He was born with a silver spoon. His grandfather Khan Bahadur Waliur Rahman was born in Cheora village of Chauddagram. He grew up in his uncle’s house in Jalpaiguri of Assam. After completing his studies in law there , he practiced in the bar of Jalpaiguri. Khan Bahadur Waliur Rahman bought some land there and established a tea-garden in 1885. The British were mainly the owners of tea gardens at that time. It was the first tea-garden owned by a local.
Latifur Rahman’s father Mujibur Rahman was also born there. He also received the title of Khan Bahadur. After the partition of India, he returned to Dhaka and started jute business. He established a tea-garden in Sylhet.
Latifur Rahman was born in Jalpaiguri on 28 August 1945. After the partition of the country, he returned to Dhaka and lived in Gandaria. He started his study there. He got admitted to St Edmund's School in Shillong in 1956 and later in St Xavier's College. After the India-Pakistan war in 1965 and Hindu-Muslim riots, he returned to Dhaka and started jute business. He started work as an apprentice in his father’s W Rahman Jute Mill.
Then came 1971. After the independence of the country, the family-owned jute mill was nationalised. Although there were tea-gardens, export was halted. Latifur Rahman was in crisis of cash. He had an office at 52 Motijheel in Dhaka. He had to start anew with furniture on hire and a ceiling fan from his house.
He took a loan of Tk 5 million from Uttara Bank in 1974 and started business with new enthusiasm. Transcom Group is the outcome of that. The business which started off in 1885 with tea-plantations has become one of the biggest conglomerates of Bangladesh, thanks to the perseverance of Latifur Rahman. The group now owns pharmaceuticals, food and beverage companies, electronics, newspapers, among other enterprises.
Latifur Rahman also led the country’s business community. He served as the president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) for seven years in three different terms. He also served International Chambers of Commerce- Bangladesh as vice president until his death. In 2014, he was made an executive member of Paris-based International Chambers of Commence (ICC) for three years. He was also the member of advisory committee of World Trade Organisation (WTO). Latifur Rahman served Bangladesh Bank as its director.
His principles in business
Latifur Rahman was awarded Oslo Business for Peace Award by the Business for Peace Foundation, Oslo in 2012 for his adherence to honesty, social responsibility and ethical values. He was the first Bangladeshi recipient of the prestigious award.
He was honoured with the SAARC Outstanding Leader”award in 2017 for blending social responsibilities and moral principles with his business. At the award giving ceremony, PepsiCo India regional chairman Shivkumar said, “Latifur Rahman is one example of how to create a business empire maintaining honesty, loyalty and kindliness in personal and professional life.”
In the same year, UK Bangladesh Catalysts of Commerce and Industry (UKBCCI) conferred him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the economy and the society maintaining ethical values.
Transcom Beverages Ltd won Global Bottler of the Year award twice in 2009 and 2016 under his leadership.
Latifur Rahman has weathered ups and downs throughout his life. He had come across tragic incidents in his personal life, but did not stop. He lost his youngest daughter and a beloved grandson in two tragic incidents. Nothing could stop him; he has always transcended all the difficulties and ushered in new avenues of business initiatives. He was never oblivious of his duty towards the country and society. He was a regular taxpayer. In 2016-17 tax year, Bangladesh government recognised Latifur Rahman's family as “Kar Bahadur” or tax icon for paying big amounts of tax for a long time. Different organisations of Transcom Group also get best taxpayer awards every year.
Latifur Rahman never wanted to make immovable assets; he never wanted to construct high rise buildings. He neither wanted to stuck in trade. He rather tried to build institutions that can live over a century. For this, he used to bank on modern management system. He said in an interview, “My policy is to bring the right person for right place and give that person the responsibility of management and proper respect. This is how all my organisations operate. Any exemption of such practice would make all the institutions family businesses. You have to keep abreast of the world and quality of management should be of global standard. I tried that way.”
Latifur Rahman always deemed family values important. He in numerous occasions said, “All members of my family have only one passport and that’s of Bangladesh. We never applied for citizenship of any foreign country. We are the people of Bangladesh and we have all the confidence in it.”
Latifur Rahman had deep confidence in the country’s youth. He had the belief that young generation would take Bangladesh forward.
Latifur Rahman has left us. His demise is an irreparable loss for all of us. He has changed the people’s perception of business by doing business with honesty and reputation. Moreover, he left a glaring example of how to do business maintaining responsibility towards the country and society. He dreamed of instilling that conscience among the new generation entrepreneurs.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been written in English by Rabiul Islam and Galib Ashraf.