No conflicts, no frills: How ABC Ltd remained united for 3 generations and expanded its businesses
The Business Standard spoke to Subhash Chandra Ghosh, Chairman, ABC Ltd, one of the oldest building construction companies in the country
For over 50 years, three generations of ABC Ltd have successfully upheld the company's reputation in the construction sector. The Associated Builders Corporation (abbreviated as ABC Ltd) was established in 1972, followed by ABC Real Estates Limited in 1988, ABC Building Products in 2002 and later ABC Facilities.
ABC had also been part of the founding body of Mutual Trust Bank Limited.
One of the oldest building construction companies in the country, ABC Limited has been building large structures since its inception. Some of their work includes North South University, BUFT Campus (BGMEA), Dhaka Ahsania Mission Cancer Hospital, Ashuganj Fertilizer Factory, Power Stations in Khulna, Ghorashal and Haripur, Narayanganj, Bangladesh Open University, Gorai Bridge in Magura, Sheikh Mujib Road Culvert in Agrabad, factory buildings of Square Pharmaceuticals, Berger Paints, PHP Floating Glass & other PHP concerns, several cement plants, and much more.
Apart from construction and property development, and being one of the pioneers in ready-mix concrete manufacturing, the company has also nurtured a stellar reputation in banking services. In a country dominated by big family businesses, ABC limited is a rare example of a few friends getting together, putting aside their age, cultural and religious differences, and creating something new.
Subhash Chandra Ghosh, Chairman of ABC Ltd, recently spoke to The Business Standard on the 50th anniversary of the company.
How did you embark on this challenging journey when ABC Ltd was established in 1972?
Among the five of us, Amirul Islam was the first who came forward to start a new construction firm. A Civil Engineering graduate from Shibpur Engineering College, he worked for the Gammon Construction Company for several years. Later in 1964, he formed Delta Construction with four others.
During the 1971 Liberation War, his non-Bangalee partners packed up their bags and departed, leaving Amirul alone, and the company was declared abandoned by the government. And running that company on his own was not possible, so he decided to try something new.
[At that time], he enlisted his brother Nazrul Islam for the new venture. Saifuddin Ahmed Chowdhury, who had been the Chief Engineer of Crescent Jute Mill of Khulna and known to Amirul, also joined and was made the Chairman of this new incorporation. At that time, I had been working for a construction company named Yaqub Ltd, which I had joined in 1966. This company, originally owned by a West Pakistani management, was also declared abandoned by the government.
After independence, the new government of Bangladesh opened a cell for the abandoned properties in order to sort their issues. It had its office in Shantinagar. This is where I first met Amirul Islam at the end of 1972. In the course of our conversations, while waiting, Mr Islam requested me to join their new company as Director and an equal shareholder.
Thus, ABC was born.
Since it was a new entrant in the market and a new name, we decided to form a consortium with my erstwhile company, Yakub Ltd, to establish ABC's name. Our first work was the construction of Foundry-1 Building for Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory at Joydevpur for an amount of Tk.1.85 crore, which was quite a big job at that time. [And] so that's how ABC's journey started.
Then we soon became five partners when Mostaqur Rahman, a BUET architect, joined. All the jobs we took were big ones: power stations, bridges, industrial factories etc. Our policy was to work on big and technically challenging projects and work hard. Most of our work was done with foreign consultants. I remember that back in the 1990s, most of our competitors for constructing Sheikh Mujib Road Culvert in Chittagong were foreign companies due to its scale and criticality, but we won that contract!
What is the most challenging work you have done so far?
Our most challenging jobs were the Gorai Bridge in Magura and Sk Mujib Road Culvert in Chittagong. Although, at the same time, the construction of all the power stations was no less challenging. Besides, we also worked on the North South University campus, Ahsania Mission Cancer Hospital and the Fashion University of the BGMEA.
We are currently working on the BRAC University campus with a Chinese company. Another exciting job for us at this moment is the construction of the major part of the new Terminal 3 of HSIA Airport.
Actually, ABC has not done any small construction since its inception. The company was set up with very little money in 1972. Still, whenever we made a profit, partners didn't take out that money for personal use and rather utilised the profit for capital growth and strengthening equipment. We only took allowance to run our families, maintain a simple lifestyle and focused on growing the company with our own finances, as bank finance in those days was very difficult.
Who is steering the ABC concerns now?
When Saifuddin Ahmed Chowdhury and Amirul Islam became too old, they brought their sons Rashed Chowdhury and Zahidul Islam on board. Nazrul Islam also followed the suit and his son Engr Nashid Islam joined the company in an active role. I am the Chairman, however, the workload of our construction operations is mostly on Nashid now.
Back in the late 1980s, we had started a Real Estate company but due to our engagement and emphasis on the construction business, we did not focus much on that sector. When my daughter returned from the United States as a business graduate in 2002, she joined this real estate operation as an employee but not as a director. We believe that a successor must learn the ropes and prove their worthiness before taking up a functional Director's role.
Some years later, my son, a Princeton graduate in Electrical and Computer Engineering, also joined the company. They're both running the business as directors now, under the leadership of Mostaqur Rahman as the Chairman. Srabanti [Subhash Chandra Ghosh's daughter] is probably the only female entrepreneur in the formal real estate sector of Bangladesh who has over 20 years of full-time active professional experience in property development.
Rashed Chowdhury is now the Chairman of ABC BPL – our ready-mix concrete manufacturing concern and ABCFL – our latest venture of providing facility management and security services to properties and facilities.
Mostaque has also transferred his shares to his two daughters who are at present living abroad. The third generation of Amirul Islam and Saifuddin Ahmed Chowdhury is very young in the trade, they have now joined ABC concerns as well.
How did you maintain the partnership and business growth for multiple generations?
Well, I would say that it's a mix of sound policies and good luck. From the beginning, our aim was that all five of us shall have equal shares, which would eventually be distributed among our children only, and we shall not sell the shares outside or aim for an IPO.
All of our shares were divided among our children; thus the second generation became Directors. The responsibilities are distributed based on strength and capacity. We make it a point to have meetings with all members of the Board at least once a month to have detailed discussions about business status and to exchange opinions, which nurture a culture of transparency, dialogue and participation.
Matters of interest or money have never been conflicting among us as we all believed in keeping a humble profile in society and in the corporate sector. Respectful attitude and a sense of equality kept our big family together. We never faced any problems with the partnership till date.
Also, we all had the same business principles and aspiration for the company – to do ethical business, to keep the expansion within our capacity, to depend the least on bank loans, to be highly committed to clients about keeping promises, to truly care for our staff, and, to practice full transparency within the management body.
We believe that a collective respect towards these values by owners of every generation is the key to our strong bonding and spotless reputation of 50 years.