By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Creating sustainable companies is a goal of entreprenuer and business executive A.K.M. Zabed from Dhaka, Bangladesh. And who better to demonstrate a model for longevity than a Norman firm that has been succeeding in the same community for three decades?
Richard McKinney Jr. believes community involvement is key to long-term business success. That’s why when offered the opportunity to participate in a Professional Exchange Program through the University of Oklahoma and the U.S. Department of State, McKinney said “yes.”
“We’re invested in our community,” McKinney said. “This is our home. This program was a big opportunity.”
McKinney is president of the McKinney Partnership Architects, a Norman firm that hosted one of 11 participants in the cultural exchange. The program included participants from Bangladesh and Nepal. McKinney Partnerships hosted Zabed.
Zabed has a Master of Business Administration from the University of Dhaka. He is managing director of Sthapottik and focuses on branding, sales, supply chain management, finance and human resource development. His company also does consulting work for GMG Airlines, the Molla Group, the Pride Group and Newbarry Foods.
“I wanted to have exposure of the world’s leading architects,” Zabed said. “What processes do they use?”
Zabed said Bangladesh, as an emerging nation, is bursting with new businesses.
“We see a lot of companies, but they don’t last long,” Zabed said.
He wants to learn how to build sustainable companies, and his experience with McKinney Architects has clued him in on some important components to long-term business viability.
Zabed said he learned about efficient processes that would allow a company to make money while still servicing the community and society. He also was exposed to technology at McKinney that will help business thrive.
His experience with the McKinney Partnership has opened his eyes to the value of deeper community involvement, he said.
“I have all companies that are for-profit clients,” he said.
When he returns home, Zabed said he also wants to work with nonprofits such as schools, hospitals and community banks.
“I can contribute to society,” he said.
Bangladesh has cost-effective labor, but Zabed said it’s not enough to just compete with the Asian and Indonesian markets to produce low-cost products. He would like to see Bangladesh emerge as a leader in producing high-end, quality goods.
Bangladesh is a changing, growing economy with a booming real estate market. Economic opportunities are growing in rural areas, allowing people to stay where they are and make a living, rather than crowding to the capital — Dhaka — or regional capitals, he said.
“By 2020, we want to be a middle-income group county,” Zabed said. “The way the country’s prospering, I think it’s possible.”
Violence and general unrest leading up to the elections in January made world news, but Zabed said the country has stabilized now. When strikes associated with the election unrest occurred, people worked twice as hard the next day.
“We’ll work harder and we’ll make the deadline,” he said.
McKinney Partnership Director Ann Contie Benson said hosting Zabed was a learning opportunity for the firm.
“It really resonates because that’s the work ethic we have,” she said. “It broadened our perspective.”
Bangladesh is halfway across the globe, but the heart of the people is the same.
“We share the same work ethic, the same vision,” Benson said.
She is happy that McKinney’s involvement in community has had a positive influence on how Zabed sees the United States and in his view of his future contributions in his nation.
“Community is one of our values,” Benson said. “It’s integrated into our vision.”
Architect Michael Mitscher will travel to Bangladesh and Nepal in June as part of the exchange.
“I’m very fortunate,” Mitscher said. “I appreciate Rick (McKinney) and everybody letting me go to represent the firm. There’s a lot of opportunity to learn from each other.”
Benson said seeing Zabed’s perspective of the McKinney Partnership has acted like a mirror.
“It helps remind us of what we’re doing, and the importance of what we’re doing,” she said.
The Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, in collaboration with the Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, hosted Zabed and the other participants.
The U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program brings emerging leaders from around the world to the United States for intensive fellowships designed to broaden their professional expertise.
OU is one of about 20 U.S.-based nonprofit organizations and universities chosen to host foreign professionals in 2014-2015 from more than 50 countries and territories worldwide.
Participants will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to take part in the Professional Fellows Congress.
The Congress provides a forum for participants to discuss best practices with other young leaders in their profession and to develop concrete projects and networks that they can implement upon their return home.
OU Journalism Dean Joe Foote was instrumental in starting the exchange with Bangladesh — a county where he once resided as part of his professional career.
Benson, Mitscher and McKinney said the whole firm has benefited from the exchange.
“It’s been a privilege to be an ambassador for Norman, for Oklahoma and for America,” McKinney said.
Zabed said seeing teamwork among the McKinney Partnership was valuable for creating a vision for designing sustainable companies. He said the cultural values of Oklahoma are congruent with the spirit of Bangladesh.
“I just feel at home here,” he said.
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