Unconventional ideas propel Confidence Group’s rapid growth

Confidence Group Vice-Chairman Imran Karim told daily sun Business Editor Md Shamim Jahangir in an exclusive interview

23 October, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Unconventional ideas propel Confidence Group’s rapid growth

Before 2003, the country’s businesses arena had known the local emerging company Confidence Group as a cement manufacturer. But after then, the company has expanded and diversified its businesses in different unconventional areas with large investment, enabling the company rapidly in portfolio and size.

Imran Karim, a young and visionary entrepreneur, made that happened with his dedication and idea with the support of his family members. Recently, Confidence Group vice-chairman  Imran Karim, who completed his Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering and his Bachelor of Arts in Economics in 2003 from the University of Rochester, talked with the Daily Sun  and shared the behind the scene of how a family-run business achieved great success in the steel, energy, telecom, infrastructure and other sectors using unconventional ideas and innovative approach.
Imran Karim joined Confidence Group in 2003 as the Director of Confidence Cement Limited. However, his first endeavour wasn’t a successful one. Nevertheless, he did not step back in the face of an early failure. He rather enjoyed and valued the lessons learned; eventually taking over the business development of Confidence Steel Limited.
In 2006, under his leadership, Confidence Steel started producing telecom towers and within the same year, became the market leader. Currently, Confidence Steel Limited has almost 70 per cent of the market share in both transmission towers and telecom towers. After his first successful endeavour, he decided to expand into other sectors and with Confidence Group, in alliance with Energypac, opened an 11 MW power plant in 2009, followed by a 108 MW power plant in 2015. Currently, under Confidence Power Holdings Limited, the group is setting up 400MW of power plants.
In 2012 Confidence Group entered the telecommunication market, under the name Digicon Telecommunication. Under his leadership, Digicon took a leading role in the formation of International Gateway Operators’ Forum (IOF), and made the sector profitable for everyone. Later, Confidence Group ventured into battery manufacturing, quickly becoming a market leader in the industry. Imran Karim is currently serving as the president of Bangladesh Independent Power Producer Association (BIPPA).
In 2016, for his outstanding entrepreneurial accomplishment, he was chosen as one of the winners of the JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of Bangladesh, an award given by the Junior Chamber International Bangladesh.
Today, Confidence is one of the largest and most prominent conglomerates in Bangladesh, with annual revenue exceeding $500 million.  
DS: Everyone wants to know how you grew up and become a role model for the 2nd generation?  
I cannot say that this is the second generation; rather we can call it a Hybrid generation. I was born on December 19, 1978, at my grandfather’s residence in Dhaka. I was living there until 1988. My father was an engineer and my mother was a doctor. We were three brothers. I lived in a family with all of my relatives and had the chance to interact with everyone now and then. We grew up in the educated-based family. I completed my SSC from St. Joseph Higher Secondary School, Dhaka and HSC from Notre Dame and after then completed my graduation and post-graduation from the US.
We were not that much financially solvent but still, we came to the business. I think over the time our lifestyle can be seen as the higher standard in the society matching with the current situation. I always strive to carry the educated family values within myself and this is how I grew up. I always try to live my life with everyone I have.  
I planned to become an entrepreneur since I was in third grade. I always had the wish to practice leadership practically. As a result, I could not focus on any kind of job or employment.
Gradually, I studied engineering also economics, so it allowed me to take the techno-commercial business. It is not like that I did not get any job abroad, but I always pursued the entrepreneurship to fulfill my personal satisfaction. Since coming back from abroad in 2003, I have been doing business.
DS: How you design your business plan?
While running the business, it went through three phases. For instance:
2003-2006: Pinball (at age of 24-25)
2006-2010: Noticed growth in thinking and experience
2010- till the date: it has seen significant growth                           
As you know that we are the top-ranked steel engineering company. Within one year we got the big opportunities because at that time there was a boom in manufacturing telecom towers. While there were many established companies in the market, we were the last and till now the latest venture to take over the market very fast.
I always looked for opportunities and tried to acquire more knowledge to become a successful entrepreneur.
In 2009, when the Awami League government came into power, I felt like I can work in the power sector as well. My brother along with other employees also came in this sector and we de-centralized the company in 2012.
We tried to implement the corporate culture pondering Bangladesh’s future growth perspectives. The new system aimed to reject the traditional bossy culture in the company. Meanwhile, we also paid heed to the business growth. After building the company, we targeted five sectors including infrastructure, transportation, cement, power generation and battery manufacturing.
To expand the businesses, we managed required funding, developed suitable strategies and deployed those.
Over the years, we successfully developed the largest infrastructure company in the country. In comparison to the time when I came to the country in 2003, the maximum transaction of the company was around Tk 300 million. But before the COVID-19 crisis, it has witnessed the transaction over Tk 16 billion frequently. This means the growth rate has increased by 50 times till the date. We always played the role of the multi-facility engineering company in the country. In our infrastructure business, we have seven factories at present and also have all kinds of abilities to facilitate our business. My father-Engr Rezaul Karim, I and my younger brother, we are all engineers; therefore, we were able to pull out such massive success over the years.
While we are practicing the de-centralization culture, we divided our companies into several parts where each has the different authority to operate the company or sector.
DS: Everyone knows you are a successful businessman in the power sector? How you made that possible?
In the power sector, everyone has heard the name of Confidence Power Limited. The company has so far invested Tk 50 billion in the power sector. The private power generation has invested over 250 billion with generation capacity 5500MW of electricity. We have started power generation in 2007.  
Then, in terms of power generation, we collaborated with Energypac to initiate a project with the view to generating 108 MW in 2015. Then, in 2017-18, we seized the partnership with Energypac and set up four power pants. Now we have four power stations.
To generate 226 MW of electricity, we imported the required equipment and assembled those in the country. We are the first company to assemble and generate power following the process as the previous attempts by other companies were failed projects.
As the government of the country is encouraging us to initiate more projects in the power sector, we are planning to move forward with new plans and strategies in order to generate from more than 400MW to 1,000MW in the country within the next three to four years.
I have proposed to open the transmission and distribution sector to the private sector to make it more competitive and vibrant.
DS: Tell us about your battery and cement businesses.
We started the battery business in 2013-14. We are the market leader to manufacture battery for more than 700,000 tri-cycles in the country. While manufacturing the batteries, we noticed that quality is important and we always strive to ensure the quality of our products and services as well. Hence, we took over 20-25 per cent of the total market to date. Before the COVID-19 crisis, we generated around Tk 35000 million from this business against the target.
In terms of cement business, in the beginning, our company manufactured 1.5 million tonnes of cement and now it will extend the capacity to manufacture 1.8 million tonnes in the coming days.
DS: Tell us about your telecommunication sector business.  
We entered the telecommunication sector in 2012-13 and we acquired that IIG license, ISP license and we are thinking to expand more in the coming days.
We have a plan to expand our growth after five years when 5G will be introduced.
We have tower license and we are looking forward to bringing more foreign investment in the country and exploit it to a great extent.
We are not confined to conventional business. For instance, we have a co-generation facility in our every power station which is completely new in the country. While there are 21 companies in the power sector, we are the first one to take such an initiative to import equipment and assemble in the country.
We have 7000 employees. We also generate revenue of $500 million a year. The World Bank in March 2020 carried out a survey to identify the top 25 companies in Bangladesh and we secured a position there.
DS: What do you think about the government policy in the power sector?
The government took a growth-centric approach after 2009. Bangladesh has become the highest growth-centric country despite the covid-19 crisis.
Bangladesh is one of the countries with the fastest economic growth. Country’s infrastructure developed rapidly over the last 10 years. But the sudden shift in policy and introduction of tax on furnace oil import caused a loss Tk 100 crore in the private sector.
DS: Thank you.