It was 1984. A wedding ceremony was going on in Nur Mohammad's village home in Hathazari upazila of Chattogram. Suddenly, a wooden folding chair broke and one of his neighbours who was sitting on the chair got seriously injured.
The accident moved Nur Mohammad very much. Had there been a plastic chair instead of the wooden chair, the accident might not have happened, he thought.
Nur Mohammad had bought a plot of land in the Muradpur area of the city to establish a garment factory. But the incident that took place during the wedding ceremony made him change his plan. He then thought of setting up a plastic factory. He also shared his plans with several consultants.
He set up a small-scale plastic factory with 10 machines in the same year. In the beginning, he started making bottles of Manola, Harpic, and Dettol.
Utilising that experience of producing plastic goods, he, for the first time in the country, introduced armless chairs with a plastic body and MS frame in 1989. The new introduction received a huge response from the market as various organisations and the armed forces began to buy the chairs. Event decoration firms also started to use these chairs instead of wooden folding chairs.
N Mohammad Plastic introduced 100% plastic-made chairs in 1990. The chairs are still available on the market. Three years later, different companies came in with plastic chairs for the market.
At present, this Chattogram-based industrial group produces about 1,000 types of plastic products, according to company sources.
N Mohammad Plastic Industries has an annual production capacity of 15,000 tonnes of PVC and HDPE pipes, 12,000 tonnes of PVC fitting, 9,000 tonnes of WPC and PVC doors, 8,000 tonnes of WPC and PVC boards, 10,000 tonnes of household and furnishing goods, and 7,200 tonnes of flexible packaging.
Apart from catering to 20% of local demand for these products, the conglomerate is also exporting them to Japan.
Nur Mohammad, who brought the first plastic chair to the market in Bangladesh, died in 2012. His children are now managing the activities of this industrial group.
At present, there are 10 businesses under N Mohammad Group – eight in Bangladesh and two in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which have employed around 3,000 workers. Some 300 workers work in the group's engineering workshops in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, and Jebel Ali in the UAE, and 130 of them are Bangladeshis.
The two businesses in the UAE are Pak Auto Rebuilding, and Nur General Engineering Works. On the other hand, the institutions in Bangladesh – all based in Chattogram – are N Mohammad Plastic Industries, N Mohammad Engineering Industries, Rahman Traders, N Mohammad Doors and Board, Barcode Restaurant Group, M/S Kulsuma Plastic, N Mohammad Polymer, Build Best Building Materials.
Total investment in these businesses is around Tk800 crore, while their asset value is around Tk1,000 crore. The group currently has bank liabilities worth around Tk250 crore.
As in the case of plastic chairs, N Mohammad Plastic also introduced Wood Plastic Composite Doors in Bangladesh for the first time in 2012. The company has remained the market leader in this segment.
The group will open a new outlet called Build Best Building Materials, where all kinds of building materials will be found under the same roof.
The industrial group will soon set up a plastic factory on 10 acres of land in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Industrial City at Mirsarai, which involves an investment of around 400 crore. About 2,000 people are expected to be employed there.
The company has plans to export plastic products worth Tk100 crore a month from that factory.
Mohammad Nazrul Hoque, managing director of N Mohammad Plastic Industries, said, "My father built a plastic factory in Bangladesh with the money earned from engineering workshops in the Middle East. We, the second generation, are taking this business forward."
Mentioning that N Mohammad Group is the outcome of the visionary and creative thinking of his father, Nazrul said the family wants to further expand the scope of business of the group.
He added that from the beginning N Mohammed never gave importance to quantity, and that it always wanted to maintain quality.
"Basically, this business policy has brought N Mohammad thus far. We are going to produce plastic water storage tanks soon, with a maximum water storage capacity of 10,000 litres."
The plastic industry
Narayan Chandra Dey, secretary general of Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA), said the size of the domestic market for plastic products is around Tk40,000 crore, and plastic chairs account for 5% of this large market.
There are about 5,100 plastic factories in Bangladesh, around 50 of which are large factories. Twenty-five companies export plastic chairs abroad, but the number of companies that export different types of plastic products is around 400 companies.
He added that about $1 billion worth of plastic products are exported from Bangladesh each year, including direct and deemed exports.
Bangladeshi manufacturers export plastic goods to a number of major markets, including Europe, America, Japan, Australia and Germany.
Plastic chairs account for 2% of the $1 billion worth of plastic products exports, while neighbouring India and various countries in Africa are their major destinations, maintained Narayan Chandra.
Nur Mohammad lost his parents at an early age. As a result, he could not complete his primary education.
Despite having a keen interest in studies, he had to start working in a mechanical workshop at an early age. He used to walk about 10 kilometers from his village at Nazumiahat in Hathazari to the workshop in AK Khan area in the city. Because Nur Mohammad was very honest and creative, the owner of the workshop liked him very much.
At one point, one acquaintance of the owner of the workshop requested him to send a mechanic to Karachi, Pakistan. Then he proposed the name of Nur Mohammad. Nur Mohammad also agreed to the proposal. In 1964, he sailed to Karachi with a pass. He had only two rupees in his pocket then.
The Pakistani under whom Nur Mohammad worked handed over full responsibility of conducting the workshop to him within six months. He was only 16 years old then. Within two years, he learned how to repair cars of expensive brands, including Mercedes Benz.
After staying in Karachi for two years, Nur Mohammad moved to Dubai.
There, he established both a garage and a workshop named Nur Engineering. Cars started coming there from far away. The government later acquired the factory site to build a mosque.
As he shared the matter with one of his customers, the customer told him that he had a plot of land in Sharjah, next to Dubai. But there were no roads in that part of the desert. Nur Mohammad set up a workshop again with 16 Bangladeshi workers about 17 km away from the main road.
Gradually, Nur Engineering Workshop became known all across Dubai. This is how Nur Mohammad established himself in the mechanical sector.
In 1980, he bought a piece of land in Muradpur, Chattogram, and set up N Mohammad Engineering Workshop. The workshop used to repair engines of various companies, including Chattogram port, merchant ships, and railways.
Nur Mohammad started his business in Bangladesh from then on.
Love for the motherland
While speaking about his late father, Nazrul Haque said, "We have seen many people investing abroad by taking money out of the country. But my father built plastic factories and engineering workshops in the country with foreign remittances.
"He also contributed to the Liberation War of Bangladesh from the Middle East. He held meetings in different places in the Middle East and collected money from there and sent it to Bangladesh to help the freedom fighters. For his role, the government also recognised him as a freedom fighter."
The Bangladesh government also declared him a commercially important person (CIP) in the remittance category.
Compassion toward staff
N Mohammad Group has been sensitive towards its staff from the beginning. Many employees have been working with the organisation for 30 years.
Every year during Ramadan, the company arranges free iftar and sehri for the workers in its factories.
The company also provides free breakfast in the morning and evening at other times. Employees also can have lunch for Tk10.
The business group also provides free accommodation to its employees.
No worker's salary was deducted during the corona period. No workers were fired either.
N Mohammad Group provided medical assistance to its workers who were infected with Covid-19. It also distributed safety equipment to various hospitals and individuals during the Covid period.
Besides, as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR), the industrial group provides various modes of assistance to a number of educational and religious institutions in Boalkhali upazila and carries out other welfare work, including installation of street lights.
A crisis of gas has hampered the production target of N Mohammad Group. With the current demand for its products in the market, the group could easily double its production.
N Mohammed has plans to introduce new products and increase production once gas connection is given to its new factory.
Mohammad Nazrul Hoque said there is also a crisis of skilled workers in the sector. To create skilled workers, the government needs to set up training centres and disseminate technical education, he observed.