Yasir Azman is serving as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Grameenphone from May 26, 2017. He also serves as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) from June 15, 2015. Mr. Azman is an experienced professional with vast international experience in multiple countries and cultures. Before joining as CMO Grameenphone, Mr. Azman served as Telenor Group’s Head of Distribution &eBusiness and worked across all Telenor Operations. He has also worked in Telenor India operations as EVP & Circle Business Head for Orisssa and Karnataka circles during 2010-2012.
In his previous tenure in Grameenphone, Mr. Azman played a leading role to set up Grameenphone sales and distribution organization and to transform Grameenphone distribution structure. Throughout his career, Mr. Azman has a proven track record as a leader of transformation, change management and business development. He has an MBA from Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University, and also attended several executive educational programs in the London Business School and INSEAD France.
GPHouse, Grameenphone’s headquarter at Bashundhara residential area, is considered by many as the office building with best décor and ambience in the city. With glass walls, spacious interior and slick and modern furniture, the GP House embodies everything a modern corporate house ideally should be. And like a cherry on the top, it has Yasir Azman. Mr Azman, with salt & pepper hair and a spick and span appearance could well make into the cover of a fashion magazine or on the silver screen. He, however,has ventured into the world of marketing and business. Mr Azman is currently serving as Deputy CEO & CMO of the largest telecom operator of the country. Fintech team recently went to GPHouse and talked with Mr Azman about his life’s work, about Grameenphone and the telecom sector. Here is an excerpt of the conversation that we had for our readers.
FINTECH : You have had a very fast career growth. Can you tell us how it started, and how you have been able to reach where you are now?
Y. Azman: I started my career as an entrepreneur while doing my MBA in the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Dhaka University. I, along with some of my friends in IBA, had started a small technology and education focused company called Maverick. We were running the business on the side while completing our MBA but things started to fall apart after the completion of MBA. My friends—most of them were from engineering background—had decided topursuetheir career in corporate or to migrate to the USA for further study; we stopped!
After leaving IBA, I had joined ANZ Grindlays Bank in January, 1999 as in Intern and later continued to work.However, about seven months later I joined British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB). My first posting was in Chadpur as a Territory Officer. It was a challenging yet interesting experience for me. I did not have to stay there too long and was transferred back to Dhaka.
After working in different capacities in the BATB, I got an opportunity to work in Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) under an exchange program. My twins just were born and I had a one year baby boy, so moving to a different place altogether was challenging. I took it nonetheless as my wife gave me support and I went to Islamabad.
I went to the PTC for a three months program but ended up working for itfor almost a year. Because when my three months stint came to a close, Marketing Director of PTC called our MD, BATB, requesting an extension of my time as a permanent employee or in some other form. After that I came back to Bangladesh inbeginning of2005 and took the job of Regional Sales Manager in BATB, which is a pretty challenging & dynamic role in the organization.
After working in that role for the next nine months, I was approached by Grameenphone. I considered the job offer and gave it a good thought. Leaving BATB was no easy decision as it was the best place for a marketer to work but I wanted to challenge myself in new waters, what comes better than technology industry, on top something that makes a bigger contribution to the society.
GP was a relatively small company with about 4 million subscribers but I had the belief that it would grow a lot bigger. I joined there as the Head of Dhaka regional sales. I was given the responsibility of setting up the regional and eventually the national level sales structure. In 2007, as the Head of Distribution and Logistics, I was given an opportunity to transform our distribution model from the old structure—which was heavily challenged by the competitors in the market, we were losing market share—to a third-party-led model deployed by them. I, along with my team, put on the hard work and within a year, we were able to successfully transform the structure. I was made the Sales and Distribution Director after some months.
In 2010, I got a call from our Head of Asia at that point of time, now Telenor CEO, Sigve Brekke. He told me that he wanted me in his team in India. I agreed and joined Telenor India in October 2010 as the Head of Orissa State Business. Orissa was not performing well at that time and I was tasked with transforming the organization. It took me six months to turn around the business performance to one of the top ones. After the success in Orissa, Sigve gave me another bigger challenge. I was sent to Karnataka which was an even tougher market to lead and that required changes on many dimensions.
After two and half years working there in India, I got a chance to move to Oslo in Norwayand work there as Telenor Group’s Head of Distribution & E-Business.. I took over the role in 2012. It was a new country. After working there again for two and half years, I came back in Bangladesh in 2015 to GP as its Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). In May 2017, I was appointed as the Deputy CEO of GP.
“GP has always been at the forefront of innovations. Accelerator is a new concept in Bangladesh and GP wanted to patronize it to give new young and energetic entrepreneurs a better footing to develop their ground-breaking ideas.”
FINTEECH: What do you think are your biggest assets in achieving such success in small span of time?
Y. Azman: First of all, I believe people are the biggest asset for any company. I thinkit’sthe people who can make the big difference. And as a leader, your job is to make sure that the company has rightly equipped its employees to perform in the organization and in the market. An engaged and inspired team can do wonder and that has been always my focus.
I also had the chance to work with some amazing people. I have to mention the name of Sigve Brekke, CEO & President of Telenor Group. It was incredibly inspiring to see Sigve’s energy, the level of commitment, hard work, ability to inspire and emotionally connect with the team, his genuine care for people, and at the same time his ability to make difficult decisions under pressure during my days in Telenor India. Working with him is what I consider as a lifetime learning opportunity for me. I try to learn from the leaders who inspire me a lot and thatcomes from my curiosity to learn, contribute & grow.
Third thing I would like to highlight is driving continuous improvement/ change for better customer experience and creating value.
FINTEECH: Grameenphone is the top brand name in Bangladesh. What it has been doing to sustain its reputation as a top brand throughout the years?
Y. Azman: For a telecom operator to survive and to sustain at the top there is no option but to embrace innovation. If you look at Grameenphone’s 21 year history in Bangladesh, you will see that we have always been at the helm of innovations here. In fact, the very beginning of GPis related with an innovation.At the time,there was only one CDMA operator for only a small group of people inside the urban areas of Bangladesh, and then all of a sudden GP came and thought of introducing a village phone. That was an innovative approach. No one thought of mobile phone for the rural areas.
GP is the first to introduce prepaid to prepaid only telephony and became the first company to cover 99 percent of the population. It established the first 24-hour call center, introduced value-added services such as SMS, fax and data transmission services, international roaming service, SMS-based push-pull services, and personal ring back tones. In the process, the operator has eliminated thousands of miles of physical distance, facilitated trade and commerce, education, health care and created jobs.
GP has taken leading role in the industry to digitalize customer journeys through its initiatives of flexiPlan, MyGP, Online Shop etc. and at the same time by bringing in new digital services like wowbox, bioscope.
Today, GP has nearly 6.6 crore subscribers, nearly half of the total customer base in the country. It generates 22.25 crore calls daily. Over 2 crore people access the internet on its network. The company started with only 47 employees, but now directly employs about 2,400people. Some 7.5 lakh people are also directly or indirectly reliant on the company for their livelihood as dealers, retailers, scratch card sellers, suppliers, vendors, contractors and others. So I would say, it’s our constant investment in coming up with innovative and people-centric ideas and our approach to come up with the best services for our users which have helped us maintain our reputation as the top brand in Bangladesh.
“SO, AFTER LEAVING IBA, I HAD JOINED ANZ GRINDLAYS BANK IN JANUARY, 1999, INITIALLY AS AN INTERN. I LEFT ANZ ABOUT SEVEN MONTHS LATER AND JOINED BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO BANGLADESH (BATB). MY FIRST POSTING WAS IN CHADPUR AS A TERRITORY OFFICER. IT WAS A CHALLENGING YET INTERESTING EXPERIENCE FOR ME.”
FINTEECH: GP has started an accelerator program in collaboration with SD Asia. Why? Also there is an allegation that that GP sometimes take the idea of the entrepreneurs and don’t compensate them properly? Is it true?
Y. Azman: As I said earlier that GP has always been at the forefront of innovations. Accelerator is a new concept in Bangladesh and GP wanted to patronize it to give new young and energetic entrepreneurs a better footing to develop their ground-breaking ideas. In our GP Accelerator program, we nurture few of the startups whom we select through a competition and provide them with funding, office space, mentorship and guidance.
The allegation that we don’t compensate their ideas is completely wrong. The startups after graduation from our accelerator program are completely independent to go their own way. In fact one of the most successful graduates of our accelerator program—Sheba XYZ— partners with one of the competition. Grameenphone is rooted in people’s life. It is loved by millions and we have commitment for long term. We have that we are sustainable through transparent way of doing things and meaningfully contributing to the societies.
We want to nurture talents and want to give them scope and opportunities and this accelerator is an excellent platform to do so. We now take 10 startups into the program each year, which we plan to expand in the future.
FINTEECH: Grameenphone has launched its 4G service. How 4G will change people’s lifestyle here?
Y. Azman: Digitalization will bring in major change in our life through internet connectivity. Internet is now like a basic right. In the absence of fixed broadband infrastructure, smartphone shall become the key to consume content and enhance in individual and enterprises life. Other than the basic usage of internet, availability of high speed internet is of pertinence in coming days to digitalize health, education, agriculture, automation, IoT and many other connected things. As an example, in future, a health care for me sitting in GP House vs health care for a person in my village Gochia in Sunamganj shall not have much difference because of high speed internet connectivity. Similarly access to education for a person sitting in Rangpur vs someone abroad will be equal. Internet brings equality and high speed will make it happen with efficiently& effectively.
On that note, 4G will give apps developers the freedom to innovate. This will enable more productivity, get workers to be more efficient and productive and improve quality of work, living, play and learning.
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