Business/Donor partnership, the best formula for empowering the poor – The Agora case study

The Business/Donor partners working on the Agora SME development project.

Agora established in 2001 with an ultimate aspiration to be the Wal-Mart of the East is an expanding chain of retail outlets in Bangladesh, run by Rahimafrooz Superstores Ltd. Agora now operates 11 outlets, a sourcing and processing centre for commodities and a state of the art distribution centre with 680 employees and 320 suppliers. With an aggressive expansion programme in mind Agora recently migrated to an end to end ERP system powered by SAP and WINCOR NIXDORF.

When Agora started its supermarket [providing food, personal care and household needs] business in 2001, the brand was positioned as the best solution for customers for the purchase of fresh produce [fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy] of high quality at the right price as this was the predominant customer need in the absence of an organized modern trade [supermarket] system. This resulted in Agora investing in cold and chill storage, transport and display facilities. The absence of organized fresh produce supply chain resulted in Agora solely developing fresh produce suppliers. This included training perishable traders who operated in the unorganized wet market on proper sorting, grading, storing &transportation of produce and fundamental disciplines of running a business. We also formed partnerships with farmer associations toward this objective.

As Agora expand, the company realized the need to further build the capacity of small and medium fresh produce suppliers and develop robust supply chains and trading relationships. As Agora was looking for solutions for this important need, a meeting between Ms Parveen Huda of BIF [Business Innovation Facility] and Mr Niaz Rahim of Agora led to the signing of an MOU designed to address Agora’s needs while developing their SME suppliers ensuring the ‘inclusive’ aspect.  The project was funded by DFID, BIF and AGORA and the capacity building expertise was received from one of the world’s leading business consultancies Accenture and PUM from Netherlands.

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Liberating Passion at Agora – Leadership lessons Learnt as CEO of Agora over the last 3 years!

ImageLeaving the Agora team was one of the toughest things I had to do. The words, tears, flowers and gifts from the teams in various outlets, office, warehouse and distribution centre was simply heart-warming. I never realized I had made such an impact in the hearts and minds of over 700 team members over the 3 years I led them as their CEO.

After being in Team and Leadership Excellence consulting for 10 years, subsequent to 16 years in corporate life for 16 years as Director for Keells Foods and Keells Super, I took on a new interesting challenge as the CEO of the Agora Supermarket Chain [owned by the highly diversified Rahimafrooz Group] in Bangladesh in July 2009. This was a secondment from Sensei International where I continued to remain as a Partner and Senior Management Consultant.

This was a 3 year assignment to prepare the company for Rapid expansion. I took over this assignment for 3 reasons; Firstly because Agora was close to my heart as I helped start it as a consultant in 2001 and hence  I considered Agora my own baby and I wanted it to be successful. Secondly because I wanted to validate the guidance I give so many companies around the world as a consultant, by being in the hot seat for a while. And thirdly because I respect the Rahimafrooz Group and the family that owns it for running a company driven by ‘Values’ using ‘world-class’ management methods.

My dream was to make Agora a world-class company, the pride of Bangladesh and I write this blog with a mix of emotions that include happiness, sadness, fear, pride and hope.

Firstly I am extremely happy that we together created a company with a positive work culture that was built on the ‘Ultimate Aspiration’, ‘Values’, ‘Agora Aponjon Promise’ [Aponjon is the Bangla word for ‘dear one’ or ‘near one’ and this is the promise we deliver to our ‘guests’ or ‘Aponjon’], quality policy, good leadership, supportive team work and passionate team members. We also made the company profitable building on this culture and taking measures to improve the brand image, value to our guests, business knowledge, planning and execution. We also invested in a brand new state of the art distribution centre, new outlets and a new ERP system [SAP and WINCOR NIXDOEF]. All this helped the company to become profitable for the first time in my first year in office and become a leading revenue and profit contributor of the Rahimafrooz Group [the group that owns Agora an many other companies] providing better benefits and promotional opportunities to Agora’s team members.

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Asian Retail – Changing Life Styles

I first attended the Asia Retail Congress in February 2011 where I had the privilege of accompanying the Managing Director of Rahimafrooz Superstores Bangladesh, the operators of the Agora Supermarket Chain to receive the retail excellence award.

I was delighted to be invited to be in the advisory panel of the Asia Retail congress 2012 and to be a speaker as I had lots to share from my experience of making Agora a winning supermarket chain during the last 31 months as the Chief Executive Officer [CEO] of Rahimafrooz Superstores.

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