Today's corporate Bangladesh grew mainly from the small trading businesses that met the immediate needs of the people of war-torn newborn Bangladesh. From the humble beginnings, the post-independence private sector rose to a new height blossoming to a wide range of manufacturing sectors and positioned itself as a main driver of growth.
Victory in the Liberation War was instrumental behind the transformation, as senior economist Prof Rehman Sobhan pointed out, as it also gave rise to an entrepreneurial revolution.
Another economist Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman said the country's independence has transformed a people of "fatalistic mindset into an aspirational population" instilling the sense of entrepreneurship among people to rebuild from the rubble.
A self-made businessman Fazlur Rahman also echoed the sentiment, saying Bangladesh's independence was the key factor that made him a factory owner.
"Pakistani businessmen were ruling our market and before independence we barely dared to dream of our own business," he noted.
The entrepreneur initiated his small mustard oil mill in 1972 on a small plot in Gendaria, Dhaka.
The humble venture with a capital of Tk50,000 and 20-25 employees transformed into today's City Group's multibillion dollar empire that include more than 35 gigantic businesses covering "Teer" brand edible oil, sugar, flour, shipyard, tea-estate, economic zone, financial services and others.
In the five decades of his business career, the entrepreneur created earning opportunities for more than one lakh people, while over 15,000 permanent employees are working to generate over Tk25,000 crore in annual revenue for City Group factories right now.
City Group is now meeting one-third of the national market demand for branded consumer goods, while it is also exporting many products with more than 50% of value addition on average.
The group is now working to open six factories in its economic zone soon with an investment target of $800 million and 3,000 jobs, which will add to its current annual contribution of over Tk2,500 crore to the national exchequer.
The story of corporate Bangladesh's rise is similar to that of the City Group, where a number of brave entrepreneurs like the founders of Beximco, TK, Concord, and Jamuna groups opted into the collective dream for nation-building.
Their beginning was mainly with export-imports of key commodities that extended to the next level industries gradually in line with the maturity of the economy and the groups of companies are now engaged in a wide variety of businesses.
Abu Tayab and Abul Kalam – sons of a Chattogram-based merchant – began their commodity trading business in 1972.
Their father gave them a capital of Tk2,000 from his farm earnings and that was the seed money for today's TK Group.
Within two years in business, the two brothers co-founded their edible oil mill in Chattogram, which now is a top player in the market.
Their dreams of manufacturing goods and providing quality services in the country gave birth to over 60 business entities in a wide range of industries, including edible oil, steel, board, paper, textile, packaging, tree plantation, shipbuilding, securities trading, insurance, and many more that are generating an annual turnover of over Tk25,800 crore now.
Tariq Ahmed, director of Operations and Marketing at TK Group, said new Bangladeshi entrepreneurs, such as TK Group founders, got the opportunity for doing businesses after the country's independence following the vacuum created by the departure of the previously dominating non-Bengali business families.
"Independence fueled their growth in their own land," he added.
The story of Beximco Group is the same as it began with exports of jute and some uncommon commodities available in the newly independent country.
Beximco's empire now includes one of the largest textile villages in the region, a world famous pharmaceutical company with its shares trading at the London Stock Exchange's over the counter market, ceramic, fashion house, media, petrochemical, jute, IT, bank, solar power, sports and many others.
Beginning its journey in 1974, Jamuna Group now owns large textiles, chemicals, construction, leather, engineering, beverages, media and advertisement businesses.
The group also built the largest shopping mall of the sub-continent in Dhaka.
The independence of the country not only helped create new entrepreneurs, but it also gave space to the previously-founded ventures in the land to flourish.
BSRM Group, the steel pioneer in the country, was in business since the early 1950s, but with a lack of economic opportunity until independence, said Aameir Alihussain, the managing director of the group.
"In the two pre-independence decades, our business barely grew. All we have now has mainly flourished in the independent Bangladesh," he said.
After the Liberation War, like other mills and factories, their steel mill in Chattogram was nationalised. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman handed over the mill to the founders in 1974, observing the Gujarati-origin entrepreneur family's skill and devotion in the business and their love for Chattogram.
In the post-independence time, when Bangladesh was struggling for its economic survival, the steel business that was not doing that great in the 1970s, began to grow in the 1980s in tune with the increasing economic activities and constructions.
Real take-off in 1990s
The real take-off came in the 1990s when the country adopted the private sector-led growth strategy. "Our businesses have now kept on growing with time, said Aameir Alihussain.
BSRM Group is generating around Tk10,000 crore turnover each year, having over 4,000 employees and around Tk8,000 crore in cumulative investments.
The list of ventures in the land older than Bangladesh include MM Ispahani, Habib Group, AK Khan Group, Akij Group, Sikder Group, Rahimafrooz, Square Group, Partex, Navana and Islam Group, A Monem, Abul Khair, Bengal Group, Mir Akhter, and PHP.
They were in businesses, and most of them, except the old elites such as Ispahani or AK Khan, were the contenders in their respective industries. And, each has demonstrated their legendary rise in the independent Bangladesh.
AK Khan Group Director and former DCCI President Abul Kasem Khan said independence was the biggest factor behind the creation of businessmen in Bangladesh.
"Prior to independence, the people of this land were neglected in every sphere of life ," he said, adding that doing business, getting licences for lucrative businesses, availing bank loans, and having the right infrastructure for businesses, everything favoured the West Pakistanis.
In the independent Bangladesh, the situation began to change and everything now belongs to Bangladeshis.
The transformation was spectacular as the private sector enterprises are running the economic engine, which made Bangladesh a land of opportunities for entrepreneurs, consumers and skilled professionals.
"Freedom fueled entrepreneurship here debunking the old myth that Bengalis only can work for others," Abul Kasem, who is also the chairperson of Business Initiative Leading Development.
The then young founders of PHP and some other of today's conglomerates stepped in for businesses just before the independence as they got the courage following the mass political movement for freedom, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Mohammad Mohsin, vice chairman of PHP Family, a son of its founder Sufi Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, said his father left his bank job and started an import business with a seed capital of Tk1,483 as he observed the demand for many products in independent Bangladesh.
The desire for import substitution made PHP invest in state-of-the-art glass factories, shipyards, car assembly and automotive manufacturing and many other products.
Since the mid-1970s, Bangladesh began to get brand new entrepreneurs as the country began to open for private ventures targeting economic growth and employment.
Today's giant conglomerates, including Meghna Group of Industries, Nasir Group, and United Group, had their beginning in the second half of the first decade of independence.
Manpower exports, increasing agricultural production, development projects, and local jobs began to lead to an increase in people's purchasing power in the 1980s and the trend only grew stronger in the following decades in all areas.
The game changing event happened in the 1980s when the country began apparel exports and the availability of low-cost labour, government support, and rise of hundreds of new entrepreneurs in the export-oriented apparel industry created another legend.
Bangladesh now is the home to the maximum number of green apparel factories in the world, while it is the second largest apparel exporting nation.
The rise of Bangladesh's pharmaceutical industry still is a wonder to many despite the fact that local entrepreneurs in the sector began their journey before independence.
Square Pharmaceuticals, the country's pharmaceutical leader, began in 1958 with a small plant in Pabna and Square Group is now serving the big markets of drugs, FMCG products, private healthcare, media and many others.
The supportive pharmaceuticals industry policy in the 1980s helped unleash the best within the local pharmaceutical talents. Local companies, such as Square and Beximco, have emerged strongly to cater to the demand of the entire local market collectively alongside extending their market reach to over 130 countries, including many stringent developed markets.
In the 1980s, 1990s and onwards, both the existing and hundreds of new entrepreneurs explored dozens of business fields, including leather, plastic, processed foods and many with a view to exporting such goods or substituting imports, and grabbing the opportunities offered by the rising purchasing power of consumers.
In the 2000s, the country's entrepreneurs began to focus on modern and comparatively higher-end manufacturing alongside flourishing in services industries.
Existing industries, such as apparel, pharmaceuticals, only kept thriving through their manufacturing excellence and increased the level of local value addition.
Electronics, home appliances, bikes
Electrical appliances and electronics companies, including Walton, emerged as the new wonders in the 2010s and many global brands have built their factories here. Almost phasing out imports, local companies are confidently targeting to conquer international markets.
In pharmaceuticals, cement, home appliances, imports now are almost a matter of the past.
After decades of imports, Bangladesh has got its two-wheeler industry over the last decade as home-grown Runner Automobile's ambition and the supportive government policy attracted all the popular mass market brands in manufacturing motorcycles in the country, when Runner already began exporting their bikes.
The growing customer base and rapidly developing road infrastructure are drawing in affordable car manufacturers to set up factories in the economic zones here.
Also, the country's technology entrepreneurs are on the display of their strength in respective fields.
Mobile financial services giant Bkash has recently attracted investments from Japanese Softbank-led venture capital fund for the first time in the country, while startups, such as Pathao and Shopup, are making international media headlines.
Local firm DataSoft is working in the background of smart-home transformation in Japan.
A mix of professional and entrepreneurial skills helped many Bangladeshi executives take over foreign firms they worked for, while the companies were leaving the market after decades of operations.
From Imperial Chemical Industries to today's Advanced Chemical Industries, from Pfizer Bangladesh to Renata are the examples in the pharmaceuticals sector, while the growth hunger helped ACI to turn into a big conglomerate, having several dozen businesses under the umbrella of the mother pharmaceutical company.