The third generation Ahmed brothers of Elite Paint, recently recognized among 40 Superbrands of Bangladesh, sat with Colors Alvia Zaman Shristy and Lamyaa Yushra to discuss the challenges in the local paint industry and how they are carrying on the legacy of their family business.
PIONEERS OF PAINT
Elite Paint, established in the year marked by the 1952 Bangla Language Movement, has been the longest-running company in the game. Founded by late Serajuddin Ahmed, it has been taken over by the third generation. In conversation with Colors’ Alvia Zaman Shristy, Rabez Ahmed, Director at Elite Paint, reveals what it takes to keep the legacy and honor intact over the decades.
The Elite Establishment
Elite has been a leading company for over six decades now, having achieved Super Brand stature for the past two years in a row. This streak is a great achievement and milestone for them and everyone at the company continuously strives towards maintaining it, says Rabez Ahmed.
In 1952, Serajuddin Ahmed after having graduated from Salimullah College founded the country’s first paint company in Agrabad, Chattogram. His most active period had been the decade between 1975 and 1985, which he utilized to build his empire and give back to the community. Singlehandedly, he founded five other companies–Elite International Ltd, Karnaphuli Tanneries & Chemical Ltd., Elite Garments Industries Ltd., Elite Iron & Steel Industries Ltd., and Delite Knitting Co. Ltd. He also happened to have set up the country’s first private bank, AB Bank, as well as the first private general insurance company, Bangladesh General Insurance Company(BGIC).
As an act of service, he helped in the establishment of many Schools, Madrasas, and Orphanages. To promote football, he started Elite Paint Kishore Football League. And to promote arts and socio-cultural activities he started Bangladesh’s largest art competition for children. Late Serajuddin was known for his fairness and compassion towards the common people. His son and current Chairman Feroz Ahmed said the company is yet to face any labor unrest since its establishment. Feroz Ahmed fought hard to keep his father’s dream alive and made the company what it is today. He believes that although success is relative, one thing the entrepreneurs can guarantee is the goodwill of Elite Paint & Chemical Industries Ltd. in the Bangladeshi market. The motto of the company has always been “Never compromise on quality”. Now he’s looking forward to passing on the torch to his own children who are now on the board of directors of Elite Paint and Chemical Industries Limited (EPCIL).
The Third Generation Torch Bearers
Since 2016, the third generation of brothers –Rabez, Rahil, and Shajir– has taken over the helm of the company and they are in charge of all decision-making starting from the day-to-day activities to overall operations, marketing, and accounting.
Business-orientated families have a culture of living together and being more accommodating, Rabez mentions. Living under one roof helped create an unbreakable bond between him and his counterparts, something which enables them to continually stay in sync in their decision-making process. Dinner table conversations revolved around the struggle and success stories of their very own family members. There were plenty of role models present right at home to take inspiration from growing up, Rabez points out. From a very young age, they were able to gain powerful insight on how to effectively run a company and make decisions that benefit everyone and not a particular individual only. In turns, that instilled into Rabez Ahmed the very value his grandfather late Serajuddin highly regarded – the betterment of the community. Rabez Ahmed was born into this heritage on October 26, 1988. His parents Feroz and Salvana Ahmed later sent him to India at an early age to complete his O and A levels from The Doon School in Dehra Doon. Soon afterward he pursued his Bachelor of Business Studies Degree from the University of Bath in the UK. After having completed his degree, he now serves as the Director at not only one, but three companies: Elite Paint Chemical Industries Limited, FDN Energy Limited, and Ahmed Securities Services Limited. A sports enthusiast, following his grandfather’s footsteps, Rabez engages in multiple sports off duty.
Transforming into a Trusted Super Brand
Elite is known as “Ronger Raja” or the King of Paints, given that it has unbeatably been the best local paint brand since its establishment. Hence, at Elite Paint, they always hustle to keep their integrity intact. Over the years they have been nurturing a wide range of products totaling a striking 200 now. Their prime, fast-selling products are readily available in the market. They have specialized in order-based products which can be manufactured at the factories within short notice. Not only do they bring color to drab walls, but also manufacture all forms of protective paints which are being used nationwide.
They have successfully maintained cooperation with reputable clients like Bangabhaban, Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, Hotel Radisson Blu Water Garden, and Bay View, Balaka: Biman Bangladesh Airlines Headquarters. Alongside that, their enlisted corporate buyers include Bangladesh Navy, Western Marine, Chattogram, and Khulna Shipyard Ltd. With a wide range of products available in the market, they can easily cater to customers according to their allocated budget. After having served the country for over three generations, they are confident about positive market feedback. The brand lives on by their amity and strictly controlled quality maintenance, according to Rabez. Their quality is something that has not been tampered with from the very beginning. To ensure this, trusted foreign raw materials are used in the manufacture of their products.
Elite’s Lucky 7 premium quality enamel paint is both decorative and protective and it has been synonymous with “Rong” in Bangladeshi households ever since its release in 1964. They were also the first in Bangladesh to unveil Color Tinting System (Colorfest) as early as 1997. Currently, there are 1050+ vibrant colors available for customers to choose from. This trusty paint brand has worked itself into all sectors over its lifespan. From exterior and interior paint protection in buildings to that of vehicles and machines, you name it, Elite has it.
A company of many accolades, Elite produces Marelite and Marine paints to protect ships at sea. For the protection of cables and machines like transformers in other Super Brands like Energypac, “Insulating Paints” are used. “Bonntile” texture paint ensures more than 30 years of protection with aesthetic value to boot. The signature look of many prominent buildings is linked with their dependency on this unique product. The list includes Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon, Balaka, Biman Bangladesh Headquarters to name a few.
Major market shareholders of Elite Paint, however, are their plastic emulsion, distemper, weatherproof paint, and synthetic enamel. Whereas the Master coat, known to protect the exterior from all-weather, happens to be their best-selling product.
Obliterating the Obstacles
To follow their families’ footsteps and live up to their expectations and legacy has proven to be quite challenging. Naturally, the pressure has fallen upon them to reintroduce the Elite Paints to the upcoming generation and to keep them well-informed about their brand value at the same time.
Foreign brands are currently hoarding over 80 percent of the market, making it quite overcrowded. Since the band of brothers works in an extremely competitive market, they cannot afford to oscillate even for one moment in time. The market has been corrupted, in a lot of ways including but not limited to the watering down of paints, to the point that it has become a tough feat to hold onto the existing market shares as it becomes rather difficult to cope up with their market quotations. On observing the rise in real estate and seeing their potential, people are taking an interest in this field. At least 12 paint companies have popped up over the last five years. The arrival of Covid-19 brought along with it the halting of construction and cut down of overall renovations. Along with the rest of the world, quite evidently, it was hard-hitting for Elite who are reliant on foreign shipments and have accountability towards a mass of employees.
Although they are the oldest paint manufacturers in the country, they are adaptive in the face of adversity and more prone to make changes as they dim fit on the go. Staying in tune with the market demand is crucial, remarks Rabez. Elite Paint has an eminent IT department, the role of which is to dedicate their time on the lookout for up-and-coming trends in the industry. The quality barriers and parameters set post-production is rigorous in order to assure quality maintenance. Elite Paint has heavily invested and developed in the IT sector and is always on the toes for innovation and product development. It’s working towards making the factory automated slowly but surely. For dealing with the new normal Rabez had this to say: ‘The best way for us to adopt an equitable approach to ensure the best use of our resources for optimum manufacturing and supply in the pandemic situation, not just spending and stocking unnecessary raw materials.’
Elite Paint is leading through the crisis and setting an example for all industries by ensuring job security, financial security, and wellbeing of their employees and committing not to go for any cost curtail or manpower reduction in the near future. In order to come to community aid, they are manufacturing hand sanitizers on their factories’ premises and are donating them. Helping to address the crisis, Elite Paint has created several colorful hand-washing walls or points across the country free of cost for the general public to wash their hand. Elite has come up with a special service where their trained painters will be using cutting-edge tools to complete a painting job within one day for a 2BHK house.
The trio is ensuring that they put their best foot forward in order to take their company to a different height. Rabez intends to uphold the legacy, as well as protect and preserve the intricate business that has been handed down to him over two generations and a substantial period of time. He envisions his company becoming the market leader and putting a stronger foothold, then goes on to expand in the neighboring countries. For now, they are focusing on increasing their market shares and making new innovations to revolutionize Bangladesh along the way.
The Legacy of Three Generations
Elite Paint has been recognized among 40 brands as Superbrands of Bangladesh, a recognition which it has won twice in a row. Colors’LamyaaYushra got an insight into the brand from Elite Paint Director Shajir Ahmed.
There is an old saying “Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in three generations” meaning wealth hardly survives a family business past three generations. Though all the old proverbs deliver the same message in every book, it’s not necessarily true in the case of the third generation of late Serajuddin Ahmed who seemed to have broken the curse believed so strongly culturally. The director of Elite Paint, Shajir Ahmed, is the grandson of the late visionary businessman late Serajuddin Ahmed, who founded Elite Paint, the first paint manufacturing company in the country, in 1952.
“I have always wanted to take over the brand because we used to hear so many stories growing up, from our father about Elite Paint and our grandfather, his contribution to the family, and what an amazing leader he was,” said Shajir Ahmed. He added his grandfather opened not only Elite Paints but Elite Steel, Elite Garments, and Elite Tea. He was also the founder of AB Bank and Bangladesh General Insurance Company, both the first bank and the first insurance company in the private sector. “So, you know, it gave me so much pride to be a part of this family. It became my automatic responsibility from a very young age that this is where I have to work. I have to continue the brand of Elite Paint because this is our responsibility, I was born into this, I feel lucky and I feel blessed and that gives me all the motivation I need, to try and do the best that I possibly can.”
Poised to make their grandfather’s dream their own, the grandchildren of late Serajuddin Ahmed, Shajir Ahmed, Rabez Ahmed, and Rahil Ahmed are looking after Elite Paint and Chemical Industries as its directors to make Elite Paint the best in the industry.
Shajir Ahmed, the son of Salim Ahmed, joined the family business in 2010. Born and raised in Chattogram, he went to Little Jewels School up until grade VI and after that, he went to Singapore and completed his schooling and college from United World College of Southeast Asia. Shajir learned to be independent while his time at the boarding school. Then he went to Kings College London to pursue his higher studies in business management. Before joining the family business Shajir worked in Habib Bank AG Zurich in Dubai for a year before finally returning to his hometown. Now, he juggles between Dhaka and Chattogram for his work commitments.
“I was abroad from a very young age so I want to give back as much as possible. And yeah, I am loving it. Ever since coming back and joining the business, there have been ups and downs but the journey has always been something that I have enjoyed.”
So, what’s the secret formula for the Ahmed brothers to be the torchbearers of a legacy that started back in the pre-independence era?
“Since childhood, we grew up together so we would always have a family program. There is not a set way. It feels like we are thinking the same thing with the same mind-set. So, when you create an environment like that, there is no issue of hitching. We discuss ‘what’s the best thing to do?’. We take the experience from our chairman and vice-chairman, my uncle, and my father.” The chairman is Feroz Ahmed, his uncle, and Vice-Chairman is his father Salim Ahmed.
Despite the fact that most of the local brands are losing their marks due to fierce competition from foreign brands, Elite has managed to tackle this challenge and continues to dominate the market as the biggest local brand in the business.
“Yes, the market is very competitive, especially in our industry, as we are facing a lot of competition with foreign companies. During my grandfather’s time, there was less competition than today. But in our 68-year journey, one thing we have managed to always do is ensure that we have a strong R&D [research and development]. Our R&D is our main tool to fight competition and our product range is so diverse that we have more products than the majority of the paint companies in the industry. “Elite is the first company to introduce hammer paint in Bangladesh and we are still the number one brand in that market. People are relying on our brand for that category. So, our R&D is our main weapon to fight the competition,” explains Shajir Ahmed.
Elite Paint believes in the concept of customer satisfaction, a notion that has helped them to build their brand loyalty, as stated by Shajir Ahmed. Our main customers are our dealers; we have more than 1,500 dealers all over the country. And we have depots in pretty much all the districts in addition to two depots in Dhaka and one depot in Chattogram. We also have depots in Khulna, Rajshahi, Bogura, Barishal, Rangpur, Faridpur, Cumilla, and Sylhet. These are the areas where we have our depots and we are serving our dealers from there. Then we also have our corporate customers: the big private sector organizations like Abul Khair Group, Meghna Group, and United Group who have trust and faith in our products, service, and solutions and have been doing business with us for many years and we also have our government organizations like Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy, and Coast Guard who are buying paints from us through tender on a yearly basis and we have been serving them for decades and we have our business development department which is continuously maintaining relations with government engineers of entities like PWD, LGED, HED, EED, and Roads and Highways. So, with all these organizations we are maintaining our relations with the engineers so that we can get a good chunk of the government business that’s going on.”
The on-going pandemic has served as a challenge because the company relies on imports in terms of its raw materials and as a result, the company faced some freight issues as freight charge has doubled during the pandemic that made the business costlier. “The pandemic has made sure that this is a new challenge for us, something that nobody expected to happen. You cannot forecast that; you cannot plan for that. This is just completely out of the blue.”
Recently Elite Paint launched an innovative idea of a one-day painting service allowing customers to paint their house within 24 hours, with the good response already pouring in. The roaster for Elite Paints has been loaded heavily with its future endeavors. “Our tactic of expansion is to train our fellow painters about how to use this service so that they can go and independently do the service themselves by taking the training from us. And we will give them a certification that they have been trained by Elite Paint to provide this one-day painting service and then they can go because the painters are doing jobs for many customers. We are actually in the middle of going through a BMRE expansion in our Chittagong factory so that we can triple our production within one year and following that we already have a seven-acre land in Gazipur which has been allocated for a future second unit factory in Dhaka. So, that is our plan. We are working a lot on improving our internal process as well.”
Shajir Ahmed also enjoys reading business magazines, relax during the weekend, and is an avid Liverpool fan. “I am crazy about football. I have been to the Liverpool stadium at least five or six times to watch games.”
When asked about what makes Elite Paint the choice of its consumers and the consistency for which it has been praised for decades, ShajirAhmed explained, “Elite Paint is actually the country’s brand. People can relate to it and it’s the first paint company in BangladeshIt’s a local company that is giving service and quality like a multinational and you will not find this diversification that we have in a lot of local paint companies in other countries. I stand very proud about that.”
Vowing to keep the legacy of the brand and their grandfather in the paint industry, ShajirAhmed expressed his desire for the company’s future as well as his own, “My life’s mission is to make sure Elite Paint is back to the same position that my Dada (grandfather) kept it. We have to bring it to that. Elite Paint was the market leader for 40 years. So, we have to go back to that.”