As a serial entrepreneur, In 1998, Farhad Mahmud set up the first terrestrial television station in the private sector in Bangladesh. In a country of 150 million, where the literacy rate is as low as 60%, the impact of a powerful audio-visual medium as television broadcast, accessible terrestrially by any ordinary television set, cannot be underestimated. Because of the potential for such enormous influence this media can wield, control over global television broadcast was always jealously guarded by successive governments in the region.
With the technical collaboration of BBC Worldwide, Farhad Mahmud grew Ekushey Television from the drawing board stage to a 300 plus employee organization in less than a year’s time, creating in the country an industry that was previously non-existent. Ekushey Television’s policy was to provide information as much as entertainment. The policy paid off. In two years the channel became a national institution promoting several linkage industries creating jobs for over 5000 people. Ekushey was also financially profitable and by the second year of its commercial operation reached a position to pay 20% dividends to its shareholders, which included a direct foreign investment from Citigroup.
As its first Managing Director, Farhad Mahmud not only envisioned the concept of the very project, but also successfully led it as a commercial organization. Finance was raised from the international institutional investors and a consortium of banks. Collaboration was set with a number of development partners such as Unicef, Save the Children U.K. and the World Bank, to provide infotainment and educational programmes to the mostly rural viewers. Ekushey Television challenged the conventional notion that only entertainment programmes can have high viewership ratings. Some of its most-watched programmes were factual, broadcast to an information hungry population that the print media could not reach. With a turnover of $12 million per year, growing at the rate of 30% per annum, Ekushey Television became a showcase of successful social entrepreneurship. Farhad Mahmud was invited to represent the company in the Chase JF Sixth Annual Conference in New York in 2000 as one the 200 High Performing Companies from Asia.
Before coming into media, Farhad Mahmud was involved extensively in the nascent information technology sector of Bangladesh. From 1992-1998 he was Executive Director of Bangladesh Information Technology Group Limited, which was a merger of all the major information technology companies in Bangladesh with a mandate to develop the software export market of the country. The idea was to develop a unified strategy to build an industry with the combined strength of all the leading information technology companies of the country. During this time he was also appointed the only private sector representative in the Bangladesh Computer Council, under the Ministry of Planning of the Government of Bangladesh. He was also the youngest board member of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the largest business representative body in Bangladesh.
Farhad started his business career in 1985 as the Founder and Managing Director of Unidev Limited, with a view to developing the information technology sector of the country. Unidev Limited worked at enhancing trade with Bangladesh and Taiwan, overcoming the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries at that time. The company was appointed the exclusive distributor of ACER computers (previously known as Multitech) for the Bangladesh market. Unidev also set up the first joint venture on software development in the country with Peerless Communications of India.