“Being successful isn’t about myself, but about other people,” he says. “When I am able to help people working with me become successful, I believe I am successful.”
That’s not a bad philosophy, especially when you’re 30 years old and own a lengthier resume and more management titles than most people do at mid-life. Without a doubt, there are clear advantages to being the son of renowned industrialist and philanthropist Engr. M. Abu Taher, who leads Fortuna Bangladesh, a collection of companies involving fast food, leather tanning, footwear manufacturing, agricultural products, insurance, financial leasing and information technology, has its advantages. At age 17, when his peers were finishing up their homework or playing cricket, Fayaz was helping the family establish Fortuna Fried Chicken, a fast food that competes with the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Bangladesh. They now have a total of 10 outlets. In 2005, while an undergraduate at Babson College, Taher launched Infrablue Technology with his brother Fazle and cousin Asif, working with the major telecom operators in Bangladesh. In 2008, when cricket fans enjoyed the Twenty20 World Cup, Taher and his team created “Twenty20 Cricket,” a popular online cricket application that let users worldwide act as virtual team managers to compete against other cricket fanatics. He served as co-founder and chief marketing officer of ibtgames.com, which won $25,000 in a Facebook grant-funding competition for its Twenty 20 Cricket game, along with mentorship and support to develop applications.
In September 2010, Taher started the shoe and bag manufacturing/retail division of Fortuna Bangladesh, which now employees over 1500 from starting at 600 people at the beginning. It is one of of the fastest growing footwear factories in Bangladesh producing over 10,000 pairs of shoes daily. It is also the first socially compliant factory to produce footwear for H&M in Bangladesh exporting to all their stores around the world.
In the next 3 years, Taher anticipates this to triple to 4500 employees and working with more brands. He was also elected as the Vice President of the Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather-goods and Footwear Manufacturing & Exporters association.
One would say Taher has some big shoes—or at least many shoes—to fill. In fall 2010 he also started managing two brand new shoe-material factories, namely, the Fortuna Last factory (a joint venture with Chinese partners — the first one of its kind in Bangladesh — that will produce the mold for a shoe called a “Last”), and Fortuna Outsole Factory (a venture with a Spanish company to manufacture outsoles). These ventures however didn’t turn out to be successful in terms of having many clients but successful in terms of providing key backward linkage support for its success of growing the Footwear plant quickly.
Footwear isn’t the only space he has created change. Taher has been instrumental in the startup ecosystem in Bangladesh since 2013. He started with early tech community events in 2011 and sponsoring but started hosting bigger events to spark the community.
In November 2013, he was instrumental in organizing Startupbashbd.com which celebrated entrepreneurship for a week. It was the first startup event that was attended by over 650 people and 40 speakers. After that they launched a documentary called Startup Dhaka in December 2013, which captured what was happening in the startup scene in Bangladesh.
The startup activity didn’t stop there. Taher has invested in startups such as Lightcastle Partners, organized Innovation Xtreme which brought in foreign investors who are considering to invest and also co-founded SDAsia.co, and Magnito Digital. He mentors many startups on his spare time. The work he has done with his colleagues has ignited a new breed of entrepreneurs who are working with technology to solve Bangladesh’s problems.
Taher’s resume shows he’s up to the task. He has experience working with large management teams, understands cost control and what it’s like to raise capital. He’s familiar with labor management and social compliance and does not shy away from taking the reins when necessary, troubleshooting issues in order to meet deadlines. Taher is clearly excited about recent changes in how the family is operates its factories. In the past, the factories often suffered a shortage of electricity and voltage fluctuations that would result in lost production time and increased maintenance costs. Taher’s family relied on a generator 50 percent of the time to keep the factories running. His father struck on a novel solution. He sold sold his garments factory and started a cattle farm and a bio-gas plant. The plant is powered by cow dung, which creates methane and generates 20 kilowatts an hour.
“We were saving a lot of money, up to $150 to $200 a day. Not only that, after the cow dung dries up we can process and make organic fertilizer, which further increase our benefits,” Taher says.
The shoe factory ran on bio-gas after hours and at lunchtime at the beginning. Since now the factory is connected to the grid and it is too large for the bio-gas plant, they use the gas for cooking for the factory staff. At Taher’s suggestion, the building uses natural light whenever possible during the day; it also is equipped with natural exhausts on the roof that remove hot air. Taher has been thinking of installing 300-400 kilowatts in solar power but due to interest rate in Bangladesh it has been difficult to implement.
“We are trying to be environmentally conscious as much as possible where [we weren’t] before,” Taher says. “This is because of my Clark education and experience. We are trying to make an eco-friendly project to be part of the green revolution and we have plans to sell our products in the U.S. through online stores, which we hope will be attractive for consumers.”
Taher, who is married to Jeniffer Emling ‘09 BA, ‘10 MPA, welcomes Clark alumni to visit Bangladesh to learn about his business. After all, he notes, his country of 160 million people needs considerable help with development, and Bangladesh is an emerging market with plenty of opportunities.
“We are open to new partnerships and ventures,” he offers, “so if you think you have got the next big idea or you are looking to expand your business with ethical companies, feel free to reach out.” Fayaz Taher can be reached at Fayaz@fortunabd.com.