No company can be bigger than its customers

Named after the late 18th century European chemist Lewis Berger, Berger Paints is on a never-ending quest to create innovative products.

The brand has become synonymous with paint for the masses as the company continues to grow with thousands of employees worldwide.

But according to Berger Paints Bangladesh’s Managing Director Rupali Chowdhury, a company can never be bigger than its customers.

“Even though we keep growing, the consumers should never feel that we’ve outgrown them. We should always remain humble and help them to solve their problems,” she said.

Chowdhury, who has been the managing director of the country’s biggest paint brand since 2008, shared her thoughts during the third episode of The Daily Star’s The Chief Executive Show powered by Marico.

Having joined the Kolkata-based company in 1990 as planning manager, Chowdhury achieved one success after the other as Berger continues to flourish under her strategic leadership.

“When you are growing, you have to make sure that the organisational structure is free from bureaucratic red-tap,” she said.

Since Berger aims to delight its customers with excellent products and services, the company aims to meet its consumers’ needs within the fastest possible time.

Chowdhury also believes that companies must be diversified in core areas while expanding or branching out their operations.

Berger noticed that at the time of painting, defects of a building get detected. So the company thought of how to solve the problem beforehand.

This led to the formation of a joint venture in 2018 with the UK’s Fosroc International — the world’s leading construction chemical manufacturer.

Berger also initiated separate joint ventures with Sweden’s Becker Industrial Coatings Holding to offer coil coating for its consumers and Japan’s Chugoku Marine Paints to become the country’s first marine related paint manufacturer.

“To improve your business, you need to consider the path that’s related to the needs of the consumers you’re presently serving,” she added.

Chowdhury went on to say that when a business grows as per the needs of its consumers, aligning the organisation with its goals is a difficult task.

“Results must be delivered — not in terms of just numbers but in behaviour, consumer delight, product satisfaction, innovation and everything,” she said.

Chowdhury also holds several other notable positions, such as managing director of Jenson & Nicholson (Bangladesh), director of Berger Becker Bangladesh and director of SMC Enterprise.

She shared some tips on the art of negotiation from her experience of working with partner companies in three foreign nations, various governments and stakeholders.

“There must be trust between two parties and as a leader you have to gain the trust so that the stakeholders can be assured of future bonding, transparency and free-flow of information,” Chowdhury said.

As managing director of Berger Paints Bangladesh, Chowdhury mainly needs to deal with three nationals — Swedish, British and Japanese.

Culture is very important while negotiating with foreign countries, she said.

“Before negotiating, knowing the fundamentals like strengths, weaknesses, market size and investment is important,” she said, adding that compromises may be necessary when there are intangible benefits to be gained.

“Whatever you want to achieve, you have to say it loud and clear.”

Berger holds 48 per cent share of the country’s painting and coating industry, which is valued at Tk 4,000 crore. Still though, the company is on a mission to increase its turnover by 100 per cent every five years.

Chowdhury believes equal importance should be given to all functions of an organisation.

“Sales and marketing are the frontline of a company but no function is less than others. It all depends on making time-befitting initiatives,” she said, adding that cross functional change is important for everyone to get a fair idea of the job.

With net sales of around Tk 1,882 crore, Berger achieved 6.13 per cent growth in its sales volume for the year that ended on March 31, 2020. Even though Berger now faces its most unprecedented economic stalemate due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this is a test for its leaders.

Berger has its retained earnings and not mandatorily has to rely on day-to-day cash flow. So Chowdhury is more concerned about making strategies for the mid and long terms.

She said the company assured around a thousand of its employees that there would be no job cuts. They also provided financial aid to the painters and safety gears for all.

“There was no business, but we were looking at the channel members. If they remain healthy and alive, then comes the question of business,” she said.

And within two months, Berger managed to find a way to advance.

“By June, we’d created the operating protocol and even though uncertain demand was forecasted, we got a strong hold of it,” Chowdhury added.

Amid the Covid-19 fallout, she was not just concerned for Berger but for the industry as a whole in her capacity as the president of Bangladesh Paint Manufacturer’s Association.

“We’ve assured the government that large companies like us can survive but the question was of supporting medium and small companies who are struggling,” she said.

“Not only those manufacturers, dealers are also struggling and these are bigger issues that needed the attention rather than my own company,” she added.

Even though Chowdhury is leading several companies and organisations, her journey to the premier position was not planned during her youth.

She graduated with a degree in chemistry from Chittagong University and had no idea about business until she got admitted in the IBA of the University of Dhaka.

“That was the turning point. I wanted to become financially independent and completing your MBA means you are up for joining a commercial organisation,” she said.

Her biggest career boost came from Ciba Geigy (Bangladesh), a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical and chemical company, where she worked in planning information control and product management for six years.

In 1990, she joined Berger in Chattogram as planning manager.

“After becoming the director of operations, I naturally thought about whether I could lead the company or not. And after becoming managing director, I realised that it is just another job,” she said.

To Chowdhury, having ambitious dreams is good but the important part is whether someone is really enjoying the job he or she is in.

“Passion and profession cannot be aligned all the time. One must enjoy the job, become more knowledgeable than others, be patient, fearless and honest. Then see what life gives you,” she added.

She also had some wise words for newcomers to the corporate world.

“If you’ve become very incompatible with your boss, remember: you cannot change the boss, you have to change the job,” she said.

Knowledge is as important as IQ, adaptability and interaction but for mid-level officials, leadership skills are vital.

She also thinks that every organisation must have a succession plan based on a transparent structure of meritocracy.

“There must be a measurable system of creating future leaders. When a managing director retires, there must be a pipeline to take over the job,” she said.

As she does not believe in ‘cult’ or ‘guru’ ideals, she believes in forming some bonds while working in a team.

To her, the strongest attribute of a chief executive of a company is their ‘love for the job’ and fearlessness.

“Every morning, I enjoy going to the office and that’s my passion,” Chowdhury said. 



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