Ghulam Sumdany Don or Don Sumdany is recognized as a trainer, teacher and a writer. He manages a soft-skill training company called Don Sumdany Facilitation & Consultancy. As the sole ‘triple certified’ trainer in Bangladesh, Sumdany has worked with over a hundred corporate clients. He has trained many professional employees in companies like Grameenphone, Chevron and Berger. He has conducted training sessions in large, local garment factories like Marks & Spencer as well as in ACI, Navana Group and Brac. Sumdany regularly writes for The Daily Star, a leading English newspaper of Bangladesh . He also hosts a radio show called ‘Look who is talking’.
Sumdany authored the first dual language ‘self-help’ book in Bangladesh called ‘Unleash you true potential’ which was published during the recent Ekushey Book Fair. He studied media and communications at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. Don Sumdany has tasted success at a very young age and managed to establish himself as a reputed corporate trainer. ‘You Create Limited’ is another business concern of Don Sumdany which he manages along with his soft-skill training company. Sumdany candidly shared the various experiences he had to go through in his corporate life when he sat down to talk with the Fintech team. Here is an excerpt of that interview for our Fintech readers.
Tell us something about yourself.
Well, if I start from my student life, I would say it was quite a struggle. My father was not really financially well-off. That is why I had to work as a private tutor seven days a week to meet my expenses. The local bus was my primary means of transport. I had to work very hard, endure a lot of hardship to come this far. When many people see me now, they think I am very rich, privileged but only those who are close to me know what I had to go through to reach this stage. However, if I didn’t go through that struggle during my student life, I don’t think I would have been able to work like I do now. That hardship became my strength. I studied media and communications at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh which is a private university. I am fortunate that I have been working as a workshop facilitator at my university since 2009 and also at East West University from 2011. Besides that, I have trained people from different industries like Telecom, RMG, NGOS and many more.
Your own company has ‘Don Sumdany’ in its name. How did you use your name in its branding?
There are two reasons here and one of which is really funny. The first reason is psychological. The psychological aspect is that I used to be teased a lot due to my name from childhood. They used to make silly rhymes with my name to make fun of me. At times I used to feel really upset. From that time onwards, I was determined that the name with which people taunt me, I will transform it into a brand. Another reason is that, I saw people use conventional names to launch companies like Inspire Consulting, Aspire Consulting and Future Leader etc. I thought to myself, I should do something different and bring about a change. One day I was watching this fashion program on television called Calvin Klein Fashion Show. It struck me that if they can use their own name for branding, then why can’t I? Many lawyers use their name for law firms, then why not trainers? More than that, I thought about the advertising agencies like Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi, all of them are based on their own name. This is how the branding of my name began.
I didn’t find the name ‘Ghulam Sumdany Don’ quite suitable so after rearranging it I arrived at Don Sumdany. Maybe I could keep Sumdany Don but I liked Don Sumdany better. So I started branding myself with this name. I didn’t have a lot of money when I began. Some of my students worked for free and designed the logo and updated my online profile. This is how my company took off. Since you were talking about branding, I want to add that I was really serious about branding from the onset. When I represent my company and go anywhere, I am always dressed in black since the brand colors of the company are black and orange. We maintain that branding in everything, starting from the visiting card to the company website. Besides working on events, we give at least three posts on social media every day. It means that every single day we are working on our branding. Whatever we do, even if it is a video content, we ensure the best quality possible. We do all these things to build our brand. We will continue at present and in the future. We understand brand-building quite well. I have that knowledge because I worked at Philip Morris for five years. My bosses taught me how to build a brand properly.
Funding is an important aspect in business. How did you manage your initial funding?
I want to make it loud and clear to everyone that when people say you need a lot of money to do business, it is absolutely wrong. What you need is a good strategy. Your strategy will bring in investors. Honestly speaking, there are no investors in my Don Sumdany Facilitation & Consultancy company, no funds were sought, even loans. I have an event management company called You Create Limited. We have invested a lot in that company because it needs big investments. However, such investments were not required for Don Sumdany Facilitation & Consultancy. The biggest tip for startups is not to increase operating costs all of a sudden. You get an investment; take a large office, employ a lot of people and then, everything is finished. You will be in deep trouble. That is why it is crucial to maintain your operating cost. If you can manage it well, your business will become more sustainable. When you invest your own money in business, you will perceive it differently and I think that business will grow one day. And talking about my initial funding, I had my laptop, iPhone and modem. These are the things I started by business with and you can classify them as investments.
What challenges did you face when you started your business?
Talking about challenges, the first thing I would like to mention is that I didn’t have a lot of money. I had only 40,000 Taka with me when I left the job at Philip Morris. I had to move forward with that. Although you cannot do business with such an amount, I did some small jobs to begin with. Initially I thought I would fail, maybe I wouldn’t be able to do anything. It was a big challenge. Besides that, there were other more common challenges like arranging everything, building up a team, delegating work and working day and night. Then there was the social pressure. I just couldn’t convince my parents why I have left a big company to start my own business. Another thing I would like to mention is that my car was hijacked in March 2013. I was shot in the leg when they took away my car. I became really depressed but that was the turning point in my life. When I was recuperating, I became even more depressed. I didn’t have any money. Gradually I got a grip of myself and then started afresh. I wanted to work in the corporate sector all my life and never wanted to be an entrepreneur. That incident gave my life a new course and I became an entrepreneur. You know sometimes you have to lose something to gain something valuable in life. Sometimes God plays a cruel game to bring us on the right track.
Why isn’t there any innovation in our country although we are becoming more digitalized? What do you think should be done?
Innovation is very important. Anyone can copy anything easily but you cannot copy innovation. That is why those who are innovating, they have moved far ahead. South Korea is a good example. Although I am not an expert in this field, I think we need to think beyond the box. Our education system is not allowing us to make that move. Our thoughts are all ‘boxed’ in. Even our mindset is being affected. Therefore, we continue to seek what is common, what is available. We don’t have it in us to think differently for something original. If you don’t think then how can you have innovation or creativity? If you can’t find the problem, where will you get the solution from? You can recognize the problem only if you think and become informed. For example, the 10 Minute School can be termed as an innovation. It is completely a new idea. It is not copied. I really liked this innovation because it is working with education in a new way. In one word, their execution is brilliant.
We need to bring about a change in our education system and if that happens, we will have innovation. Analytical and creative thinking must be imbued in our education system. Only then you will see people outside will call us innovative in the future. It is not that we don’t have any innovation in our country. You will see innovation in the schools and colleges. Students of English medium are more creative than Bangla medium students. It is because English medium schools emphasize on creativity and give tasks accordingly. When we will see such a change in all the schools, Bangladesh will reach the next level.
What is your advice to young, potential entrepreneurs?
Considering the reality of Bangladesh, if you can work for a few years before you become an entrepreneur, it will be a plus point for you. Although many misunderstand this notion, I would say this is important. Because I was employed in various companies, I reached the position I am at today. Since I worked in local agencies, I could understand how people work and the situations they face. By working in a big company, I understood the business environment and that is why I am Don Sumdany today. When someone comes to me for tips on entrepreneurship, I ask them if they belong to a business family or not. I tell them to do a job for a few years so they can learn the process. Therefore, you need to learn discipline before you become an entrepreneur. I motivate them by saying that you can become a successful entrepreneur after you learn everything and gather experience from the corporate world. And when they will begin their career, it is vital to select a good boss. They should not get overawed by the glitz and glamour of a large office and a renowned brand. He or she should stay in a company that will teach him or her how to work. They should not shift to another company just because it is offering 5,000 Taka more.
We are now talking about the fourth industrial revolution. Do you think Bangladesh is ready for that?
I don’t know if Bangladesh is ready for the fourth industrial revolution but they must be prepared for it. The world is moving towards that direction with the advent of AI, augmented reality, bitcoin and IoT. No one can stop this trend. That is why Bangladesh must be ready. Moreover, the government took and is taking many initiatives in this regard. I believe a lot of change has happened in Bangladesh and we are not lagging behind. The vision of building a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ shared by the ICT minister, state minister and advisers is truly laudable. No matter how much we say how poor and under-developed we are, in terms of revolution Bangladesh is speeding ahead.
Many meritorious students of Bangladesh, especially those who study engineering are leaving the country. We are experiencing brain-drain. How can we stop this?
I really don’t know much about this issue but if someone gives you a better offer, it is only natural that the offer will be taken. It is because we want instant improvement. Considering the facilities they get in other countries, they are going abroad. There are opportunities in our country. I think if you can raise the quality of life and improve the law and order situation then they will not leave. Actually everything depends on motivation. If we can give them the proper environment and motivation then we can prevent this brain-drain. For that we need to ensure security, improved lifestyle, good health etc.
Where do you want to see your company in the next five years?
My long-term vision is to become the all-time best training and learning company of Bangladesh. We want to be synonymous with skill development and developed learning. In the next five years, I want to see myself busy with many projects and produce 15-20 trainers. And there will be a digital version of ‘Don Sumdany’ where people from far and wide can participate in the workshops.