Anwar Hossain, the founder and chairman of Anwar Group – one of Bangladesh's oldest and largest conglomerates, was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Like most men of vision and courage throughout history, his greatness came from a humble beginning.
Born to be a businessman, Anwar started his first venture in 1953 when he was just a 15-year old boy. After building up a capital of Tk480 by working and collecting some money from his mother, he began selling lungis at a shop in Chawkbazar.
He steadily transformed his little venture into a sprawling conglomerate involved in a wide range of sectors – including apparel, jute, cement, steel, real estate, polymer, furniture, automobile, bank and financial institutions, just to name a few.
During his lifetime, Anwar established 20 large industrial organisations that directly employed more than 14,000 people. The group also indirectly employs several lakh people in backward linkage industries.
Though Anwar's family had been involved in various businesses for more than a century, he made his own fortune with the brand Mala Saree. Anwar had founded Anwar Silk Mills in 1968 – which brought Mala Sarees into the market.
He even had "Mala Saree's Anwar" as a nickname in his youth.
This line of sarees became very popular in Bangladesh. During the 80s, the state-owned BTV had a famous jingle – "Mala Saree na dile biya korum na," roughly translated as "I will not marry, until I get a Mala Saree."
Anwar Group presently provides 36 products and services.
An industry Mughal and the pioneer of many businesses in Bangladesh, Anwar Hossain breathed his last at 10pm on 17 August at Dhaka's LabAid Hospital. He passed away at the age of 83 due to old age-related complications.
Starting small, then going big
Anwar Hossain was born in 1938. Before launching his own business in the 50s, he looked after his family business for a few years. He also worked at a shop belonging to an apparel trader named Bhola Mia for some time.
In an interview given recently to a national daily, Anwar Group's Managing Director Manwar Hossain had said, "Anwar Hossain's father Rahim Bakhsh died in 1945. Anwar was only seven years old at that time. The family business fell into disarray soon after that.
"Some of the trusted employees started embezzling money. Under such circumstances, Anwar took the reins of his family business when he was just 12 years old. His elder brother later put him to work at another apparel shop."
Manwar continued, "During that time, my father Anwar used to study from dawn to 1pm, then worked in Bhola Mia's shop. He was making Tk15 as allowance, and 2 annas to buy snacks. He saved up Tk90 through his hard work.
"His mother, my grandmother, gave him 200 silver coins, which netted him Tk390. With the capital of Tk480, he launched his first business Anwar Cloth Store at shop number 220 in Chawkbazar. He was only 15 years old."
But launching a business is just the first step, and Anwar began backbreaking work to keep his venture solvent. During that time, Dhaka's Rayer Bazar area used to hold haats at regular intervals. Anwar carried a bundle of lungi to the haat on his head.
He used to carry puffed rice and piyaju with him as snacks.
Anwar's hard work started paying off, and his business kept growing. He bought six more shops adjacent to his own in Chawkbazar and began selling clothes and sarees. Later, Anwar began importing corrugated metal sheets. It all happened between 1953 and 1960.
Near the end of 1960, Anwar Hossain's business ventures spread from Dhaka to almost all large cities across the then East Pakistan. He even launched an apparel business in Karachi, Pakistan. Anwar bought shops, offices, homes and cars there too.
After having done well in his business ventures, Anwar Hossain wanted to become an industrialist. He bought a factory and named it Anwar Silk Mills in 1968. His brand Mala Saree became an instant hit, and his businesses began growing at an exponential rate.
Mala Saree is widely regarded as the first ever popular brand for sarees in Bangladesh, and the popularity endured well after the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Anwar also established Bangladesh's first ever electric cable manufacturing factory in 1956. He then launched a steel mill named "The First Stainless Steel Cutlery Manufacturer" in 1968. But this business faced hurdles during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
Anwar was 33 years old during Bangladesh's struggle for freedom. He was already an established businessman. The Pakistani military burned down Chawkbazar on 24 April of 1971, and Anwar's shop was gutted in the tragic incident.
Bangladesh's economy was in tatters following freedom from Pakistan. Anwar Hossain lost a lot of money to debtors, but nevertheless, he began rebuilding his businesses. At that time, Bangladesh had only a handful of Bengali businessmen, and even less number of industrialists.
Anwar was one of the major contributors to rejuvenating Bangladesh's war-torn economy. In 1978, he established a new venture named Khaled Iron and Steels Ltd. With his eyes on the horizon, he gradually established new ventures such as Anwar Textile, Anwar Steel and Anwar Cement.
In a bid to lessen the hassle of businessmen and women at government banks, Anwar established The City Bank in 1983 with much effort – which is now one of the biggest private commercial banks in Bangladesh. He served as the chairman of the bank four times since 1983.
Commenting on Anwar Hossain's business acumen and success, his son and incumbent Managing Director of Anwar Group Manwar Hossain said, "My father achieved success because he had deep respect for his mother – my grandmother.
"My father used to tell me frequently, do tomorrow's work today, and today's work now. Leave a clean table when you leave your office."
A business leader with entrepreneurial spirit
Anwar Hossain possessed a big entrepreneurial spirit, and he helped many entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
He was one of the major contributors behind Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), and he helped it become one of the biggest organisations for the business community in Bangladesh.
Anwar and his close friend former DCCI president Mahbubur Rahman (the incumbent president of International Chamber of Commerce Bangladesh) acted as the guardian of the DCCI.
Mahbubur's son Rizwan Rahman told The Business Standard, "Anwar Hossain had supported the rise of a lot of new businesspeople."
He joined politics to support the country and its people. Anwar has served as a lawmaker in Dhaka-7 constituency for three years. When it came to building new educational facilities and hospitals, and supporting social institutions, his generosity knew no bounds.
He had also established a foundation in his name.
A family business spanning 187 years
Though Anwar was born in 1938, his family business began more than a century ago in 1834. Around 104 years ago, Anwar's grandfather Lat Mia leased a homestead from Kundu Raja in Chawkbazar with Tk1.
Lat Mia's son and Anwar's father Rahim Bakhsh expanded the family business by selling clothes and some other products beside horn combs. Rahim passed away in 1945 at the age of 85.
Anwar Hossain had previously mentioned that before his father passed away, he was one of the four top well established Muslim businessmen in the western region of Dhaka.