Grameenphone stormed into the country's fledgling mobile telephony market in 1997 and took the lead in the market within years.
In just 12 years, the Telenor joint-venture emerged as the first listed company to book over Tk500 crore annual profit as it successfully penetrated the market and kept leading the industry.
This was possible because of the then government's policy to open the telecom sector to private sector competition, which facilitated nationwide cell phone penetration then and the Internet revolution now.
Soon the telco giant was joined by a dozen listed companies from various sectors – including the pharmaceuticals, banking, technology, telecommunication, power generation, and tobacco – in the club of Tk500 crore annual profits. Five of them have already crossed even the Tk1,000 crore mark.
But the journey was not the same for all.
For tobacco multinational British American Tobacco (BAT), it took 65 years of its journey in this land to earn Tk500 crore in annual profit for the first time in 2014 as it grew in line with tobacco consumption and with its edges gradually captured more market share from competitors.
Local ventures now dominate the table with high-tech manufacturing and power sectors doing wonders at the fastest pace, helped by government's policy support, entrepreneurs' vision and of course the market boom.
The scenario reflects a strong decade for the private sector that accounts for 81% of the country's economy.
Analysts forecast that the Tk500 crore profit club might have 100 publicly-listed members by the end of the decade while many others in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and textiles sectors remain unaccounted because of non-listing.
Beximco Limited, a local conglomerate that started its journey as a commodity trading company soon after the country's independence, reached the Tk500 crore annual profit benchmark in 2010 following several mergers of sister entities and higher revenues.
After witnessing its profit slide, the conglomerate bounced back to the Tk500 crore profit milestone this year as all its businesses including textile and IT are earning more and the pandemic helped it to earn a lot from exports of personal protective equipment.
Beximco Pharmaceuticals, one of the poster boys of the country's pharma industry, also entered the club this year.
Thanks to the right government policy four decades ago that helped the country's self-dependency in medicines while top companies are exporting their medicines across the world including the most stringent markets like the USA and Europe.
Square Pharmaceuticals, which started with a small base in 1964, is now the industry leader and also belongs to the giants' club since 2015. Thanks to continuous growth, the company's yearly profit has jumped to Tk1,594 crore this year.
Renata, the descendent of Pfizer Bangladesh, is another growth story. Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have positioned the listed drug maker into the big profit makers' list this year following continuous growth of its business every year.
The company used to earn around Tk10 crore in net annual profits in the early 2000s.
All these companies took decades to grow, more or less in line with their industry growth and gradually increased investments for more capacity.
Fastest takeoff in the last decade
The fastest takeoff appeared to have taken place in the last decade, even more so in the fields of power generation and high-tech manufacturing since the government facilitated the sectors to cater to the rapidly growing needs of the economy and the people.
For example, United Power Generation and Distribution Ltd that began in 2007 to directly supply quality power to the export processing zone factories at Dhaka and Chattogram for a higher profit margin is the highest dividend paying local listed company now.
On top of the unique business model of its two commercial independent power plants, United Power merged many of its sister power producing entities over years and achieved its Tk500 crore profit milestone in 2019 and is now earning over Tk1,000 crore.
Summit Power that started operations in 1997 as soon as the government embraced the private sector power generation policy has turned out to be the largest power producer in the country as it won a lot of power generation and supply contracts with the government.
Merging new power producing companies alongside securing the needed return on invested capital, Summit Power entered the Tk500 crore profit club in 2019 and posted more profits this year.
The fastest ascend has been by the electronics and home appliances giant Walton Hi-Tech Industries Ltd as the homegrown company took only seven years to make its first Tk500 crore profit and is now posting over Tk1,600 crore annual profits.
Starting in 2008 with a mere Tk10 crore capital, it dramatically won the local market of refrigerators, television and other electronics products following the supportive government policies aiming to boost localisation of high tech manufacturing.
Widely defeating the foreign brands in the local market of a fast growing middle class with their rising purchasing power, Walton now aims to be a top global player in electronics.
Having exported one lakh refrigerators, winning contracts for more and more bulk exports of a wide range of electronics products and equipment like compressors, employing both local and global talents in its newly opened foreign offices, the company seems to be on its right track on reaching the ambition.
As the size of the national economy is growing faster, investments, trade financing, savings and borrowing – all are growing faster and the country's banks are also emerging as big profit makers.
However, high provisioning against default loans and portfolio investment risks over a decade did not help them to keep the consistency in profits.
National Bank, having increased its paid-up capital more than any other in the sector, posted its first Tk500 crore annual profit in 2011 and slipped below that level in the following years.
Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd, the largest bank in the country's private sector, entered the club in 2018 but dropped back again.
Both the banks have been hovering around the Tk500 crore profit milestone over recent years.
Dutch-Bangla Bank Ltd that began its journey as a joint-venture between local and Dutch entrepreneurs in 1996, made its first Tk500 crore yearly profit in 2020.
Since the construction sector is booming in the country, the top steel maker BSRM Ltd is also knocking at the door of the elite club. The listed company that started operations in 1960 posted Tk497 crore profits this year.
Over 100 more in the pipeline
Asset manager Shahidul Islam, former president of the CFA Society Bangladesh, believes the number of Bangladeshi companies making Tk500 crore in annual profit is already much higher than the official figure, as a very small number of large businesses are listed in the stock market to disclose their business data publicly.
For example, in the pharmaceuticals industry, two-thirds of the top ten firms are private ones while most of the FMCG giants are still away from the stock market. Also, the biggest textile exporters are operating as non-listed companies.
Shahidul Islam, the managing director and chief executive officer of VIPB Asset Management, also foresees the number of Tk500 crore profit making listed firms to cross 100 even before this decade ends, as many listed firms are growing from their existing base of several hundred crore Taka annual profits and also the bourses should attract large non-public firms in coming days.
"The time a company took to earn its first Tk500 crore in annual profit will come down to less than a decade for its next Tk500 crore if it merely grows in line with the economy every year," he said.
The FMCG, banking, construction material, and technology would be the top sectors to produce listed companies earning gigantic profits, he added.
He also feels that the banking industry, after some consolidation, will have many listed firms in the Tk500 crore profit list.
"Tomorrow, we shall talk about Tk1,000-Tk1,500 crore profit makers," he added.