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Nazmul Karim Chowdhury on Branding, Culture and Priorities

Nazmul Karim Chowdhury is a firm believer in having the perfect mentor in your life. Being an expert at turning an unloved brand into a beloved brand, he believes that everyone finds their own space, regardless of their academic result. Your space is where you shine.

 

Tell us a bit about your childhood.


I was born and brought up in Chattogram and completed my education up to undergrad over there. I went to a school governed by the missionaries called St. Mary’s School, and completed my high school in Chittagong Collegiate School. Afterwards, I finished my HSC from Govt. Commerce College and went on to study BBA in Marketing in Chittagong University. As an 80s kid, I grew up in a Moholla like environment and we obviously had certain restrictions. We lived in a neighborhood closer to the school which had people from different religions. Through that I found a lot of friends from different religions which I believe has helped me develop a secular mindset in my formative years. Celebrations like Pohela Boishakh which is very much part of our deshi identity were different in the places where I lived. It used to be treated as a cultural reunion. We grew up in quite a disciplined manner and I believe that although we were from a middle-class background with less abundance, we had a much happier childhood than the kids today.

“The reason my parents were hell-bent about me getting a public education, is because it’s an extraordinary privilege to receive public education which is exceptionally subsidized and almost free of cost and funded by the tax paid by the citizens of the country, which is why we must give back to the society.”

And throughout my education, I’ve learned three things that I have kept close to heart – I learned how to always have an open mind, I learned how extensively important grooming is and I learned how to enjoy the little things in life.


How did your professional career start?


After I finished my BBA, I came to Dhaka with a plan to do my GMAT where if I scored well enough, I knew I’d get a scholarship. I didn’t want to leave Dhaka, seeing how the economy was booming. I only applied to one job, which was the MT position at Bitopi and I made it. It was a completely life-changing experience for me. Their MT structure is incredibly well designed and so I improved a lot through the program. I worked with brands like-RahimAfrooz, DJuice, HSBC, Asian Paints. Working with them helped me learn the basics of advertising. It was during that time when I applied for my MBA and got accepted into Birmingham City University in 2005. During my work placement period, I got to work for Givenchy for the launch of a line for senior citizens in the West of England. My MBA experience truly changed me because it taught me a lot of life skills as well as cultural differences.
I came back in 2007, upon my mother’s request. Once back, I got the chance to work as Director, Client Service at Unitrend Limited and worked there for a year and then moved to Mediacomm as the Head of Client Services, I got to launch so many programs and campaigns for different brands, it’s something that I’m incredibly proud of! At that time, I had worked on the marketing campaigns on numerous Square Toiletries Brands. I would say that I gave it the initial shape that it eventually wore.

“I wasn’t part of the top 20 students of my high school batch, but I believe that academic results don’t endorse what you eventually become!”




How did you move to the banking industry?

I was headhunted in 2009 and asked to work for The City Bank as American Express had partnered with them to enter into the country and were looking for a Head of Brand with both local and global marketing campaign experience, coupled with an advanced level marketing degree from abroad with solid brand-building expertise. It seemed like the perfect fit. I believe hiring is a two-way process. Anyone can come and work for you but when you give your employee your vision, that’s when you get the ultimate best out of them. The way they showcased themselves, I absolutely loved it and joined.


Tell us a bit about that journey.

I was sent to American Express Regional HQ in Singapore for intensive marketing communication and brand launch training and it was offered in their brand academy which is recognized as the most coveted school to learn the know-how of Fortune 500 company’s financial brand. We had to launch within two and half a month after I came back and as hard as it might be to believe, we had an excellent launch! It was a countrywide launch and we even had to work with seven-eight countries because all the tasks were delegated. So, we had American Express colleagues coming from all over the world and we were able to showcase our work really well and I’m truly grateful to the training I received for that. Not everyone is lucky enough to get that kind of exposure. My 10-year journey at The City Bank is honestly indescribable. When a local company gets supported by a Fortune 500 company, there’s no limit to how much you can transform and that’s why I was able to make a beloved brand out of an unloved brand. So, I feel my specialization is brand transformation, and I humbly say,


“if you don’t love your brand give it to me, I’ll transform it in such a way where you end up loving that brand”.


It’s so important that the right brand manager is chosen for a brand because you need to be able to translate the personality of the brand properly.


I’ve always firmly believed in gender diversity. I always had a good mixture of males and females as team members from diverse educational and work backgrounds. My team was extremely well-balanced. This balance helped balance the brand out as well. People would look at your work and say it looks nice. The look comes later, the first part is the user-friendliness or extraordinary brand experience. It takes a lot to get there and it wasn’t possible without a well-balanced team and the learning that I have received from American Express. Some of my memorable work for City Bank is the launch of Citytouch-internet banking, City Gem- Priority banking followed by Sapphire, Bangladesh Investment Summit and in fact each and every marketing initiatives from 2009-2018 which has made The City Bank brand to become one of the strongest financial brands in the country.

 




What are you focusing on with Prime Bank?


I have just begun a new journey with Prime Bank a few months back. In Prime Bank, I’m now working on to bring changes. Our bank is transforming and it will transform for the better. If you observe our social media stories, you’ll see that the conversation is changing, our offerings are becoming different, a few products got launched since I’ve been here. I am working collaboratively with the HR team because I emphasize a lot on hiring the right MT. Because you need to build the changes from inside and so you need to get the top kids joining us. They’re the ones who’ll drive the change. If you put all your energy into doing good things, you’ll take risks with your brand, do loads of experiments, you make it an everyday brand and it works. So, I have a plan to transform Prime Bank in two years. I want to give it an informal approach, which the entire industry lacks. I want the bank to be relevant to those who were with us when the bank started its journey in 1995 and who were born exactly on that year now – who we lovingly call millennials. It’s important to make the brand relevant to both groups of people.


Why do you believe in selling the brand during recruitment?


I brought you here because as we feel you’re good enough to be here. Then it becomes my responsibility to give you a good reason to join our organization. Money is never enough to get someone to work with you, you have to give them a vision that is achievable. I try to create an environment where life becomes quite experimental, fluid and at the end result-oriented.

 

You seem to be really interested in culture and society, where does that stem from?

One person who has truly changed the perspective of my life is my aunt, my uncle’s wife who is from France. I shared a great deal of my time with her while doing my MBA in the UK.

“I believe that my love for culture and my grooming came from my aunt”

She taught me the difference between the salad-fork and a fish-fork, she taught me how to appreciate coffee and pair cheese with the right drink, and I traveled a lot with her. What I have learned from her is to nurture the essence of liberal arts, I wish I had learned in school. It really opens up so many more windows for the mind.







How would you characterize your life?


I think I have many lives. I’m a full-time marketer in a bank. I am a proud father of two young children and a below-average husband of an extremely supportive wife. I’m doing my PhD in IBA, Dhaka University on “the role of YouTube as emerging consumer socialization agents of teenagers” and it’s a huge commitment. I’ve been teaching at AIUB MBA evening programs as an adjunct faculty for more than seven years and frequently contribute to Brac University as a guest faculty. As a passionate AdTech, Design Thinking and Fintech enthusiast, I frequently write and speak in panels in both Bangladesh and abroad. Being a true coffee lover, I go to coffee trailing and trainings whenever I travel abroad and I want to eventually have an experimental café of my own. I am a certified Barista and got my Barista certification in 2017 form North End Coffee Roasters academy.

 

 

 

You. Yes, you.
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