Dhaka, Tuesday, 07 April 2020

Hard work, honesty & dream were the capital

Mondol Group Director Robiul Alam: From Worker to Industry Owner

Mondol Group Director Robiul Alam: From Worker to Industry Owner

Apparel Report: The father died while studying in class four. And the mother died when he just completed SSC. The life started through a difficult struggle after losing father—the bread earner of the family— at the very beginning. The struggle was for the survival.

Finally he conquered life surpassing many ups and downs by his hard work, honesty, devotion to work and dreams of growing bigger. The orphan boy, who had been deprived of the affection of his parents, has established himself in the garment industry—which is the lifeline of Bangladesh’s economy. He started his career as a cutting helper at only Tk 500 as monthly salary. It is being spoken about Mr. S.M. Robiul Alam, the Director and one of the owners (partner) of country’s specially established industrial conglomerate in RMG sector- the Mondol Group.

Mondol Group started business in Bangladesh in 1991. They went to the first export in 1995. They exported US$ 3.20 million in that year. Their export amount was $ 300 million in 2016. More than 50,000 workers work in more than 25 associate organizations of this group. Mondol Group’s founder and Chairman of the group Haji Abdul Majid Mondol MP is a renowned industrialist and social worker. He is a very liberal and lion-hearted man. Besides generating employment opportunity for the millions of people, he also established hundreds of people in their lives. Mr. Robiul Alam is the best example of his generosity. Robiul Alam had worked as an employee at Mondol Group. But he was given directorship (ownership) of the company for his merit, skill, experience and honesty. At an interview with The Apparel News, S.M. Robiul Alam told the story. Executive Editor of The Apparel News Ibrahim Khalil Jewel took the interview at the office of Cotton Field (BD) Ltd, a subsidiary company of Mondol Group at Gazipura in Gazipur.

The Apparel News: How did you start? Tell us the beginning story.

S.M. Robiul Alam: I was just like an orphan boy. But the goal of my life was that I would learn education and be established in life. For this reason, I came to Dhaka just after appearing degree (graduation) examination. I got into a friend’s house in Dhaka. He used to work in a bank. He helped me first. From his home, I started the tuition first. Later he once told me: ‘The garment sector is new in this country. Many are working, you can also.’ Then I joined a garment factory on his advice. It was 1989. I started work as a Cutting Helper at a monthly salary of only Tk 500 at Regent Garments in Mohammadpur Babar Road, in Dhaka. Who gave me the job was a man of my district. He then told other staff: ‘See, he is an educated man. Do not give him heavy load.’ Educated- in the sense that at that time, people did not want to work in garments after taking a graduation degree.

The cutting section was on the 6th floor. The fabric roll was to stretch from the ground to sixth floor. The fabric that came from abroad, we had to pull it on our neck. I was also doing that with all other colleagues. Seeing this, the supervisor one day asked them why was I being forced to pull the roll? But accepting the condition of the environment and my social status, I took it simply as my job. I did not neglect it. But I had a dream that I would soon change my condition. I started thinking how to become a Cutter Man instead of cutting helper. Then the in-charge taught me drawing. I became a Cutterman. Six months later I left the factory and joined at Tazimura Garment factory at Elephant Road as a Cutterman at Tk 960 monthly salary. My work here was Scissor Cutting, Machine Cutting etc. After going there, I saw that I got a boss who had no academic education. But I was able to adapt with him and all other staffs. Here I increased my efficiency and learnt many more from the boss. One day my PM (production manager) asked me, ‘Do you want to be a PM or want to staying in cutting section?’ I replied, ‘What you consider?’ Then he gave training to 5 people. I became the first among them and promoted as a Supervisor.

As a Supervisor, I faced challenges. I could not catch the techniques of my other colleagues. They did not take me easily. I could not fulfill the target because when I went outside the job room for a while they removed some pieces of apparels that were done by me and used to count with their products. As a result, their targets were met quickly. But I could not have met. However, this has happened for a while and I became their best friend by my good behaviour. My dream was that I would be established one day. So I started to learn the job by adhering to the pain with smile.

Later I learned operating the swing machines. Then I changed my job place and became ‘Line Chief’ in a Jacket factory. The salary was Tk 2,250. There were three friends in the factory. One of them died. The factory could not pay the wages. After that I had my PM in Tazimura, he made a factory named ‘Apex Spinning Garments Ltd’. He called me there as a Supervisor. I took the offer of Tk 3,000 salary and joined there. Through this I went into the knitting world in 1992. The factory was in Gazipur. I lived in a soil-made house by Tk 150 monthly rent. I brought my 2 brothers here. They used to study. When my salary stood at Tk 3,700, I got married. This was how my family life started. I took another room beside at Tk 200 rent.

The Apparel News: You were moving forward through a struggle and a strategy.

S.M. Robiul Alam: Yes. In that way I was working with attention and learning the works. Later, Kazi Anwar, MP of Brahmanbaria, made a factory named ‘Oli Knitting’. I went there as ‘floor in-charge’. But when GM Mansur heard that I would leave, he told others to stop me so that I can’t go. At that time, the PM of that factory advised me that as I had been promoted and salary also hiked at Tk 6,500 so I should join the new place. After that, I joined the Oli Knitting. In this factory I had learnt many things like merchandising, booking and so on. I did well and I got a promotion. As the Managing Director loved me much I became victim of PM and leaving the job I joined the Pride Group as PM at Tk 13,000 salary. When I came to the Pride Group, the Managing Director made a factory at Savar and I was given the charge of PM there and I was able to promote the factory to 27-lines from the three-lines.

The Apparel News: How did relationship with Mondol Group happen?

S.M. Robiul Alam: Then the Mondol Group offered me. I joined as PM. In this way after a time, my salary stood at Tk 2,50,000. By this time I myself established a Buying House. I decided to leave my job and do business myself. I told the decision to the company. One day, Chairman Sir (Haji Abdul Majid Mondol) called me. He said, stay with us. If you want to do business, well. Let’s do jointly. Today I came here with the support of some of you. Then he made a factory of 5-lines. I promoted it to 45 lines.

I have been with Mondol Sir since 2000. I’m still very happy for being with the Mondol Group and Chairman Sir. There were two factories when I joined Mondol Group. One was 4-lines and the other was 6-lines. Now it is 300+ lines factory. At this stage, it is a mandatory for me to say something about our Chairman Sir Alhaj Abdul Majid Mondol MP. He taught us about the commitment and quality. No party can say till today that he/she will get only Tk 10 from Mondol Saheb. Honesty and Commitment is the key to his success. He is very clear about bank loan. The loan amount is very low. When repaying a loan, he took another. In this way, he is doing business with very transparency. I learned a lot from Sir. Mondol Sir has directed me about the production. Faroque Sir handled the marketing and I used to deal the production. I have been with Mondol Sir as his family member. I learned from him how to do business.

The Apparel News: Besides the business, is there any contribution to social activities?

S.M. Robiul Alam: Since I was an orphan, I have made an orphanage in my village. There are 67 orphans there. There are 4 teachers. My village home is situated at Kashiani upazila in Gopalganj district. Name of my village is ‘Tilsara’. The people of the village also have cooperation to this end. Tarail High School, where I studied, now I am the president of the school managing committee. I took the initiative to build a high school in my mother’s name. I have already got its permission. The name will be ‘Komola Begum Secondary School. I have bought 5 bighas of land for the school. I hope that we will be able to start the construction within next three months. I have good relations with my constitution’s MP Sheikh Selim. Every time I got his help in any social work. I already got many appreciation certificates from DC and UNO of Gopalganj for keeping myself involved in social activities. I have significant contribution to build a mosque in my neighborhood. By the by, my son is studying in Canada and daughters are studying here.

The Apparel News: You started life as a worker in the garment industry. Now how do you see the issue of raising the salary of workers?

S.M. Robiul Alam: I am a shareholder of Mondol Group. There are 50 thousand workers, employees in Mondol Group and there are more than four thousand workers in my owned area. I know how the workers live their lives. I’m from there. I worked as a worker and employee at every level of the factory. So I understand the pain and happiness of the workers. Workers’ wages must be increased so that they can take fish and meat at least two days in a week. We have to give them honour and due honorium so that they can live with dream and dignity. So I will say that their salary definitely be increased. However, it should be within the capacity so that owners can survive. Clothing prices in the international market are now low. If the buyers increase price only by 10 cents, then it will be very possible for us to increase salary in a minimum standard level.

The Apparel News: Do you have something to say to those who are doing or desire to do garment business?

S.M. Robiul Alam: If you want to be established in a garment business, then I will say that the owners will have to take training first. How to make good production; how good prices are available from buyers. One will have to understand good marketing. Then the business can be made well. Many owners themselves do not understand business. They depend entirely on the employees. For this reason, many are unable to establish their business. Consequently, the factory becomes closed, owners become bankrupts. That’s why I’ll tell you that the owners will have to take training first.

It has been found that in the past by selling a piece of land one bought machines, set up factory. If he was a lucky man, was able to manage a skilled officer. The company established. But now the situation has changed. Competition increased; many new technologies have come; higher educated people are coming in the sector. So now we cannot do business without knowing the affairs.

The Apparel News: Say something about the upcoming challenges and prospects of the garment sector in Bangladesh.

S.M. Robiul Alam: Some circles, some domestic and foreign conspiracy, some politics want to drag this sector. But the time has changed. Bangladesh is improving fast. Specially, when the metro rail, flyovers, Padma Bridge will be completed, readymade garment industry will also get the benefit. I have seen in different countries of the world, there are no industrial factories inside the city. We also have to go to a specific place. The government has already taken its initiative in this regard. Another thing is - we have to be liberal about paying taxes. Will have to be accustomed to tax culture. The government will also have to pay attention to the proper use of tax money. The second generation, however, is very aware of these things. Another thing to keep in mind that it is better to not find other person’s fault. Then you will see that the country will be developed automatically. The government will have to frame infrastructure for the business. I am firmly hopeful that Bangladesh will be able to achieve the First place from the second place in ready-made garment exports in the world. A challenge is there in automation for the employment. But there is no alternative to survival in the competition with the outside world. It is very difficult to survive at the present price level. So now we have to bring sophisticated machines. I saw in China that an employee running 4 circular knitting machines. But in Bangladesh if you give the worker two machines they will say ‘no’. If one can run 4 machines, then doubling his salary is no more loss.

Another thing is that I saw in abroad, there is no difference among the owner, worker, supervisor in work place. Everyone is boss, everyone is owner, everyone is worker. But we can see here that GM, PM, Floor In-charge, APM, Line Chief, Supervisor, etc. Here I will call GM. GM will say to PM. In this way, the action of the order or decision becomes weak. That’s why the work is delayed.

Lack of skilled operators also an important issue. For this, the importance of training for the workers should be given importance. 15/16 trained operators are coming out every month by training in my factory. We are also creating Management Leaders with Management Training. BBA, MBA passed people are given the training.

The Apparel News: Say briefly about Mondol Group.

S.M. Robiul Alam: There are 50 thousand people working in the Mondol Group. This means that Mondol Group has made the way for the lives and livelihood for at least 2.5 lakh people of Bangladesh. Our Chairman Sir always say - Worker’s salary will be paid before drying their sweat. Payments are made between 5 and 7 dates of the month. The workers are very happy here. There are many workers who have been with Mondol Group since 1991. Auto increment, maternity leave is 6 months, earned leave benefit for everybody. We give additional benefits than the mentioned benefit in Labour law and BGMEA guidelines. There is no labour unrest in Mondol Group’s history. Our Chairman Alhaj Abdul Majid Mondol MP (Sirajganj-5) is a very honest and good man. He is very generous. I worked as an officer at his company. From there he has made me the director/owner of the company - this is the biggest example of his generosity.