The Lord of Business Art: Masud Khan

Cover Story of September 2021 Issue-The Lord of Business Art-Masud Khan-Chairman-Unilever Consumer Care Ltd.

Masud Khan

Chairman
Unilever Consumer Care Ltd

Independent Director
Berger Paints Bangladesh Ltd
Singer Bangladesh Ltd
Community Bank Ltd
Viyellatex Ltd

Chief Adviser
Crown Cement Group of Companies

Some of us spend our entire lives chasing our true purpose, but what if a person determines the purpose of his life and lives accordingly! It is definitely desirable for everyone, but not all of us want to work in that dimension. Now close your eyes and try to see – a little boy is running in the country roads of a small village Chunati – could the villagers even imagine that one day their son would defeat the height of the sky in the context of honor! He is a wayfarer, who is walking on the path of the world to discover himself. Sometimes the route was Chunati – India – UK, and sometimes he ignored the world map. Yes! We are talking about Mr. Masud Khan. He is an aesthetically ingenious financial architect and the mastermind of business. So it is pretty perceptive to denominate him as ‘The Lord of Business Art’ by The InCAP.

Masud Khan was born in a remote village in Chittagong named Chunati, but raised in the heart of India. He is a successful individual with a fulgent and happy upbringing. He is a free thinker and bright person since his early days. He savored every minute of his life, from the first time he rode a bicycle till the last book he read. He filled his boyhood days performing outdoor games and wandering around the city of Kolkata. He has that craving to discover the culture, music, and realm.

Masud Khan is a tranquil warrior. Despite different challenges, he saw his supreme potentiality in his professional and personal life. He was a rambunctious child who was always eager to learn, win, and celebrate. He was one of West Bengal’s top students in the Senior Cambridge Exams, received a scholarship from the Government of India, and was accepted into St. Xavier’s College. Mr. Khan was awarded Merit Scholarship by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) in recognition of the 1st rank in the eastern region. He received the Letter of Appreciation from BAT Group to significantly reduce Monrovia Tobacco Corporation’s tax liability, Liberia, from 1 million USD to USD 10k when he was working as Finance Chief. He was consistently rated as an outstanding or performance exceeding expectations in both BAT and Lafarge. He has been ranked as a top-rated teacher in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh for ages.

Mr. Khan is a seasoned professional with above 40 years of work experience in leading multinational companies, of which 20 years are at senior management level and 20 years as a senior director at board level. Over the years, he has earned respect in business and professional circles with a strong network with leading MNCs in Bangladesh and the highest level of government and regulators. This has earned him the position of Chairman of Unilever Consumer Care Limited and Independent Director in two leading MNCs, a local bank and a local conglomerate. He has consistently been a high achiever and has delivered results under challenging circumstances. This has been possible by developing people to their full potential, maintaining high standards of integrity and ethical standards, recognizing and rewarding people, and being a role model for employees and peers.

Mr. Masud Khan strongly believes in being fair and consistent when dealing with employees, earning the full trust and confidence of peers and subordinates, and creating a high-performing culture where employees are motivated to unleash their talents. Everyone knows he is an international asset now!

Dear beloved readers, do not skip any word of this exclusive interview because it’s unbelievably Precious.

The Lord of Business Art-Masud Khan-Chairman-Unilever Consumer Care Ltd-theincap

Cogitation of Work

The InCAP: We know, Unilever Consumer Care Limited is now part of Unilever’s group of companies and will continue to operate in Bangladesh as a subsidiary of Unilever, focusing on the consumer healthcare nutrition business. So would you please explain regarding this entire operation process!

Masud Khan: The principal activities of the Company include manufacturing and marketing of consumer healthcare products under the brand names, Horlicks, Boost, Maltova, and Glaxose D, which are now household names in Bangladesh. Like most well-run MNCs in Bangladesh, UCL operates on an asset-light strategy by outsourcing most of the manufacturing of its products through the third party by own purchase of raw materials and controlling the quality of the finished products in the third party through its own resources.

The core values of Unilever Group globally and indeed in UCL lie in harnessing its people’s power and investing heavily in people development. This devolves around the core levers of Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, and Pioneering. The company strongly believes in providing nutritional products at affordable prices for all classes of people with easy availability. It continues to invest heavily in brand building and top-of-the-class supply chain and trade marketing practices to stay ahead of the competition.

Counterfeit versions of many Unilever products have spread alarmingly in the market. What are the organizational initiatives in this regard?

This issue has been plaguing the Company for some years. It reached alarming proportions three years back with respect to Horlicks, our mother brand, due to illegal imports from the neighboring country. This matter has been brought under control after working closely with regulators. Very recently, the Company has seen in some markets look-alike brands of Glaxose D, another popular product. We have taken steps to file cases for infringement of copyrights and remain confident that this issue will also be resolved.

Mr. Khan, what is the role of an Accountant in an organization?

By “Accountant” I presume you are indicating the Chief Financial Officer, right?

Yes!

Okay. In most organizations, the CFO is typically the second man to the CEO. His functional skills span across Financial Reporting complying with International Accounting Standards, providing decision support to management by providing high-quality management information, treasury, risk management, taxation, and regulatory compliance.

In today’s world, especially in Bangladesh, the role of taxation and compliance has become critical in terms of cost optimization and enhancing or damaging the image of the company in terms of regulatory compliance.

Apart from his functional skills, his deep knowledge of all business processes relating to marketing and sales, production, logistics, etc. can contribute to adding value to the organization. And a proactive CFO can work wonders in an organization as a facilitator.

Many small and medium-sized enterprises have closed their operation in the last few years. Do you think this is an alarming message for Bangladesh? If so, what is the way out of this situation?

SME sector is now a critical adjunct of Bangladesh economy, contributing to 25% of the GDP and around 40% employment. Unfortunately, the sector has been struggling mainly due to lack of access to finance. This is mainly driven by the fact that they cannot afford to employ people to keep proper accounts.

They also cannot provide collaterals to take loans that commercial banks normally demand. With little access to organized financial markets, they resort to borrowing from microfinance institutions at a very high rate of interest rendering their business unviable at the outset.

Commercial banks are also unwilling to lend to SMEs since they are unable to provide collaterals or financial reporting meeting the requirement of banks. More importantly, banks like to lend to large corporates instead of lending to thousands of small firms, which increases their lending cost. The current regime of a maximum 9% rate cap fixed for lending by commercial banks has exacerbated this situation.

The way out is to develop specialized lending institutions to lend to SMEs. A credit guarantee scheme, which is very common in developed financial markets, would ease SME lending. There is also a crying need for capacity building by providing training to SMEs.

What is your specific advice to young entrepreneurs?

The ongoing COVID pandemic has opened up a vast swath of opportunities, especially in online business. Droves of young entrepreneurs are rushing to cash on to this opportunity. The problem I find with most young entrepreneurs today is that they want to become rich overnight. Doing business is like running a marathon race. One needs to pace himself, be patient, be prepared to face adversities in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, and doggedly stick to his game plan.

Last but not least, building trust is crucial. This can be garnered by living up to commitments made at the time of sale, selling quality products or services, and having a transparent refund policy. Building trust does not happen overnight but takes years by demonstrating through deeds and actions what one has committed.

It is also essential to understand the business model, especially whether consumers see this as a value-adding service or product. One often makes the mistake of getting sold in his idea that this is a great product without testing what the end consumer thinks.

Finally, having a sound financial plan is crucial, along with sources of finance. Often, an entrepreneur starts a business with his own resources but soon finds out that the working capital requirement has shot up since customers are not paying on time. He then looks for external finance but does not find any. Having no other recourse, he is compelled to shut his doors.

How business-friendly do you think Bangladesh is? What else do you think should be considered in order to be an entirely business-friendly country?

Globally, World Bank does an annual survey titled “Ease of doing business” that is considered an authoritative barometer on how much a country is business-friendly. In 2020, Bangladesh ranked at a low 168 out of 190. The neighboring country, India tops the list in South Asia, as 63rd as of 2020. Among South Asian countries, Bangladesh is ahead of only Afghanistan.

Businesses have to deal with problems of infrastructural shortfalls, the death of educated and skilled workers, and high tax rates. Barriers to competitive business include corruption and a limited scope of financing. There continues to be a high level of corruption to get government services, and weak judicial system makes it difficult to enforce contracts. There are sectors where it takes 28 licenses to start a business. If each license application is pending for one month at the specified office, it will take 28 months to start a business!

Unless this ranking improves dramatically in the next few years, Bangladesh will find it difficult to attract large levels of foreign investment. Vietnam has recently taken over the second spot from Bangladesh in garments exports. The country is attracting 15 times more FDI compared to Bangladesh since its ease of doing business is 70 out of 190!

What do you think are the fundamental differences between local and multinational companies?

I would like to summarize the following points highlighting the strength of MNCs compared to local companies.

Focus on Corporate Governance and Financial Performance

  • Strong Corporate Governance, especially the separation of ownership and management. MNCs use professional managers to run the business, whereas, in most local companies, owners are involved in day-to-day operations. In this environment, professional managers cannot develop. This normally results in business discontinuity, especially if the second generations do not have the requisite skill set.
  • Strong Financial Discipline
  • Asset Light Strategy
  • Strong Internal Controls
  • Laid down Business Processes, Policies, Procedures

HR

  • World-class selection and recruitment process
  • Best in class people and high pay
  • Enabling Work Environment and Strong Ethics
  • Strong Training and Development
  • World-class performance Appraisal / Incentive Schemes
  • Focus on performance culture

MNCs treat people as an investment, whereas locals, in general, treat this as a cost. MNCs employ less people but have a better skill set, whereas local companies employ more people with fewer skills.

Marketing and Sales / Supply Chain

  • Focus on customer Satisfaction and branding
  • Focus on differentiated products
  • End to end efficient Supply Chain  
  • Corporate Branding and Corporate Affairs

Use of IT

  • ERP
  • Customer Relations Management
  • Shared Services
  • Automating processes

Mr. Khan, if five (5) features are given the most important for the development of the local companies in Bangladesh, then which five features would you identify?

I would emphasize on the following:

  • Strong Corporate Governance, especially the separation of ownership and management.
  • Invest in hiring and retaining the best in class people and appropriately training them. It is the quality of people that separates world-class companies from the rest.
  • Invest in brand building and having differentiated products or services
  • Strong supply chain process
  • Having clearly laid down business policies and procedures incorporating internal sound controls and addressing the major business risks.

Bangladesh is losing around BDT 6,000 crore per year due to tax evasion. What is your comment on this?

I can write volumes on this topic but will try to summarise the key issues. In the first place, basic human nature is to avoid taxes, especially in third-world countries. This is mainly because, in the developed world, people get some services from the government against the taxes they pay; that is not the case in the developing world. Enforcement is also critical. If people think that they can get away by not paying taxes, they will try. However, if enforcement is strict, they will be careful.

Bangladesh has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios (9.3 percent) in the South Asian region. It is 23.1 percent in Nepal, 16.8 percent in India, and 11.0 percent in Pakistan. The big worry is that there is no specific direction on how to increase taxpayers. NBR estimates 4 crore potential taxpayers. The reality is that there are around 40 lakhs registered taxpayers, but around 22 lacs submit their tax returns.

Hence, the key to limiting tax evasion is strengthening enforcement. Introducing smart cards for citizens that can track their bank accounts that will ensure transparency in accounting records and tax returns. Field level jurisdiction of tax authorities needs to be expanded to widen the tax base and specific target set for roping in new taxpayers and ensuring tax returns are submitted and due taxes paid. 

At the same time, businesses and individuals need to be encouraged to pay taxes by lowering tax rates, limiting tax disallowances, simplifying tax and VAT regulations, and removing discriminatory regulations in income tax, such as Section 82C.

Are you satisfied with the economic development of Bangladesh in the last ten (10) years? Our readers expect your analytical opinion.

Bangladesh is a resilient country that has always hogged world news for natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Since independence in 1971, the fledgling nation has experienced and successfully overcome many natural calamities, including floods and cyclones, as well as economic crises such as the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

The South Asian riverine nation is on the frontline of the adversities of climate change and is home to one of the World’s largest refugee camps, housing more than 1 million Rohingya victims of genocide in Myanmar. However, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unforeseen challenge in terms of intensity and enormity. Despite a historic global recession, Bangladesh is one of only two ASEAN and South Asian economies – the other being Vietnam – to register positive growth in 2020. As per the spectator index, Bangladesh tops the world with the highest economic growth in the last 10 years. GDP expanded 188% in the last 10 years at current prices.

Bangladesh was touted as a basket case just after liberation. In 1971, Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy, contributing to 51% of GDP, followed by Service 41% and Industry at a meager 8%. Currently, the Service sector tops the contribution with 51%, followed by Industry 36% and Agriculture 13%.

The industrialization process started in the early 80s with the readymade garments industry but has rapidly expanded to other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, ICT, leather and footwear, steel, cement, power, FMCG, consumer durables, healthcare, and automobile. Bangladeshi private entrepreneurs are setting up industrial parks in Special Economic Zones, building large infrastructure projects, setting up LNG terminals.

What is fueling this growth? To my mind, the main drivers are:

• 160 million people with increasing purchasing power

• Rising affluence is leading to higher consumer spending

• High demographic dividend (~50% of population below 25 years)

• Strong Private Sector Investment

• Government Investment in Infrastructure 

• Vibrant SME (25% of GDP)

• Manual Labour (large informal sector employing around 50 million people)

The Achilles heel continues to be poor ease of doing business, weak education system, rising corruption, weak judiciary, and business-unfriendly tax systems. If these issues are addressed, double-digit GDP growth is a cinch.

What skills are required to negotiate in the corporate world successfully?

To my mind, the following are essential

  • Do your homework thoroughly on the issue.
  • Identify the outcome you want from the negotiation
  • Try to understand what is most important for the other party
  • Try to understand cultural issues. In the east, we spend a lot of time in pleasantries before going to the negotiation. In the west, it is an only business talk
  • Be prepared to give something to take something so that it is a win-win for both parties.

You have observed the business culture of Bangladesh for a pretty long time. How would you evaluate the existing business culture of Bangladesh?

Most of the corporations and huge companies that we see today in Bangladesh are a modern version of the East India Company, the largest and the most influential business organization throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The business hierarchy, structure, and corporate models have a few similarities with our contemporary organizational structures. Some refer to the company as the mother of all modern corporations in the continent.

Did you ever wonder why the office chairs of high-ranked officers have a towel over it? Interestingly, not to show any high status. The native Bengal and Indian officials used to use a lot of oil on their heads. As a result, the chairs used to become oily and sweaty. To prevent it, the British introduced towels over chairs, which remains a common practice in our country. Similarly, from our clothing sense to our organizational structures in our corporate culture, there are a lot of things that came from colonialism.

Although the term “corporate culture” only emerged in the early 90s, the concept of it dates as far back as the inception of offices. Bangladesh has seen two major types of office culture in its short lifespan: the relaxed government office and the fast-paced environment in the private sector. Recently however, we have also witnessed the emergence of an employee-friendly corporate culture, mostly in start-ups inspired by Silicon Valley.

In general, MNCs in Bangladesh have an informal though professional work culture where the Company gives emphasis on empowerment, responsibility, and accountability with a great deal of freedom. Creativity is encouraged. On the other hand, local companies and government departments/companies drive their employees by hierarchies and narrow focus on jobs and rules that stifle creativity and risk-taking. In MNCs, the focus is on jobs, whereas in locals, the focus is on how managers perceive them as opposed to their work.

Everyone has to go through different experiences in life. We want to know three (3) bitter experiences of your long working life.

First: It happened when I joined James Finlay Bangladesh based in Chittagong after qualifying as a Chartered as well as a Cost and Management Accountant. At that time, James Finlay was a replica of the East India Company. The Company entrusted me to take over responsibility from the outgoing Tea Accountant, who had served donkey’s years in the organization. I spent three miserable months doing nothing since the outgoing person made life difficult for me, after which I left the organization.

Second: It happened in Liberia, West Africa. The Finance Ministry detained me on a ridiculous charge of exporting tobacco to neighboring country Sierra Lion that was smuggled back to Liberia by some unscrupulous traders. They released me after our PR Agency intervened.

Third: When I was trying to change jobs after working in BAT for many years. I applied to a leading MNC for the post of CFO and was confident that they would select me for the post since my qualifications, experience, and past performance were ideal for the job. But, much to my chagrin, they did not select me.

Now it’s time to share five (5) pleasant experiences and memories of your professional life, although we know you have plenty of such occasions.

Just giving some from the top of my head. There are countless such occasions.

First:  Obtaining 2nd position at All India Level in the Chartered Accountancy examinations, covered in the self-portrait part of my story.

Second:  Getting my first job in Bangladesh Tobacco Company Limited (now BAT) at a mid-management level. At that time, BAT was the much sought-after MNC in Bangladesh for aspiring professionals in terms of both corporate culture and pay.

Third: Getting first-ever DSE, CSE, and BSEC approval for raising Initial Public Offering for a greenfield project in the year 2003. We raised a total of BDT 93 crore from the local market at a time when the highest IPO raised was BDT 5 crore.

Fourth: Getting first-ever Bangladesh Bank approval for repatriation of capital to an overseas subsidiary of a Bangladesh Company for amounts totaling 27m USD in equity and loans.

Fifth: Being appointed as Chairman of GSK and subsequently as Chairman of Unilever Consumer Care.

What was your first job and how much was your salary?

Covenanted Staff of James Finlay & Co Ltd (mid Management position)

Total Salary: BTD 6,112 per month.

Appointment Letter From James Finlay & Co. Limited
Date: 22 May 1979

Now I’m going to ask you an unfortunate question.
You know there is a massive incoherence in the professional-academic linkage in the Bangladeshi educational system. For example, a large number of students are studying business-related subjects, and yet the universities barely have any ties to the industry/corporate world. What’s your take on that?

There are 53 public universities and 103 private universities, 49 public polytechnic institutes, and 220 private polytechnic institutes. To start with, the raw material from schools is below standard for reasons explained earlier. Problems also relate to poor quality of teachers, poor quality of students, poorly designed curriculum and teaching methods, high teacher-student ratio, no understanding of what industry needs, industries not being aware of value addition that this partnership will bring, and universities not pitching their value-adding service to the industry.

There are major skill gaps in what industry needs and what universities teach. These mainly relate to sales and marketing, Supply Chain, Human Resource, Finance concepts of financial reporting, Income Tax, VAT, Information Technology in practice (mainly evolving techniques such as ERP, AI, Blockchain, RPA), Soft skills such as communication, presentation skills, report writing skills, business communication, business problem-solving skills, Business incubation, Startups and Entrepreneurship development among the many.

The current education system is producing millions of graduates, but there is no job. Statistics show that around 2.5 million students graduate every year, but about 3 to 4 lacs land up with jobs. In most cases, they end up doing jobs that are well below their educational standards and sometimes get the salary of a driver!

Before the pandemic, 39% of university graduates were unemployed. On the other hand, we are spending around 5b USD every year for foreigners working in Bangladesh. This is because our colleges and universities do not align their curriculum with business needs. In the west, most students from schools do not go for higher education but mostly get some vocational training and do skilled jobs or get self-employed.

Bangladeshi migrant workers earn less than workers from other countries for the same work just because of the low level of their skill. Moreover, the number of students in technical vocational education and training is low as many guardians are unwilling to send their children there, considering it is meant for academically weak students.

We need to give career guidance to school students to encourage them to go for some vocational training and become self-employed instead of the usual routine of going for higher education.

We see many success stories of university graduates who have gone back to agriculture or SME and done exceedingly well. Governments’ focus on the capacity building of startups is in the right direction. e.g., Startup Bangladesh. At the same time, the government needs to escalate public awareness of the importance of vocational training and skills development.

Appointment Letter From Bangladesh Tobacco Company Limited Date: 6 September 1979
Appointment Letter From Bangladesh Tobacco Company Limited
Date: 6 September 1979

Mr. Masud Khan, you’ve seen the corporate world with your extraordinarily talented and sentinel eyes. Professional people consider you as their leader and mentor. Because you’re the inspiration of thousands of hearts, say something to them.

The following mantras have worked like magic in my life that should hopeful resonate with my fellow professionals. One should hone these personal as well as professional traits in order to grow in their professional sphere.

  • Aim high – aspire to be CEO and Chairman of a leading Company and work hard.
  • Be a leader – have high standards of ethics and integrity, lead by example, give respect to earn respect, gain the trust of your peers and subordinates by giving genuine care and love and practicing what you preach, develop subordinates who are better than you, learn to articulate like a pro in both written and spoken communication.
  • Integrity and ethics, objectivity, professional competence, and due care, confidentially, and professional behavior are the hallmarks of a true professional.
  • Get a professional qualification.
  • Sell yourself in your professional life. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you must convince your bosses that you are and can deliver what you claim.
  • Network in professional and business circles.
  • Write articles and be visible in the press, electronic media, and social & professional media.
  • Gather relevant experience and leave your footprint behind in every job.
  • Remain positive.
  • Develop a high Emotional Intelligence.

The above are professional traits to be successful in your professional life. However, most of us fall into the trap of concentrating on these issues and forget the greater purpose of life, completely oblivious of our health, family, friends, relations, and the small pleasures of life. 

Hence, the following habits are equally, if not more important.

  • Health is wealth – good balance of sleep, food, and exercise.
  • Be happy with what you have.
  • Invest time with your family and friends.
  • Maintain a work-life balance. We work to live and not live to work. A job is not an end but a means to an end.
  • Learn from the cradle to the grave. Most people make the mistake of leaving aside their books after qualifying in their respective professional careers.
  • Time is money; every passing time brings you nearer to your grave. Invest wisely in time, keeping a balance of work, self-learning, socializing, family time, exercise, and sleep.

Self Portrait

Let’s go back to just a few days ago! How was your childhood? Your upbringing, studies are all centered on Kolkata (India); we want to know that peregrination.
At the same time, we would like to ask a relevant question, what was the reason behind your quest to becoming a professional accountant?

I would like to begin with a very interesting incident that happened in my life many years back in Calcutta when I was studying in Class 8 in Don Bosco School. I was required to select whether I would study in science or in the commerce stream. I chose commerce. I had heard from someone that there is a professional degree called “Chartered Accountancy” but it was almost impossible to pass. At that time, the all India pass rate was 2%.

However, if I could qualify, I could go places in my work life, and the sky would be the limit since I would join the select few. I decided to go for the near-impossible and qualify as a Chartered Accountant. A friend of my sister was a regular visitor to our house. One day she asked me what my plans for future study were. I told her that I had decided to go for the commerce stream and ultimately qualify as a Chartered Accountant. She looked at me for quite some time with a strange expression. Finally, she told me “Masud, I have seen many “SHATTERED ACCOUNTANTS” but I am yet to see a Chartered Accountant”!!!

Like most people, I really enjoyed the carefree days of my school life. Unlike most schools in Dhaka, Don Bosco School, Calcutta had big playgrounds where I spend a lot of time playing football, cricket, basketball, and hockey. No indoor games were spared, including table tennis, carom, chess, and badminton. The biggest thrill was to climb the walls of the school and pluck the guavas from the trees in the adjoining houses. Oh!! The taste of forbidden fruit was divine!! 

Life in those days was much simpler, but I believe far more fulfilling since we made the best use of whatever little life had to offer. A measly daily pocket money of twenty-five Indian paisa was enough to taste the delicacies of roadside “fuchka” and ice sherbet with an occasional foray to wayside “Italian restaurants”. We did not have the luxury of television, computers, or mobiles.

I vividly remember the first day when I learned how to ride a bicycle. I rented a cycle along with my friend who took me to a park. He told me to look straight and started pushing the bike. After some time, I realized that he was not holding the bike, and I was riding on my own. I still remember that heady feeling of exhilaration and excitement in riding carefree with the wind caressing my head. I am sure most of you had the same feeling when you first learned how to ride a bike.

Going to movie halls with friends or families was an experience we relished. Flying kites and having kite fights was a trendy game. Restaurants were few but devouring finger-licking kabab in “Nizams” was an unforgettable experience and still is when I visit Kolkata. However, my favorite pastime was reading books that transported me to the dizzying world of adventure, thrills, drama, and tales of hopelessness and triumph. On a day of soaring temperatures, I used to shiver reading a graphic scene of the central character braving a freezing snowstorm in the Arctic desert with the wind howling and shrieking, lancing through his thick clothing. It was impossible to put down a book without finishing it in one sitting.

One of my favorite pastimes was listening to old Hindi and Bengali songs. Radios were very popular thanks to the golden era of Hindi and Bengali songs from the 50s to 70s with rare gems that will surely remain immortal despite the ravages of time. Thanks to YouTube, these precious pearls have again come back with a bang to entertain today’s generations. During my youth, I must have memorized more than a thousand songs. I have now discovered an app called “Starmaker” where I now religiously record these old beauties.

My school results were good. I was one of the toppers in West Bengal in the Senior Cambridge Exams, won a merit scholarship from the Government of India, and had the privilege of getting admission in St Xaviers’ College, which was the best college and still is for studying commerce in Kolkata. Classes were held from 6 am until 9:30 am, and thereafter the students would be engaged in some work. Three years of college passed in a flash, and it was time to move on to my professional life. Thanks to my outstanding results in graduation, I got admission in October 1975 into the much sought after the accounting firm, Price Waterhouse in Kolkata, with the aim of breaking the jinx of “shattered accountant” and joining the Elite Club of Chartered Accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

Life was tough for articled students in those days. I started with a meager stipend of Rupees sixty that hardly compensated for the long hours of work. Traveling to my places of work was a grueling experience of jam-packed buses and trams. The first time I got into a private car was after passing my CA Intermediate Exams that incidentally coincides with the time when I bought my first TV. There were no calculators. We had to add up pages of handwritten ledger using mental math!

These days, the internet is a mine of information where a vast ocean of books and articles are available to students. We had to make do with very few professional books. During my article ship days, I traveled extensively all across India for audit work, including some exotic places such as Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Sikkim, Vishakhapatnam, Madhya Pradesh, just to name a few.

Along with my CA studies, I also got enrolled into the Institute of Cost and Works Accountant of India (ICWAI) and appeared for the Intermediate Group 1 of ICWAI in June 1976. I did very well in the first professional exam of my life that encouraged me to appear for Intermediate Group 2 of ICWAI six months later in December 1976 that I comfortably qualified in February 1977.

Five months flew, and the date of my first Intermediate CA exam approached in May 1977. The real reason for the abysmal All India low pass rate of 2% then dawned on me. There were 9 papers with minimum qualifying marks of 50%. If you failed to qualify in one paper, you had to reappear in all the papers.

No wonder that I approached the exam hall with a great deal of trepidation. My worst fears came true when I appeared for the first paper, which was Accounting 1. It was one of the most difficult papers in recent history and very lengthy. Call it baptism through fire!! All the examinees, including myself, came of the examination hall shell-shocked. I was convinced that I was about to join the rank of “shattered accountants” and almost decided to give up appearing for the rest of the exams. However, better sense prevailed with the thought that since I had worked so hard for the exams, I might as well appear for the remaining papers and try my luck. Thank God, the rest of the papers went pretty well.

In the following month of June 1977, I appeared for Intermediate Group 3 of ICWAI. The countdown began for my ICAI results in August 1977. Finally, the day of reckoning arrived. The “Statesman” newspaper would publish the results in the following morning. However, a friend told me that it would be possible to find out the results at around 10 pm the night before from the newspaper office.

The dreaded time arrived, and we started our journey. The dark scudding clouds added to the somber atmosphere, seemingly with an ill portend. We made the journey by tram in silence, occasionally broken by monosyllables.

Finally, we reached the newspaper office. It was like walking to the executioner’s gallows!! My friend went inside, and I waited with bated breath and my heart thudding painfully. After a long time that seemed liked eternity, he came out beaming and all excited and told me that he had qualified. My heart almost stopped beating when he did not mention anything about my fate, but I mustered my courage and asked him the dreaded question. He replied nonchalantly “tui o pass korechish” (you have also qualified). To this day, I still remember that feeling of excitement and relief upon hearing the news, especially after my harrowing experience in the first paper. My friend then went on to say that he has seen my enrolment number in two places, but he was unable to decipher what that meant.

I hardly slept that night. The next morning, at dawn, I went and bought the newspaper. My friend was right. My number was sitting at the top of the page along with two other numbers and was repeated at the bottom along with all numbers. I was counting the minutes when the CA Regional Institute office would open.

Finally, the time came, and I met the Secretary. I showed him my number and asked him what this meant. He replied that this was 2nd position at the All India Level. He then looked at me quizzically and asked me why. I replied woodenly that this was my number. He stared at me speechlessly for a long moment. My mind was numb. One part of me was telling me that this was a dream and soon I would get a rude awakening.

My reverie was broken when I felt the Secretary shaking my hand vigorously and congratulating me. It was no dream. It was real!! I had made it to the elite podium at All India Level. I still relive the euphoria and the glow in my heart. I felt I was walking in the clouds and being at the top of the world.

To top it all, I got 80% in Accounting Paper I (the difficult paper) and 100% in Accounting 2. Overall, I emerged with distinction marks of 71% with a merit scholarship from the Institute.

In the following month of September 1977, I qualified for Intermediate Group 3 of ICWAI (overall 63% in the Intermediate Examinations). In June 1978, I appeared for Final Groups 1 and 3 of ICWAI and again qualified. In November 1978, it was time for the Final Exams of ICAI. There were three groups with three papers in each group totaling nine papers. I had the option to appear for the three groups separately, but in that case, I would not get an All India rank. Because of my earlier rank, I had no choice but to have a go for all the three groups together. The last few months before the exams were an ordeal. I used to wonder whether there is anything else besides study in the life and when I would emerge from this nightmare. Finishing my CA final exams in November 1978 was a brief respite before I appeared for the final Group 2 of ICWAI in December 1978.

It was again waiting time for my final ICAI results, which came out in February 1979. I stood 23rd in India, which was a bit disappointing compared to my earlier result, but I had the consolation of getting this All India rank where about ten thousands of students had appeared. In March 1979, I qualified for my final group 2 in ICWAI (overall 61% in the Final Examinations) and finally ended my three-year journey of achieving Chartered and Cost Accounting qualifications.

Such is my life story of challenges and tribulations during my early years, leading to two professional qualifications. I never considered myself as a brilliant student. During my school and college life, I often used to struggle following the class lectures. However, these made sense after I studied on my own. Perhaps, the habit ingrained in me of trying to make things simple rebelled when the class teacher explained it in a complex manner. It was Allah’s mercy, sheer hard work, and determination to succeed that made me surmount this arduous journey.

Okay, now let ask you a typical question – was there a turning point in your life? There must have been some trigger for this consistency in success!

Many people ask the question about what was the turning point of my life. Upon introspection, I remember that I was an acute introvert in my school days. I used to envy the extroverts who were the doyen of their classmates. I then thought that I must do something in life that will make me stand out from the crowd. This tied up with my thought to go for Chartered Accountancy so that, should I qualify, I would be within a handful of people at all India level and be the subject of admiration. The rest is history, as narrated above.

Mr. Khan with his father Late Islam Khan

Mr. Khan, now it’s time to reminiscences of your parents.

During the days of our youth and indeed until this day, mothers play a vital role in the development of our children. During our days, mothers were relegated to household chores especially cooking from morning until night and looking after their children, while the fathers were the bread earners and, in a sense, were detached from their children.

My father settled in Calcutta in the year 1942 and, after partition, chose Pakistani nationality. Both my parents could not complete school. Therefore, it was their burning desire that their children should get the best of education and, above all, be good human beings.

Like many mothers, my mother was an extraordinary woman. Having been born and brought up in a remote village in Chittagong (adjacent to my village Chunati), it was a cultural shock when she had to settle in Calcutta immediately after her marriage. She was a determined and intelligent woman and quickly adapted to the new world that was diametrically opposite to her earlier one.

Her first objective was to ensure that her children get admitted to the best schools in Kolkata. At that time, admissions were very difficult, which happens with the best schools. Yet her indomitable spirit persevered and got our sisters admitted to a well-known convent school in Calcutta. Her main worry was regarding her two sons. At that time, we were studying in a small school. She made friends with one of the Anglo-Indian teachers in our sisters’ school who was well known to the principal of perhaps the best school for boys in Calcutta, Don Bosco School. To the amazement of all, both the brothers got admission in the mid-term in July!!

She used to spend the entire morning getting her children ready for school and thereafter plunge into cooking for the family. It was grueling hard work in those days where cooking was done using coal under extremely harsh conditions. After lunch, she would invariably step out of her house and embark on her favorite activity – window-shopping. During her time, she knew all the shopkeepers of Calcutta New Market. They would stop her, offer her tea and snacks, and chat with her. Whenever visitors went from East Pakistan (and now Bangladesh), my mother was their escort.

She was gifted with a high sense of wit and could easily make friends with anyone. She loved pets. We had successively parrots, myna, rabbit, and finally cats. I still remember my mother left her parrot with one of our friends when we left Calcutta for Chittagong during our vacation. The parrot died after three days, only uttering the words “amma amma”. My mother trained the last two cats, Dabbu and Rishi, named after the two heroes in the Hindi films, to use the bathroom. Rishi, in particular, was my favorite. In the three years I studied Chartered and Cost Accounting; he was by my side and hence graduated with me the two exams!!

When war broke out in 1965 between India and Pakistan, the Indian government refused our visa and ordered our family to leave India in three months. During this period, the Government imposed a restriction upon my father not to go beyond our locality. My father told my mother that we would now have to return to Pakistan. However, my mother was a fighter. She contacted a lawyer who was a friend of the family. He advised that we cannot file a case as aliens but could do so as Commonwealth citizens. The lawyer drafted the brief and asked my mother to go to Calcutta High Court, where he will meet her. The lawyer was late in coming, and she was sitting on a bench towards the back. At that time, a judge was proceeding. He noticed my mother sitting all alone and told his assistant to call my mother. He gently asked my mother the reason for her visit. She explained to him that she had come to file a case. The judge noted the brief and asked the assistant to file the case. Later, he told my mother that his daughter, who very closely resembled my mother, died a few months back. This case lingered in the High Court for years until the emergence of Bangladesh, after which the Indian government granted us visas.

In our village Chunati, whenever we came for vacation, people thronged my mother, asking for help. She never turned anyone away. She was very popular due to her sense of humor and friendliness. All the people who have come across her during her life still fondly remember her.

In the early part of September 2004, she developed a very rare form of blood cancer “Myelodis Plastic Syndrome” and died in a hospital bed in Calcutta on the 25th of October 2004. I can vividly remember those last few days when the entire family knew that she had months to live, and yet she was blissfully unaware. The pain still lingers in my mind. I remember my last embrace with her in Dhaka before she left for Calcutta.

My father hails from our village Chunati. My grandfather started doing business in Kolkata in the year 1938. In the year 1942, he brought my father to Kolkata and asked him to take over the small business of tea supply to restaurants. At that time, my father had not completed his schooling. He really struggled for the first few years in setting up the business since he did not have any capital. He got a lot of support from the wholesale tea sellers who admired his honesty and sincerity and had the utmost trust in him. From supplying tea in a bicycle to restaurants from our home, he rented a shop and gradually by dint of his hard work, he expanded the business by hiring many of our relations from the then East Pakistan. He married my mum from a remote village in Chittagong and immediately took her to Calcutta. Other than me, my elder brother and our four sisters were born in Calcutta.

During our school vacations, we used to come every year to our village. My father was an avid hunter, and after landing in Chunati, he would set forth the following day with his entourage of 15 to 20 people. In the days of my youth, Chunati and its outlying areas were densely forested, and wild birds, wild chicken, and deer where there is plenty for the asking. They used to camp in a forest and hunt for deer the following day. I accompanied him a few times, and the experience was surreal. After walking for 15 to 10km, we would take a break for lunch. I used to be so ravenous that I used to gorge down the food as if this was my last meal. The food was usually sticky rice and some dry chicken or meat within the sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf. The taste was simply divine. For appetizers, we often used to pluck “amloki” and other wild fruit in the forest. The hunting experience was also unique. The hunters would line up in the paths within the hills, at a distance from each other, hiding in the thick bushes. From the other side of the hills, there would be chasers who would shout and create a ruckus so that the deer would run towards the waiting hunters!!

My father spent almost his entire life in a foreign land, but his heart and mind was always with Chunati. He counted every day of his life in a foreign land when he will be back to his beloved place and be among the common people of Chunati, listen to their problems, and help them. When we had our school vacations in Kolkata, we used to go to our village with my father, carrying a huge number of suitcases all filled to the brim with gifts for the common people. How the village people treasured these gifts coming from a foreign land! This continued during his stay in Kolkata and intensified after he finally returned to Chunati in the year 2002.

Ask the common people of Chunati, how many people have served our beloved Chunati in the manner my father did. He spends whatever he earned for the poor not only in Chunati but also in outlying areas where he used to go during his hunting expeditions. Not a single day passed when Khan Manzil did not have a constant stream of people coming for help. No one went back with an empty hand. When there was flood in distant Manikpur and Chokoria, he rushed with a truckload of relief. 

Two years before his departure for the heavenly abode, he slipped in the bathroom and fractured his hip joint. Due to his old age, we could not have it operated on, rendering him fully bedridden. However, this did not dampen his indomitable spirit. His driver would carry him and put him in the front seat. He would go out to the bazaar, visit friends and ailing people.

How many institutions has he served in Chunati, Chunati Etimkhana, Chunati Madrasah, Chunati High School, Chunati Womens college, Chunati Mohila Madrasha. How many countless mosques and homes he helped to build. How many lives he has touched by giving help for medicare, food, clothing, marriage, etc. He donated books to schools and colleges, gave scholarships, and funded poor students, farmers, rickshaw pullers. The list goes on.

My father was like an angel in his behavior. He was so modest and unassuming, mixed freely with all. His innocent smiling face remains in our hearts.

In October 2017, he contracted a lung infection and finally succumbed to a hospital bed in Chittagong on the 15th of October at the ripe age of 98. At the time of his death, he hardly had any savings, having donated to social causes during his lifetime. We, his children, did not inherit anything from him other than the ancestral property in our village. What my parents have done is to raise fine and to care for human beings, and invested in giving the best of education for their children.

The children of Islam Khan are pledge bound to continue to set the noble example by our beloved father and mother and do everything as Sadkaye Zariya for our late parents.

Mr. Khan with his family

Mr. Khan, you are a man from Chunati village in Chittagong. What are your plans for the local people of that village?

After his return from Calcutta in the year 2002, my late father set up “Khan Foundation” that has over the years, spread its gamut of activities into education, construction of mosques, healthcare, income-generating activities, donation for the needy, and other social activities. It runs a charitable dispensary, provided cement to the Madrasah for construction of a three-storey building, to the High School for construction of Computer Lab and extension of the school building, to the Women’s Madrasah for office and extension of the college building, and to an Orphanage for construction of a two-storied building housing more than 60 orphans.

The Foundation has provided funds for the construction of a mosque in Chunati Munsef Bazar. It continues to regularly provide cement for the construction of mosques all around the village and adjoining areas. It awards scholarships to deserving and meritorious students in Women’s Madrasah, Madrasah, and High Schools. The Foundation gives books to deserving students in addition to other infrastructure work in the Women’s College. In addition, it regularly provides funds for the construction of houses for the underprivileged, sewing machine, and livestock for income-generating activities. During Ramadan and natural calamities, including during the ongoing Covid, the Foundation distributed rice and other essentials to the needy. 

The helping hand of the Foundation spread its wings beyond the boundaries of Chittagong to a village near Aziz Nagar, an area which is about 5km further along the Chittagong – Coxbazar Highway. This is an impoverished village where around 35 families have settled in a desolate area surrounded by hillocks. The Foundation constructed a Mosque and a Madrasah. In order to increase the income-generating activities, the Foundation donates saplings of papaya, guava, and mango trees every year and gave funds for livestock and sewing machines. 

The Foundation received a request from a remote location in “Gourosthan” which is located about 5km on the east of Chunati. This is a very impoverished area having a Madrasah and School; the buildings were made of mud houses that were in a ramshackle and dilapidated condition. The condition of the buildings was such that they would have collapsed any moment risking the lives of more than 1000 students. The Foundation constructed a two-storey building that now houses the Madrasah and High School. This has transformed the condition of the classrooms, and the students are extremely happy in their new environment.

For the past five years, the Foundation has been running an Eye Camp where more than 1000 people of our village and outlying areas receive primary eye care treatment. For critical patients, the Foundation has tied up with the Lions Eye Foundation for treatment in Chittagong Lions Eye Hospital at the Foundation’s cost. 

The Foundation is in the process of setting up a Female Orphanage, the first of its kind in Chittagong and indeed in Bangladesh. At the same time, we are also going to set up a Health Complex in the same vicinity that will cater for basic health care and eye clinic, allowing for cataract operations and other eye diseases. We are in the process of collaborating with a leading NGO in Bangladesh for our foray into this specialized area.

With his wife Suraiya Zannath, Lead FM and Governance Specialist World Bank

How do you explain your life so far? What is your life philosophy?

When I look back, I cannot thank Allah enough for where he has brought me in this life. At the most, my aspiration was to become a Chartered Accountant and land up at a high level in the finance ladder. What I have achieved now is beyond my wildest dreams. 

My philosophy in life is very simple. I have covered much of this in an earlier question giving my advice to budding professionals. 

Happiness lies in what you have and not hanker after more and more wealth that comes automatically if one works hard and is determined to succeed. 

The goals have to be set and pursued with dogged determination. I am a strong believer that a job or business is not the end but the means to an end. Invest time in your family and friends. Life is too short so enjoy while you can. 

Health is wealth. A healthy person remains cheerful and happy. On the other hand, when illness strikes us, we get morose and taciturn. When we are young, our health runs after us. When we get old, we run after our health and spend all our savings. 

We should learn from our cradle to the grave. It is precisely for this reason that Allah has said in the Holy Quran in sura “Alaq” read in the name of your Lord. In today’s world, people with knowledge are in huge demand.

The secret to being an outstanding leader in professional and personal life is to lead by example and earn the trust of your peers and subordinates by believing and displaying genuine care and affection. Make sure you give respect to earn respect. Be generous in your praise of subordinates and own their mistakes. 

Be generous in helping others in any way possible. This is the central message of the Holy Quran. True happiness awaits in this world in the pleasure of giving and seeing the happiness of the receivers. My parents have inculcated this habit in us, and our family is heavily investing time in social work. 

Above all, have complete faith in the Almighty and seek his help at every point of your life. Remember him in your good days and beseech his help during the troubled times. This is echoed in the fourth ayat of Sura Fatihah in the Holy Quran – “To thee we serve and to thee we ask for help”.

The InCAP: Please say something to our beloved readers!

We are living in an era that has become intensely competitive and materialistic. Professionals are running a rat race to outbid each other. At the same time, worldly materialistic pleasure has swamped us. Our eastern ways of family bonding, living our values, caring for our parents, friends, and families are inexorably giving way to the ways of the west. We are in a VUCA world, scared of what is going to happen next and trying to find solutions. 

In this situation, trying to practice the philosophy of life that I have explained above is a tall order. Yet, this is what we need to do to get happiness. Try to discover it in the small things of life, your children, your wife, your friends, and families, helping the needy, occasionally going out to eat with your family, reading good books, and sometimes indulging in a good movie with your family. Take an occasional trip to your village out from the madding crowd where the sky is blue, the birds are serenading, the woody is deep and lovely, the fields are green with birds of every color flitting about, and the gurgling waters of the streams sparkle like diamonds from the rays of the sun. Here, the fresh food is divine, and evenings are dotted with glowworms. As night approaches, the full moon bathes the entire landscape in a white canopy; you sleep like a log in the night, lulled by the sound of crickets, frogs, and the gecko. 

These are the simple pleasures of life that may keep you rejuvenated for a better tomorrow. We sometimes forget the simple pleasures of life since our professional needs and work predominates our very existence.

It is therefore befitting to conclude with the beautiful poem, “Leisure” by William Henry Davies partly reproduced below.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

The InCAP: Thank you so much, Sir. We are grateful for giving your valuable time.
Masud Khan: Such a pleasure for me. Thanks to all of you. All the best wishes for InCAP and The InCAP.

Keep your eyes on, Quick Chat with Mr. Masud Khan will be published soon.

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