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Nusrat Chowdhury (CHRO, Fortis Group) - Lifting Talents & Businesses

 

1. Please tell us something about yourself. (Your childhood, hobbies, academic background, personality)

Alhamdulillah, I am blessed to have had a wonderful childhood. Born & brought up in Dhaka city. Being my parents’ first born, adored and pampered grandchild on both my maternal and paternal side. My parents are always very friendly and caring with all their unconditional love and support. I have younger siblings who I’m proud of for being well established in their personal and professional lives.

Work experiences enhance your knowledge and help develop your career. Similarly the life experiences since childhood, especially the challenges and difficulties we all went through, help us build our personality. Your maturity grows as you deal with it more. While growing up, I had to undergo few ups and downs in family affairs and facing financial distress.  My mother is a very soft but strong lady. We grew up watching her maintain composure in the middle of chaos. She was always calm and patient and dealt with all adversity so graciously. That made us learn as well, though hard to follow always, I try.     

I studied in Bengali Medium Girls’ School & College, those were the institutions within the locality of our residence, as we used to live in Siddeshawri area during that time. We were the last batch of SSC in the year 2000, after which the GPA system started.  Our childhood was very simple with no mobile phones nor social media, not many options to demand for but we used to find little joys in everything. I miss those days. But I am blessed to have regular communication with my school friends, a girl’s gang of 6. When we are together, we go back to our school days and have as much fun as possible, that’s the best stress reliever!    

I obtained my degree in Bachelor of Business Administration from Manarat International University, and I’m currently studying for my master’s degree in Educational Development at BRAC University. Being an HR professional, while assessing people’s educational and personal capabilities, I found that there are still many gaps in our education system which need to be focused on. And from that curiously I am studying this subject and would like to contribute here in the near future.

I have travelled extensively around the globe as I enjoy learning about the history, heritage, culture of places along with people’s mindset and lifestyle. My trips are always very exciting. I once had the chance to climb 7000 feet up and down Mount Sinai in Egypt, which I did at night with the temperature being 0°C!

I love music a lot, and I have different playlists to go with my different moods. I am a little selective when making new friends but a strong bonding is created with the ones I can connect with intellectually and emotionally. I believe respect and care are the core of any relation. I love to encourage and motivate people around me in both my professional and personal life.

I was a member of my school’s Handball Team, the Runner-Up at an Inter-College Badminton Tournament, and the Intra-College Champion of Table Tennis. I was also interested in Basketball, Cricket, Tennis, Squash, Cycling and Horse-Riding. I would have pursued more but, unfortunately, there was not much scope for women in sports in Bangladesh. 


 

2. Tell us about your Career Journey and how you reach where you are today? 

Just after completing my BBA in 2008, I got an internship opportunity at Aktel telecommunications, which later got renamed as Robi. My career started from that point and over the last 12 years, I worked in different industries playing diversified roles. After I completed my internship in Aktel, I joined ICB Islamic Bank as HR executive and worked there almost for 2 years till the mid of 2010. 

I had a very accomplished 9-year tenure at BRAC EPL Stock brokerage ltd. There I started as Executive and by the time I left, I was heading several departments. If you ask me how?  I never narrow down my work area rather keep looking for more work scope in different segments. As I find myself maturing more, my thoughts and ideas are ahead of my time so from the very beginning  I got the opportunity to work with top management and some great mentors and their guidance was also there which helped me learn & grow.

I am always curious to learn and understand more about the product and business with whichever organization I worked. I try to connect with people without any judgment or bias, my focus is always to implement the best practices and contribute towards achieving the organizational goals and the growth of individuals around me.

Currently I am leading 8000 people as a CHRO (Chief Human Resource Officer), Fortis Group an RMG based company. This was the most challenging decision I took while accepting this work offer, as you know being a female at this young age leading such a position let alone in a RMG sector is not easy at all. As the famous Spider-Man phrase goes, “Great power comes with Great responsibility!” Ha-ha! But as I am working in Human Resources, I thought the RMG sector has to deal with large amounts of manpower and this sector has been a great contributor in GDP of Bangladesh, so I was very excited with this opportunity and had faith in my ability to make things happen. 

Here the journey continues, different challenges are there but while dealing with it, it feels very exciting and empowering. Apart from RMG, Fortis has other business wings in hospitality, textile, agro, sports and expanding more as a growing company. As a Group HR head, I have to expand and explore not only with manpower management but also HRM as a strategic business partner. Being able to create all these positive changes gives me the feeling of accomplishment.         

To reach this point, the journey was not easy, but what I achieved is my own hard work, knowledge and honesty, which earned me respect from everyone, people value me and respect me as a person , not only my position or authority, that is my biggest achievement I feel. As my mom always says, “ Be humble & build a personality as such that people will admire & respect you, not fear you or the position you hold, because fear is by force & its temporary but admiration & respect is permanent which will give you inner satisfaction & peace”.

 

3. Till now, you have played diversified roles in multiple organizations. What position and with which organization do you have the best memories?

Yes, I was able to benefit from diversified experiences so far. Different organizations have different cultures, environments, and people. So, I’m attached to all of them for various reasons as they’ve all given me so many memories. It’s really hard to say which one’s my favorite as I had good experiences working at all of them.

Since I work in HR, my job is to work with people. I try to be there for others and understand them, which automatically leads to bonding and building trust. There are people who are former colleagues but we’re still very much in contact while many are now like family-friends. Having a good relationship with the people you work with is very important, and if you are on good terms with them, all your work experiences get better, making amazing memories.


 

4. What is the one thing that you enjoy most about working in HR? Please share any of your favorite experiences.

The best part working in HR would be connecting with people. Starting from talent searching to training and development, the HR teams are always focused on people at their respective workplaces. Not just by the book or policy, to connect with people you have to listen to them , you have to understand them, while dealing with people this is really very important, and I love my responsibility to understand  individual issues and differences and help them out by focusing on the solution.

I also enjoy working with top management or business teams while adding value to the company’s goals,   improving the process or culture of the organization and when the result/impacts are visible, those are the best moments.

OK. Interesting experience which I can recall now is,  I remember a candidate came for an interview in Managerial position, where he shared some issues he facing with his current organization and I find him little distress, though he didn’t match with our vacant position requirement but I took few minutes of extra time and advise him few things, a month later I got an call from him and he sounds so happy and shared that he followed as I advise and able to solve the situation and thanking me again and again. That was really unexpected and I felt so good. Maybe that was the first and last meeting with him for a few minutes of time but knowing that I made some positive impact there, it’s a great feeling of satisfaction & joy.

 

5. What are the biggest challenges of working in HR in your opinion?

I would like to talk about two challenges.

One is when we recruit people, we want the best people for the job. Sometimes we’d get 2-3 amazing candidates when we can only hire 1, and it gets a little difficult to choose among them and say NO to others.

The other one is when we have to fire people, we have to ask people to leave in the least hurtful manner. It usually depends on the circumstances and the company’s rules and ideals, and sometimes we are forced to ask people to resign. I believe that the employee has a hand in it, as it is never done randomly and depends on his/her performance or behavioral pattern. Of course, they’re given warnings and chances to do better, but if the employees repeatedly neglect them, then we have no other choice than ask them to leave.  

 

6. How do you measure effectiveness of an HR function in terms of recruiting or hiring new employees?  

Hiring people is the core job of the HR team, and it defines the future of the company. The people we’ll be hiring today would be the leading faces for tomorrow. Companies should follow a very strong and modern process of recruitment. Starting from the manner of CV collection, how and who is conducting the interviews, if the applicants are undergoing full assessment, can the candidates actually fulfil their job responsibilities, no bias from the interviewer, proper lead time of hiring,  these factors need to be in consideration to measure the effectiveness of the recruitment process. 

 

 

7. What is the impact of this global pandemic on your industry? How did the pandemic affect you personally?

You know that I’m currently working with a RMG based industry. It’s a garments manufacturer, and you can see that we’re facing a very challenging time since the very beginning of the pandemic. All businesses were affected by the pandemic, some more than others, and our industry was directly affected by it, as we deal with the US and EU markets. As many of the orders are in hold from buyers end, many payments deferred, disruption in supply chain, everything seems to be in halt till circumstances are less hectic. So, it has become difficult for our business to grow.

Personally, just like everyone else, it hasn’t been a very good experience. We never faced anything like this before. The entire world seems to be under lockdown at the same time. But, I’m an optimist, I try to stay positive no matter what hurdles I’m facing in life. Just like it is being said everywhere lately, I believe our mental health is very important in dealing with the situation. So, I try my best to stay positive and patient. But, of course, I’m sorry for those who are most affected and lost their loved ones, no consolation would make them feel better. But still life goes on and we have to accept and adjust as the situation demands. 

Positive side of this Pandemic, I think everyone has got the time for self-evaluation, which is really important. People are finally paying attention to think about themselves, as well as the world, that they never did before. Before the pandemic I always used to think that everyone are in a race and rush, nobody even stopped to think about what they’re running after and why! Now it seems like the world has hit the pause button for us to reflect, rethink and recharge before we restart.  

 

8. What are the steps you have taken to mitigate the risk of employee burnout during this current situation? How are you taking care of the employees?

We took all the safety measures in all our office and factory premises and kept sharing and educating all our employees from time to time on how they should maintain personal hygiene and precaution. We discouraged the use of public transport to all our employees as we didn’t consider that to be safe. So, for all of them, we are providing pick-up and drop-off service. We try to provide it very close to their respective homes regularly. Also, we provide medical allowance if anyone or their family gets admitted in the hospital, we also provide moral support.

As you know businesses are badly affected, the sales and revenue are not certain, so we all are focusing to minimize the cost, and we had to start discussing the pros and cons of layoffs and pay-decrease, manpower reduction at the beginning of the pandemic. But we ended up not taking any such action till now especially considering the employees' distress and we didn’t want them to get into more stress than they were already being by the pandemic. But we don’t know how long we can stick with that if the business sustainability is at stake in the coming days. 

I must mention, the government initiative and support at the right time was really helpful and gave us some breathing space when we just hit by this pandemic and if the support continues and we all can work together then we can sustain the business and this industry in the long run, I believe. 

We had so many initiatives and projects to work on. Now, the goal is to survive and sustain until everything gets back to normal.

 

 

9. How are the employees ensuring their productivity by working from home?

We don’t really have much scope to work from home in our company as we are a production-based organization. We did it in the first month of the pandemic but eventually everyone had to come back to work. We are all well connected by different apps, video conference, texting, and email and responding promptly as required.  

In a few cases, when we see that employees need to work from home for area lockdown or need to stay in isolation, we let them do so. We’re trying to be as flexible as possible.

Moreover, working from home or coming into office, our employees are always actively working, and they don’t get the time to sit and overthink much about the situation. Most of them are just busy with work and ensuring productivity all through.

 

10. What would be your suggestions for the Young HR professionals?

You have to learn how to connect with people as you constantly have to communicate with people and understand their needs. There are already certain textbook policies and processes for you to follow but you have to practice listening to people and creating a safe space for people to trust you.

You yourself will need to have a positive mindset and observe people as it will help you to understand the culture and environment of your organization and exactly what they’re looking for. You will have to recognize the company mission and goal to align yourself with that.

The world is becoming digitalized by the minute, so the more you understand technology, the better it is for you and your company. You always have to be open to learning new things and integrating those into your work. Don’t ever limit yourself to just one role and your job area. You have to keep the spark of curiosity within yourself, as working in HR you have to deal with each individual of the organization and their job role. So you have to have a clear knowledge of all the departments and their purpose aligning with the business goal. Then you can constantly contribute for the betterment of the organization and the people.

 

11. What type of organizational changes do you think we might see in the future businesses due to this pandemic? 

What we are already seeing is that the way we communicate is not restricted anymore. An increasing number of apps are being used, which we are now more dependent on technology-based communication. It was going to happen eventually anyway; the pandemic just increased the rate and urgency. I think it is a good thing as slowly but surely no matter where we are, distance will no longer matter as everyone will be able to stay connected and work.

Also, I believe the pandemic is making organizations aware that anything can happen at any time. So, organizations would be more prepared for the next large-scale crisis and will be able to tackle it more effectively. Risk mitigation, Cost control, less number but efficient manpower and long term sustainability will be a part of business strategies.  This pandemic is teaching people to learn how to adapt to certain calamities and be patience to deal with it. People mindset more focusing on being empathetic, collaborative and supportive towards each other.

Many small enterprises are starting up, e-commerce will grow in large scale and everyone is thinking of multiple income sources, more investment will be made in essential products other than the luxury items. Government will revise the budget and policies in the healthcare sector.

 

12. Could you please tell us about the current opportunities in the HR Market and how the fresh graduates can get themselves prepared for the coming days?

Getting a job in the near future would become more difficult than usual as it is already complicated for organizations to sustain their business. Recruitment process would become more rigorous, and so fresh graduates will need to hone their skills to be better than the rest. Students need to start thinking outside the box and know how they can help the company to reach greater heights.

We are still getting resumes of good students graduating from the top universities in the country. But, only 2-3% of their CVs are appropriate. So, I guess graduates should learn how to make a proper CV as it’ll create their first impression. If they don’t even bother to make a good enough CV, the company would think that they are not eager to learn and may not shortlist them for the next phase.

Also, applicants should research on the organization that they’re applying to. Most of the candidates give memorized answers when asked about their future goals with no strategies or set goals. HR teams look for confident people with a clear vision about what they’d be doing in 2-5 years and how they’re planning on achieving it.

I’d suggest the graduating students to think with a clear & curious mind, understand their core strength and build a skill matching that, then set a goal and make a plan to achieve that. Must keep plan B & C as well, so that if plan A doesn’t work they will have a backup plan to move on without getting disappointed or wasting time! Always have to be positive & proactive.

Here, I would like to end by sharing one of my favorite quotes “Life is filled with different kinds of challenges one after another, you can play the victim or the warrior. Choice is yours”.

 

You. Yes, you.
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