Entering her office in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on a mid-autumn day in 2021, Amun Mustafiz ACCA was creating history. The first Bangladeshi woman to be finance director of BAT Bangladesh was also the first home-grown appointee in more than three decades at one of the country’s largest multinationals.
Mustafiz’s career at BAT began in 2005, when she joined as a business graduate – an appointment that was considered a plum role. What attracted her was the culture and focus on people development. ‘Landing a job at that time in BAT was a dream opportunity for anyone, and still is,’ she says. ‘BAT was regarded as a training ground for young professionals where you learned from the best, because only the best were recruited.’
As new staff members, she continues, ‘we were valued, we had a voice, we were empowered to be bold.’
‘We had a voice. We were empowered to be bold’
FD, British American Tobacco Bangladesh
Head of finance, Global Travel Retail, BAT, Hong Kong SAR
FD, Ceylon Tobacco Company (division of BAT), Sri Lanka
Commercial finance controller – Operations, BAT Bangladesh
Senior corporate finance manager, BAT, Japan
Various roles, BAT Bangladesh
While getting into BAT Bangladesh was a major step in itself, Mustafiz knew there was still a long way to go in terms of learning and development for her to successfully climb the corporate ladder.
First, she focused on future-proofing her skills. A business degree was one thing, but she realised an accounting qualification was key if she wanted to get on. The flexibility to choose her own subjects, fit her studies around her work commitments and gain an internationally recognised qualification all influenced her decision to pursue ACCA. With the company’s support, she began her studies in 2007 and completed all the exams within three years.
Not content to just go with the flow, she then volunteered for critical roles to help prepare herself for bigger responsibilities. ‘I would have a frank discussion with my line manager on what I needed to demonstrate to be a key contender for upcoming challenges, and then it would be on me to deliver it,’ she explains.
Mobility and networking
Quickly rising into mid-level management, she moved around Asia Pacific as part of the regional audit team, experiencing different cultures and learning how to manage diverse stakeholders. Those short-term assignments led to longer secondments – a year in Japan, two years in Sri Lanka and another year in Hong Kong, all in leadership roles.
Nurturing networks within Bangladesh and within the wider BAT Group has been crucial too, resulting in ‘people who know me and will vouch for me’. But Mustafiz feels women do less networking than men, especially in Bangladesh where society may have progressed but still holds a conservative view on the role of women.
This wasn’t the case in her own family, though. As a software developer for a multinational company at a time when most women stayed at home, Mustafiz’s mother was a role model for her daughter. ‘Forty years ago, my mother was the only female in the IT sector, persuading banks to modernise their systems,’ she says. ‘I try to emulate her self-confidence, her strength of character and her dedication – not only to her career but to bringing up her five children.’
Nor was it a case of men-only at BAT Bangladesh. Since 2015 the number of women in the company has more than doubled to a total of 170 today, across all positions, from factory floor to management.
As a female in the traditionally male-dominated tobacco industry, Mustafiz says she has never encountered any gender bias. ‘I’ve found that colleagues appreciate my input and value me for it,’ she says.
Working in head office, where women are particularly well represented, has given her access to good mentors, both female and male, she says. ‘But I also have to play a role in that,’ she adds. ‘I’ve always had faith in my abilities, and never hesitate to voice my opinions. I’m also very decisive, and stand by my decisions.’
‘I’ve always had faith in my abilities, and never hesitate to voice my opinions’
Now as finance director – her 11th role at BAT in 16 and a half years – she describes her leadership style as ‘a people leader’. ‘I have always believed that people are the heart of the organisation,’ she explains.
She is, she says, ‘very straightforward’ with her team. ‘I can be quite hard on them. I push people to reach their full potential, but also make sure they know that I always stand beside them.’
She believes that being a woman gives her an edge in her role. ‘Women are generally more intuitive and empathetic,’ she says. ‘We can see how what’s happening in someone’s personal life is intertwined with their work role.’
Joining the dots
The first thing Mustafiz did as FD was connect with her new team of 30, initiating virtual meetings where the talk wasn’t only about business. ‘We’d start with how people are doing individually and what’s going on in their lives, just as we would do if face-to-face,’ she says.
As FD, her key role is to shape the business commercials in the short and long term by creating more value for shareholders, addressing sustainability for business partners such as farmers as well as the broader community, and ensuring the company is accelerating the ESG (environmental, social and governance) pace. In other words, she tries to oversee the holistic sustainability of the business.
‘Finance has the opportunity to see the business from a helicopter view,’ she says. ‘I feel we are the voice of reason. We need to connect all the dots in the company to ensure our strategy is holistic.’
‘Finance has the opportunity to see the business from a helicopter view’
Year of establishment of BAT Bangladesh, now the second highest valued company on the Dhaka and Chittagong stock exchanges
Number of direct employees, with another 50,000 employed indirectly
Proportion of women in the BAT Bangladesh senior leadership team in 2021
Gross turnover 2021
Net profit after tax 2021
Act like an owner
She also focuses on ensuring all employees ‘act alike owners’ and are 100%-compliant in everything. ‘Focusing on controls and compliance across the company is bread and butter for my team; we need to ensure that it’s driven by the business.
‘The last piece, because finance cuts across all different functions, is for us to drive simplification and digitisation across the company. Businesses are becoming more dynamic, and organisational structures are getting much leaner now, so revamping work processes to eliminate inefficiencies and free up people’s time for more value-adding contributions has become a key expectation from the finance team.’
Apart from championing technology, Mustafiz’s to-do list for 2022 includes ensuring the company is future-fit in terms of capacity, infrastructure and capabilities.
She also plans to leverage her ACCA network to connect with financial leaders across the country and around the world – ‘a must if you want to stay relevant’.
Mustafiz would like to see more young Bangladeshi women pursue an accounting qualification in order to tap the ‘endless’ career opportunities awaiting them in business and in practice.
‘As a professional, you can be in the city, not work in the field,’ she says. ‘It’s not a question of opportunity, but whether, in a conservative society, women can juggle a career with family responsibilities. My mother has proven that it can be done.’
Listen to ACCA’s International Women’s Day webinar