“Feel good about what you do.” These are the words Asma ul Roxana Sylvia, the COO of Kazi & Kazi Tea Estate Ltd and the Head of PR of Gemcon Group lives by who learned from her father that you should never obsess over money and position. If you prioritize excellence and work hard enough, money and position will follow you. We talked to her about her love for branding. Read into what she had to say.
1. Could you tell us a bit about your educational background?
I studied BBA from North South Univeristy, something that my dad didn’t want me to pursue. I come from a family of doctors and my father always wanted to have a family clinic. But I was never into it, so one day I asked my mom to lend me 10 thousand taka and got admitted in NSU. When I told my dad that I got admitted to NSU and that medical never interested me, he was so upset that he didn’t speak to me for 6 months.
2. How did you get into the corporate setting?
You know what’s funny? I never wanted to be a corporate person. I think being a shy person made me feel that way. When I first took an Economics course I got help from my dad who taught me demand and supply in relation to real-life business scenarios. He would bring in cases and I would have to work on them very strictly, which taught me a disciplined way of living. For my internship, I walked from NSU (which used to be in Banani back then) to ABC tower and met the sales director of Scan Cement without an appointment and asked for an internship opportunity. Coincidentally, a woman in the Marketing department was pregnant at the time and they needed someone which helped me in landing the job. I got to manage the department and work very hands-on. They then offered me a job which then took my journey of 5 years there from being an intern to ending as an assistant brand manager. It was a great experience because I was a part of merging-acquisition at the time. I learned branding, sales and distribution from the very root, which was incredible and helped me understand how brands work. The experience gathered from there taught me the art of establishing a brand and how it becomes your baby. You nurture it and every decision you take either effects positively or has a backlash. And right now I feel that branding is a board room strategy. Because the owner of a brand has to have a vision which drives the brand.
3. How did your journey at Gemcon start?
When I left the company, my father had had an accident which he did not survive and it was quite a difficult time. I suddenly took upon the role of my father which led me to switch my job. I then got the chance to work at Radisson as a PR manager. I gave an interview and a written exam and got my confirmation on the same day! I worked there for one and a half years and felt the need to switch because I’m from a corporate background and hotels being a service industry, I felt wasn’t entirely satisfying me. I left the work and basically became a housewife at the time and I was exploring the flower business. One day I do want that, you know? A flower shop with a book corner and maybe some tea. I then got a call from ex-Head of HR in Scan Cement who had joined Gemcon to ask me if I was interested in joining as a PR Manager. I was initially hesitant about going into a local company, having a multi-national background. Speaking to the director completely blew me away when he shared his vision with me and I decided to give it a shot.
4. Can you run us through your work there?
I absolutely loved my work there. As a PR Manager, I was responsible for creating the brand; I created the logo, handled the communication. The first three months were a roller-coaster as a lot of work went into establishing the corporate structure. The company was growing and so it was a lot to take in and that’s why I had such a good time. I got to implement my ideas and that is why I’m eternally grateful to my director. They then told me to look into Meena Herbal and KK Tea was also under my portfolio but I was only looking after the branding part. After 3 years my boss wanted to talk to me about my career planning. They told me that I could work as the head of PR eventually and they liked my leadership and said that I could get into the operations and lead the company and I was really willing to do that. And that is how I joined KK Tea and took over the operations. I learned the accounts, the production process, legal and supply chain. I could do it all because I was genuinely enjoying it.
5. How did your interest in packaging come to life?
I had to travel a lot which helped me experience the global market in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, UK, USA, Europe and attended many tea exhibitions. I fell in love with packaging and got into that. I established categories; how when you see green tea you think of this brand. When I went to Sri lanka, Nepal and India I saw how people used tea as a gift item and I realized that was something to tap into. I don’t use plastic, I use jute, bamboo and even Jamdani for the packaging of the product. My boss wanted it to be a premium brand with a local feel and I’m so glad that I was able to create that brand. I always pick out packets I like because it’s a very important aspect of FMCG and I love experimenting with it.
6. How is your work-life balance?
My husband and mother-in-law are incredibly supportive and that helps me in doing it all. I honestly believe that you can compartmentalize work and personal life and make it all work.
7. What challenges have you faced so far?
A lady has to work harder than a man. In a board room, majority people are men. I’ve had to prove myself thrice as much as a man. There’s always negativity towards me doing well as a woman. And so I feel that women need to be bold and strong about principles. My work itself was very demanding which was a lot of struggle but I loved every bit of it. I always say that there’s a thin line between a satisfied employee and an involved employee and a company needs the latter because they will engage themselves in the work they do. Not only did I become that, I established it within my team.
8. What is something you love to do besides your work?
I got chosen for a women’s entrepreneur program where 10 women got Australian government-funded scholarship. We traveled the whole country and met female entrepreneurs there. And I saw how we all had the same challenges and it was just great to see how they were doing it all. And this is why I love traveling. My dad taught me about traveling for the experience and not for the shopping. And so traveling is an activity I absolutely love.
9. What would you like to tell younger employees?
I see the young people running for money really easily and that impulse isn’t necessarily good. I say choose your boss, don’t choose the company. You need the right mentor. And if you have a great boss, make the most of it. They need to focus more on the learning and less on the money. And make sure that you’re always involved. Work hard, travel when you can because life is short, you need to de-stress.