Sunday, June 23, 2024

Catching up with time

Ctg’s giant commodity hub Khatunganj tune itself to tech
Chittagong city’s bustling commodity hub Khatunganj, which has given birth to a number of well-known local conglomerates such as Partex Group, Abul Khair Group, PHP Group and TK Group, is changing.
Large and medium commodity market leaders are hiring trained executives in top and mid level positions and embracing IT in their bid to better manage businesses and grow further.
Smaller ones are also slowly following suit. Many small traders have begun to use smart phones to monitor prices of commodities on the global market — a sign that shows a gradual shift in mode of business at Khatunganj since the 1990s.
Before that, traders used to sit behind wooden cash boxes and deal with buyers coming from different parts of the country to the commodity hub spanning over a huge area astride Chaktai canal and the Karnaphuli river.
A narrow register book, locally known as Balam Book, was all they used for maintaining accounts of trades of essential commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, cooking oil and so on.
The scene is still visible to some extent while changes are there. Many of the importers and traders have begun maintaining accounts in computers.
“Khatunganj has got the touch of digital technology,” said Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of BSM Group, sitting in front of a computer monitor in his office there.
He said nowadays importers maintain communication with their counterparts abroad through internet. Brokers also monitor prices of commodities such as sugar through internet, he added.
“This change was necessary,” said Bashar. “The main thing is development of business, and adoption of modern tools is very important from the viewpoint of business development.”
He said the use of technology has facilitated importers and buyers in getting easy access to information about current prices of any commodity on the international market.
“In absence of updated information about the market trend, importers would demand prices as per their wishes. Now it is difficult.”
Tariq Ahmed, director in charge of operation and marketing of TK Group, said businessmen at Khatunganj now keep themselves updated with what is happening in the global commodity market.
“They are updated about every scenario,” he said.
“They have got all modern equipment in the past 8 to 10 years. Almost every company has opened IT departments with some using accounting software and ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system,” he said.
Apart from it, hiring of educated professionals by businesses here has increased, said Tariq.
“There was a time when owners here considered paying one lakh taka to an executive as too expensive. Now they consider the salary as investment. So there has been a change in the mind set of the entrepreneurs,” he said.
Tariq, also a hired executive, said owners have delegated the authority of taking decisions to these management staffs. “It has provided scope for company owners to spend more time on taking strategic decisions rather than looking at daily sales,” he said.
Despite the changes, the influence of Khatunganj, once popularly known as the Wall Street of Bangladesh, is fading slowly in the country’s overall commodity market.
Bashar said Khatunganj, which has been a trade centre for the past 150 years, once used to control more than 80 percent of Bangladesh’s commodity market.
Now its contribution to commodity trading has fallen down to 40 percent due to imports from India and rise in the number of importers in other parts of the country, he said.
“Khatunganj has given birth to many business tycoons in the past. Now it has become difficult to grow as its share as the trade centre in the domestic commodity market is declining,” said Bashar of BSM Group, a leading commodity importer.

-With The Daily Star input

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