I knew Mr Latifur Rahman since way back in 1974 when we would live in Farmgate. I would call him Shamim uncle. I would go to school with two of his children, Arshad Waliur Rahman and Simeen Rahman. From an early age, we were family friends. We would look at their photographs in Istanbul, Paris, wherever they would travel.
However, it was through MCCI that I personally got to work with Latifur Rahman and to learn from him. He was seven times the MCCI president. MCCI developed a good culture and strong values under his leadership.
I learnt the ropes at MCCI basically from Latifur Rahman and his close friend CK Haider. Initially I was almost forced to join a sub-committee meeting. I learnt so much from him. I remember him scolding me, “Why don’t you cut your hair?” or “Wear a tie next time.” But he said it so nicely, it didn’t seem like a scolding. He had had special quality.
All said and done, everyone will remember Latifur Rahman as an exceptional businessman. I find him exception in five particular areas.
One. For Latifur Rahman, ethics came before money. He will remain as an example that one can strictly follow ethics, but at the same time be success in business in Bangladesh.
Two. Many businessmen have the unfortunate propensity of looking for shortcuts. In Bangladesh, the correct path is sometimes the most difficult one. That is why many simply turn towards the shortcut. We don’t want to think long-term, we can’t think long-term. Latifur Rahman was an exception. He simply couldn’t think short-term. That is why perhaps all this companies have become long-term brands.
Three. Bangladeshi businessmen often earn the disrepute of being opportunists because they choose the quick and easy path. Latifur Rahman, for some reason, always chose the difficult path. He would refuse to make any compromises even though a compromise would make things easy. It is not that he would ponder over this, it was just his spontaneous gut reaction. He had no hesitation in doing what was right.
Four. He understood that Bangladesh was not just about human resources, but was a market too. He showed us that it wasn’t just about exports, Bangladesh was a huge potential market too. He discovered this potential before many others.
Five. Many of us develop a sense of arrogance along with success. Latifur Rahman was quite the opposite. The more successful he became, the more humble and gracious he was. He never showed off. He would simply think of ways to expand his establishments.
We had the opportunity of observing from very close how an establishment could be built up with an unbelievable fusion of professionalism and sincerity.
Sincerity was his biggest quality. He would remember everyone by name. He would remember the name of the doorman at MCCI, the liftman, the man who served refreshments. He would always sit at the back when attending any event at MCCI. He would have to be forced to sit in front. He would always be the first to offer his salaam when meeting anyone. I tried so hard, but never managed to say salaam first, before him.
There are some memories I must mention. One day I was talking to him in his office. Kurkure chips had just come to the market. In the passing, I mentioned how my children particularly liked one particular flavour. Since then, every year a carton of Kurkure would be delivered to my house. He would take note of every little detail. He would remember everything.
Once I bought a microwave oven from a Transcom showroom. The showroom manager was really good. After a meeting at MCCI one day, I said, “Shamim uncle, that manager of yours is excellent. How do you train them?” Later I heard he went back home and called that manager. That manager was thrilled to receive a phone call from the chairman. Such gestures are well worth emulating.
There had been so much sadness, suffering and obstacles in his life, but I never heard him speak badly of anyone. He inspired us to have the courage to speak the truth, whether pleasant or unpleasant. He never hesitated to praise what was good at the Metropolitan Chamber and taught us to do the same.
He was the moral compass of the business community.
* Syed Nasim Manzur made this presentation on 14 July 2020 at the virtual memorial for Latifur Rahman organised by Prothom Alo and The Daily Star.