Latifur Rahman: Pathfinder for the youth

In memory of Latifur Rahman and Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, we reproduce a series of articles written in tribute.

Latifur Rahman holding Pepsico's 'Global Bottler of the Year' awardCollected

The integrity and ethics of the departed chairman of Transcom Group, Latifur Rahman, was second to none. He was respected by all for the high ethics he maintained in business. Latifur Rahman is in the forefront of those in this country who have played a role in the economic and social advancement of the country through their business enterprise. He proved that it is possible to hold high ethical standards in business and take the nation ahead. He is the pathfinder for youth in ethical business.

In 2012 Latifur Rahman won the Oslo Business for Peace Award of the Oslo Business for Peace Foundation. The renowned Indian businessman Ratan Tata, and other such reputed business personalities around the world are among those who also received this recognition. Latifur Rahman believed that when Bangladesh's economy develops further in the future, the local businesses will be able to grow overseas too.

My acquaintance with Latifur Rahman has been for 50 years and friendship, 40 years. Our acquaintance is as old as Bangladesh. Our relationship was not one simply of business. We became close family friends. Both of us are from Chauddagram in Cumilla, our village homes just a couple of kilometres apart. I have been to his home in the village many times, even spent the night there. Our two families, whenever we got the chance, would often go on vacations together, within the country or outside. Our houses in Gulshan, Dhaka, are just at a five-minute distance. If we were supposed to attend the same meeting, he would often pick me up and we would go together. We were more than friends, we were brothers. When Latifur Rahman went to receive the Oslo prize, we friends got together and went along too. Now we feel the vacuum of his absence strongly.

Family meant everything to Latifur Rahman. He paid attention to minute details of his family. He would never neglect his family for his business or vice versa.

In this country, anyone running a business invariably has to make certain compromises. But Latifur Rahman would avoid any such compromises. He would also give priority to ethics. Members of certain agencies raided his office during the caretaker government rule of 2006-2008 and they took away the hard disks of his office computers. But they could find no discrepancy in his accounts. He would pay his dues to the state regularly. He did not have that mentality to evade taxes, duty or VAT. Every year he was one of the country's top taxpayers. The National Board of Revenue accorded him and his family the title of 'Tax Bahadur' (Tax Hero). There are hardly a handful of such ethical businesspersons in Bangladesh. It is not Transcom alone, but Latifur Rahman himself too that was a brand in Bangladesh.

Latifur Rahman believed that a free and independent press was imperative for democracy. It was this belief that led to the launch of The Daily Star and Prothom Alo. These two newspapers are acknowledged to be the most independent newspapers in the country

If anyone of the new generation looks to becoming an entrepreneur on a global scale, Latifur Rahman is their pathfinder. His company has represented Pepsico and several international brands in this country. Yet never for a moment did he think of leaving the country to settle abroad. He was determined overcome all odds and expand business in the country.

Latifur Rahman believed in corporate culture. He believed in decentralising leadership and decision-making. His companies are modes of corporate culture in this country. He took up the dying pharmaceutical company SKF and elevated it to the top pharmaceutical company of the country. He delegated leadership among the various departments when the SKF chief executive left, and in no time the company's business flourished. He had firm faith in his employees. And here his eldest daughter Simeen Rahman plays a leading role.

Latifur Rahman was the president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry seven times. He was in the leadership of several business organisations. Latifur Rahman, myself and some others together in 1994 established the Bangladesh national committee of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). He was the vice president of ICC from the start and actively assisted in its activities despite his preoccupations. From 2014 to 2020 he was a member of the ICC central board of governors (ICC).

For long he was the chairman of the National Housing and Finance Company and played a pivotal role in its development. I was also in the leadership of DCCI and FBCCI. Neither Latifur Rahman nor I ever used these establishments in our own business interests. We worked in the interests of the country's business and economy. We worked tirelessly from 1980 to 1990 for the denationlisation of business and industry.

Latifur Rahman believed that a free and independent press was imperative for democracy. It was this belief that led to the launch of The Daily Star and Prothom Alo. These two newspapers are acknowledged to be the most independent newspapers in the country. He had to face much harassment because of these newspapers, but never put pressure on the editors to compromise in any way.

Latifur Rahman's family had tea gardens and jute mills from beforehand. After independence when their industries were nationalised, Latifur Rahman had to start all over again from scratch. Step by step, with dogged determination he built up the Transcom Group as one of the top industrial groups of the country. The business community and all the people of the country look up to Latifur Rahman with deep respect as the epitome of merit and ethics.

* Mahbubur Rahman is the President of the Intentional Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh