, hey, why are you here? We haven’t finished the building yet. They say that they have heard such good things about our projects that they have come to express their joy of working with us, and their praises encourage us to keep doing better. In the past 11 years, I don’t think any other real estate business has completed 200 projects on time, and I believe that we have pulled off a miracle.
Fintech: We would like to know about the technology that you use. Do you use any core software system?
Sheikh Shadi: Yes, we are already using the ERP software in our procurement and accounts department, and by 2018 we hope to use it across the board. We hope by then we will be able to do all our transactions through one system.
Fintech: Apart from the real-estate business, you have other businesses as well, like in building technology, tourism, general hospital, etc. How do you find the time to look after all of them?
Sheikh Shadi: I have a plan in every step. Each and every plan and phase I go through maintaining a proper schedule and plan. I have an agro-based company, where there are cows, goats, sheep, ducks, chicken, etc. It’s a farm in Manikganj. Since I have already covered the need for homes, I thought I would venture into the need for food. I basically don’t want to do just business; I want to provide what the society needs. I want to cover some of the basic human necessities; food, shelter, healthcare, clothing, education. Our representation already on processing at RAJUK and I think we will get a land in Purbachol and as soon as we do, we are going to build a General Hospital. Real-estate is my main business, but on the side I want to explore these other sectors as well. I am not sure if you are aware, but I have also established a madrasa, school with my own income. I want to build more educational institutions and also venture into fashion designing industry.
Fintech: What does leadership mean to you? What qualities do you think makes a good leader?
Sheikh Shadi: See, if I talk about myself, I am currently holding the top most position at a company. However, I do not consider myself to be a leader. Whenever I have to make a decision regarding the company, I sit down with all the decision makers and take their valued advice, listen to their opinions, their thought processes, and then I piece all of them together to come to a final decision. I never make decisions alone. I always ensure that I am consulting with my management team. If I come up with an idea, I immediately call a meeting, and then ask what they think of my idea and whether it’s good enough for us to proceed with. Fact of the matter is that I believe in teamwork. Teamwork is the best idea to take leadership in hand. I believe that if you’re working with educated people, you’ve to heed their advices, you’ve to respect your partners and their intellectuality; that’s what makes a good leader. This should be the motto of a successful businessman.
Fintech: Do you offer any training programs for job recruitment? Do you believe our country is lacking in efficient HR recruitment process?
Sheikh Shadi: It’s true that most of the institutions in our country lack trained technicians or professionals. There’s a certain lack of resources in this regard. However, in my company, I ensure that I focus on training and development. Since in essence our company is also a construction company, we have a lot of young engineers join us, and I ask them about their educational qualifications first. Most of them say that they have a diploma, and I urge them to at least complete their BSc degree. In some cases, I have even paid for them to complete their education. I gave 50% and they paid the rest. I do this because I realize that this education could really help this person develop more professionally and do better at his work. In fact, we facilitate seminars on these every 3 or 4 weeks, we focus on how to hone the skills that our employees have and how to ensure that they constantly keep developing and learning better skills.
We have a lot of young men and women who are engineers, architects, designers, and so on, and if every one of them can be trained properly, they can benefit our country. These people are talented and this talent should be evaluated for the sake of our country and community.
Fintech: And finally, where do you see Assure Group heading in the next 10 years?
Sheikh Shadi: It is true that you need to have ambition, but it’s also important to remember what others are dreaming of. A few days ago at a seminar I had asked, are dreams bigger or people? Most of the audience responded, “Dreams!” I disagree. People are bigger than dreams. We are created as superior intellectual beings, and dreams were made for us. If I dream during the day and also at night, but don’t really work on making them come true, then what’s the point of dreaming? You have to dream, but you also have to make them come true, and for that you’ve to work hard.
As for Assure Group, I never had dreams or ambitions for it, honestly speaking. I just believe that whatever work we have right now, I want to give it my undivided attention and make sure that we give it our best. We have to do the right thing at the right place at the right time. That’s how our company will keep growing. Ultimately, we are one of the top real estate businesses in the country. I don’t know in the next 10 years where Assure Group is going to go, or how big it’s going to be. All I know is that if today there are 5,000 people working here and the same people continue working 10 years later, then may they all become role models for people in this country. That would be the great achievement for our company. ■