Golam Murshed is the managing director (MD) of Walton Hi-tech Industries Limited. He joined Walton 12 years ago as an engineer. Walton has emerged as the largest listed domestic company in the bourses. The company’s youngest MD shares the story of Walton’s meteoric rise.
Golam Murshed: Brand Walton’s previous name was RB Group of Industries. It started its journey in 1977. At that time, the company had a different business. Later Walton started the business of electronics products. The idea of doing something different started to take shape in 1999 and the company started the electronics business in 2000. It’s not an easy task to manufacture electronics products in the country. To understand the business, the entrepreneurs started to import television, refrigerator, and air conditioner. Then they initiated Research and Development (R&D). Walton Hi-tech Industries was registered in 2007 and a factory was established in Dhaka’s adjacent Chandra the following year. This is how Walton Hi-tech Industries came into being.
Shawkat Hossain: Tell us about the rise of Walton
Golam Murshed: This is mainly a story about the dream of five brothers. It’s their dream that makes Walton the biggest brand of the country in electronics products. Bangladesh was dependent on imports in electronics products. The country’s market was laden with products from various internationally acclaimed brands. In just 12 years, Walton not only captured the local market but also started exporting its products.
Let me share a story of the initial days. Due to technical glitches, Walton had to take back around 200 refrigerators sold in those very initial days. Our engineers were relatively inexperienced. They researched, toured fridge factories in different countries and they were trained. Yet the first lot of the refrigerators were technically faulty. But the five brothers had tenacity and courage. They were determined that any faulty products would not be marketed. So they took every faulty fridge back.
In fact, the steadfastness of five brothers helped Walton tap the refrigerator market. Later, Walton started the production of televisions, air conditioners, ovens, rice cookers and other home appliances. And now Walton’s big products are washing machines and lifts. Interestingly, we did not work with these two products initially. We were building the industry in phases and now we are making products like lifts which was completely dependent on export once.
Shawkat Hossain: What is your market position now?
Golam Murshed: Bangladesh’s electronics market was once full of Chinese products. Now Walton holds 70 per cent of the refrigerator market. The company controls 35 per cent of the country’s television market and around 40 per cent of the AC market. It is true that we are not being able to control the TV market fully as the sector is full of gray markets. It’s so easy to put a sticker or logo on a television set. No matter the quality of the product, you just need to put a logo on the television set. Thus the television market is still a challenging one for us.
We are doing well in the AC market as we have become the market leader in only three years. We’ve brought voice-controlled AC to the market. We are planning to bring Bangla voice-controlled AC in the next year’s 21 February.
This is the history of Walton in brief. The company now has a market capitalization of USD 4.5 billion and annual revenue is around USD 1 billion (close to Tk 90 billion). Our plan is to increase the revenue to USD 3 billion within 2025 and to USD 5 to 7 billion within 2030. If we succeed, Walton would become one of the five biggest brands in the world in terms of revenue.
Shawkat Hossain: Quality control is the most important aspect of electronics products. How did you ensure the quality of your products?
Golam Murshed: We had communication with the leading brands of the world since the beginning. We had cooperation with their cooling engineers, design engineers and structural engineers. We never wanted anyone to complain about the quality of Bangladesh’s products. We always strove for international standards and consulted with experts. We always tried to ensure ‘quality first’. That is why we hired the head of the cooling department of a renowned brand four years ago. We also appointed the head of Research and Development (R&D) of another big brand. We have a ‘quality assurance department’ in our company. Employees of the department get regular training abroad. We have another team named ‘engineering intelligence’ who works on the products to be launched five or 10 years later. Once we had to wait for five years to get the products launched in Europe or America. The engineering intelligence department’s task is to break this trend.
Shawkat Hossain: How was the experience working with local engineers?
Golam Murshed: The biggest advantage is our engineers are getting the hands-on experience to work. We are equipped with many technologies and machines which is rare in the subcontinent. There are 10 thousand machineries in our factory. So this is the best place for learning. I am an engineer myself. I set up the AC plant. All the equipment is installed by our engineers. Our engineers even assembled the compressor plant we had bought in 2017. A total of 200 engineers worked for three months abroad and three months here to set up the plant. We are one of the only 15 countries in the world to make compressors. We are the eighth South Asian country to build compressor. If such industries exist in the country, then brain drain would automatically decrease. We always say with conviction, join Walton if you want Bangladesh’s development. Walton boasts factories on over 700-acre land. 54 types of products are manufactured in 30 factories. Also, there are over 1000 different models here.
Shawkat Hossain: What is Walton’s role in employment?
Golam Murshed: We call this a family. Walton family now has 30 thousand members. We can serve three meals and two snacks for all the members. None has to worry about buying essentials or cooking. We want everyone to pay attention at work without worrying about food.
Shawkat Hossain: What you are planning next?
Golam Murshed: We are planning to go into automobile manufacturing. We are planning to manufacture electronic vehicles in the Bangladesh market. This is just at the planning stage and the board of directors has given its nod. We are researching and also seeking assistance. It would take time. We would not hurt the reputation of the brand or country by joining the foray without taking adequate preparation.
Shawkat Hossain: How much is the chance to export?
Golam Murshed: We have now focused on export. We exported products worth USD 1.4 million last fiscal year and the amount shoots up to USD 40 million in current fiscal. We are eying USD 50 million this fiscal. We’ve set a goal to increase the export worth USD 100 million in 2023 and USD 1 billion in 2030. Television is the most exported product of our company. We are also exporting washing machines. We are exporting AC and washing machines to India regularly. We are struggling to export after meeting our domestic demands. We participated in a fair in Turkey. We are planning to set up another compressor plant seeing the number of orders after the fair.
Shawkat Hossain: We want to know your story now
Golam Murshed: It's nothing special. I joined Walton in 2010 after graduating from the mechanical engineering department of Islamic University of Technology (IUT). Our convocation programme was on 3 December and I joined Walton on 20 December. So, I was unemployed for only 17 days. I started work in the Research & Development (R&D) department of the AC department. I did not want to do a sedentary job and wanted to engage in various activities. So I requested and was sent to the manufacturing plant. That department is always busy with various activities. This plant is the heart of all activities. After three years, I was moved to the refrigerator department. The then managing director then brought me to the business strategy department as its head. It was the turning point for me as I had to look after both the production and management sides here. I was tasked with connecting the factory and corporate sides. After coming here, I developed an understanding of sales, marketing, finance, accounting and strategy. Walton was enlisted in the bourses in 2018.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s law, the owners and managing of a company need to be separated. As a result, the five brothers and three from next-generation moved to the board of directors. In 2019, I was given charge of the additional managing director and made MD the following year.
I am enjoying the job. The board of directors has given me freedom. I also give everyone freedom. My job is to look after everything and plan. This gives you the pleasure of creating something new. I also believe in working that way.
The word Walton is derived from ‘winds of change’. The father and five sons dreamt to bring change in the country’s industrial sector. Golam Morshed said they are working towards bringing that change.
*Shawkat Hossain is Prothom Alo’s head of online.
* This has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf