Anwar Group, established in 1834 by Lakku Mia of Old Dhaka, is one of the oldest industrial conglomerates in the country. After a modest start as a business of "Hides and Skins," the corporation turned into the massive business entity that it is today mainly under the leadership of Lakku Mia's grandson Anwar Hossain.
Before his death in August last year, Mala Saree-famed Anwar Hossain founded more than 20 companies by diversifying the leather business initiated by his grandfather and then continued by his father.
Currently, Anwar Group is involved in manufacturing and catering 36 products and services, including textiles, jute, cement, steel, banking, insurance, automobiles, housing, infrastructure and furniture.
After Anwar Hossain's death, his eldest son Manwar Hossain took over the responsibility of the business group. Manwar Hossain recently spoke to The Business Standard about growth, current business status and future plans of Anwar Group.
Anwar Group has been doing business in this region since the days when it was under British control. Some 188 years ago, Anwar Hossain's grandfather Lakku Mia (real name Lat Mia) started his business by leasing a house in Chawkbazar from Kundu Raja at a rent of Tk1 per annum.
Lat Mia's main business was to make combs and buttons from horns and sell them. Anwar Hossain's father Rahim Bakhsh expanded his father's business. Additionally, he traded in some other products including clothes.
Reminiscing the stories about his grandfather that he heard from his father, Manwar Hossain told The Business Standard that even though his grandfather did business by leasing a shop for Tk1 a year, he was one of the highest taxpayers of Bengal at that time.
"My grandfather was a very big businessman. He then started a community-based business. He used to bring in buffalo horns by train from India and gave them to the people here. They used to make combs from those horns. Later, those were again exported to different states of India including Kolkata, Madras, and Mumbai.
My grandfather died at the age of 84, but at that time my father was only six years old, while his two elder brothers were 16 and 12, respectively. As all his sons were very young, my grandfather's business reached the verge of collapse," said Manwar Hossain.
Anwar Hossain: Starting small, then going big
Anwar Hossain was born in 1938. Before launching his own business in the 1950s, he looked after his family business for a few years.
Manwar Hossain said, "My grandfather Rahim Bakhsh died in 1945. My father was only six or seven years of age 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 eight years old."
Manwar continued, "He launched his first business Anwar Cloth Store at shop number 220 in Chawkbazar with only Tk360. When he was 11 years old, he had Tk1 lakh.
My father'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. After having done well in his business ventures, 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 into the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Anwar also bought Bangladesh's first ever electric cable manufacturing factory in 1968. He then launched a steel mill named "The First Stainless Steel Cutlery Manufacturer. But this business faced hurdles during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971."
Manwar Hossain said, "my father 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," added Manwar Hossain, "My father achieved success because he had a deep respect for his mother – my grandmother."
Current state of business
At present, over 14,000 people are employed in over 20 companies under Anwar Group.
Their businesses achieved up to 15-16% growth even amid the pandemic, Manwar Hossain said, adding that healthy growth was posted particularly in the textile, cement sheet, polymer and construction sectors.
"We have helped our dealers stay afloat by providing them with various facilities. But, we could not attain growth in the cement and steel businesses and a hike in prices of raw materials of these products in the international market was the main reason for this."
He went on to say that after the coronavirus pandemic, the recent global crisis, and gas and electricity shortages in the country crisis have emerged as matters of concern for them.
All businesses are in a slowdown due to soaring inflation and the dollar crisis, he mentioned, adding that businesses such as cement and steel are predominantly the worst sufferers.
He expressed his fear that the situation will take two-three years to improve.
Large investment in four new projects
Anwar Group has started working on several projects including in the denim and steel sectors.
Manwar Hossain said all the projects will be completed by 2025 and will create more than 6,000 new jobs.
"We are set to make a big investment of Tk3,000 crore in the steel sector. It will be completed by 2024. Also, we are going to invest Tk1,400 crore in denim. The plant will go into production by 2025.
Before that, we want to establish a carton industry and a paper industry. Cartons and paper produced there will be exported. We want to complete work on the carton plant by the third quarter of 2023, while the paper industry will come into production in 2024," said Manwar Hosaain.
He expressed optimism that their business group will have more than 25,000 people on its payroll by 2030.
Manwar Hossain also entered business at young age
Even though he studied abroad, like his father, Anwar Group's current chairman Manwar Hossain got involved with business at a young age.
"I studied at St. Paul's School Darjeeling and the University of New Hampshire, US. After completing my studies, I joined the business in 1993. But I have been involved in the business since I was in Class V. That's when my father handed me his business briefcase. I sat in the shop when I was in Class VII. I also got engaged in the business whenever I came to the country on a vacation. I used to go to the factory.
In 1993, I was given the responsibility of the company. [And] the following year, I took over as the managing director. At that time, my father gave me the responsibility to look after Anwar Steel. He did not interfere with my activities after giving me the responsibility. I have not lost or wasted any business till now after taking charge," said Manwar Hossain.
'Strong rural economy will save us'
The global economy is in crisis due to inflation and the dollar crisis post-coronavirus pandemic. Bangladesh also has moved for austerity. It has opted for power rationing to save energy while imports of many products have been restricted.
Despite all this, the strong foundation of the rural economy will save us, believes Manwar Hossain.
"I had been saying long ago that the crisis would not end with the end of Covid-19. No sooner had the Covid-19 situation improved, the Ukraine-Russia war broke out. The crisis came from Europe and America. But we are an exception in one aspect – our rural economy is protecting us.
At the beginning of the Covid outbreak when the whole world, including Bangladesh, shut down mills, the rural economy of the country was still active. Our agriculture has saved us. Rural poultry, animal farms, and fish farms have saved us," he concluded.