David Thomas Shaw and Charles William Wallace, two British citizens, lured by the lucrative possibilities the Indian subcontinent offered, founded the Shaw Wallace and Co Limited (SWC) in Calcutta in 1886.
Its beginnings were humble, but by 1964, it was ranked seventh amongst the agency houses and ninth in the volume of tea shipments from Calcutta to the United Kingdom, according to various reports.
It was also one of the first importers of motor cars to India, alongside being the first agents for Marconi's Telegraph Company and Imperial Airways.
Some accounts say Shaw Wallace was one of the largest, outside the public sector, in the distribution of fertilisers throughout India during 1930-60.
The company was a gold mine and it attracted many suitors.
After British colonisation came to an end, the current 136-year-old company changed hands, broke into several parts and diversified, but continued to exist as a symbol of the shift in the power balance.
But a century later, the company may be on its last legs, waiting for the pronouncement of its time of death.
How did this come to be for a company at the forefront of both tea and shipping?
Visiting the renamed Shaw Wallace Bangladesh Limited (SWBL) Gulshan office recently, only five to six officers and employees were seen.
Although hesitant to speak at first, once they opened up, a story of mismanagement and bad luck began to unravel.
Gone were the shipping lines and all the tea gardens. The company now survives on the income it makes from buying auctioned tea in Chattogram which it sells to the local market. It also earns from dividends of the shares of its trust company.
Its tea also doesn't have a single agent.
The money made is used to meet the payroll and for the upkeep of the office.
The company has generated no profit in the past four years. Its employees also believe that there is no turnaround coming.
The Shaw Wallace Bangladesh chapter is now sputtering towards its demise.
From heady beginnings
David Thomas Shaw and Charles William Wallace founded the Shaw Wallace and Co Ltd in the 18th century in Calcutta.
Over the years the company branched out to shipping lines, chemical factories, liquor and of course, tea.
After partition in 1947, the British sold the company to local entrepreneurs.
As a result, Shaw Wallace India Limited and Shaw Wallace Pakistan Limited started their journey separately.
The liquor and chemicals segment went to India, while the tea and shipping ventures belonged to the-then Pakistan.
The company filled its coffers in this way until Bangladesh's independence war broke out.
Rezaur Rahman was a savvy businessman with a keen sense of what was about to come.
He had returned to Dhaka from London in the late 50s and took charge of the office of the audit firm Price Waterhouse Peat & Co before launching his own chartered accountancy firm in 1963.
In a display of his business acumen, soon after liberation, he bid for and acquired Messers Shaw Wallace, the British shipping company, from the Bangladesh government in 1972.
Rezaur continued to develop the business, setting up new factories, tea plantations and diversifying to start a spices line, all sold under the Shaw Wallace brand.
The money from the company was also used by Rezaur Rahman to found the International Leasing And Financial Services Limited (ILFSL) and the National Housing Finance and Investments Limited (NHFIL) in 1996 and 1998.
In 2002, Rezaur bought SWBL and transferred 100% of the ownership to AF Mujibur Rahman Foundation, a trust named after his father.
The trust would be run on the money generated by SWBL.
Rezaur would also buy 17.36% shares of ILFSL and 2.81% of NHFIL under the Wallace company name.
At this point, the company was selling tea to Europe and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the income from its trust was benefitting meritorious university and college students with a scholarship programme.
Besides, the trust fund also gifted the eight-storey AF Mujibur Rahman Mathematics Building in Dhaka University in 2014.
With Rezaur Rahman at the helm, the only way was up, both for the tea company and the charity works it supported, an official said.
All falls down
In 2008, Rezaur left for England. An illness prevented him from coming back, leading to his younger brother, Mizanur Rahman, taking over the reins.
In 2008, one Nurul Alam joined the company, becoming the managing director, a post he still holds, two years later.
Soon after joining, Nurul sold all seven tea gardens of the company. He also closed this spice business, before pulling the plug on the shipping and clearing and forwarding ventures as well.
Nurul Alam was also on the board of directors of both ILFSL and NHFIL since 2010.
As the company stumbled along, the PK Halder scam broke. Investigations by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) showed that Halder had drained institutions of money by buying large amounts of shares in them and having those lend money to fake companies he set up.
The ILFSL was also caught up in this scam, reportedly losing Tk28 billion in 2019 and nearly Tk7 billion in 2020.
The ACC then opened an investigation into Nurul as well, suspecting him to be an associate of PK Halder. Nurul stepped down from NHFIL, but remains a director of ILFSL.
Contacted, Nurul Alam declined to comment on the issue. After a few days, he stopped answering his phone.
A legacy tainted
At present, the company is currently selling the shares of NHFIL, having sold 2.7 million already with a face value of Tk12 crore.
A company official said the SWBL still had licences for its shipping and customs agents, but its tradition was tea.
Despite the capacity, the company still has no business.
Another official said weak leadership and the ILFSL scam were the two reasons for the company's downfall.
Meanwhile, the part of the original Shaw Wallace Limited Company bought by Indian conglomerate United Breweries is doing well.
Its alcoholic beverage arm has become a commendable force in both the Indian local and international markets, becoming India's largest producer of beer and having more than 40% of the Indian brewing market.
In Bangladesh, the company is barely standing. At the moment, company officials believe the end of its chapter is only a matter of when and now how.
But no one can exactly pinpoint what transpired for such a dramatic fall.