I received a short message on my phone just before noon on July 1 but could not notice it properly due to office work. The message was from Shehzi Huq that read, "My Abbu is with his doting Shazneen and Chotoo now, Rabbir Hum Huma Kama Rabbayani Sageera." Later, one of my colleagues informed me that Mr Shamim Latifur Rahman passed away in his sleep in the late morning. I was devastated to hear the news about a person who was probably the most respected name in Bangladesh's business community for his high ethical and moral standards.
As I started to write this piece, past memories came rushing back to me. Shamim bhai was not only a good businessman but also a good soul, a well-educated and self-educated person. I had known him for more than three decades, since 1987. Transcom's office was located at 52 Motijheel, almost next to our ANZ Grindlays Bank. I had been closely associated with his businesses in many ways. We were associated in the process of acquisition of Philips, Pepsi, partial stake taking in Nestlé and Holcim, the opening of the LC for the first consignment of machines and papers for The Daily Star and Prothom Alo. It feels just like the other day. His leadership as president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), the many meetings at my home, at his home, in his car, in hotel lobbies, at the residences of ambassadors, on planes and even outside the country—there are so many memories. We had meetings in Mumbai, Delhi, and in our Hong Kong and London offices.
All my seniors in the corporate sector used to hold him in high regard. I have personally observed the level of admiration and respect he used to command from global corporate leaders like Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo Global, Sanjeev Mehta, Unilever's South Asia Head, and Ajaypal Banga, Global CEO of MasterCard, who was formerly East India Sales Head of Nestlé and Pepsi and later my reporting senior at Citibank NA. Even PwC global Chairman Bob Moritz in November last year was enquiring about his friend Latifur Rahman from the ICC global committee, where Mr Moritz was the president.
I took him to my classes at North South University, IBA and BRAC Business Schools to deliver lectures on "business ethics". One of his lectures at Standard Chartered Bank was on "What do we expect from a global bank?"
He was shaken by the death of his youngest daughter Shazneen Rahman, and then again by the death of his grandson, the young and brave Faraaz. But he was not broken; he was composed and dignified. He had been suffering from asthma for some time. So, he used to live in his village home surrounded by greenery.
Shamim bhai loved this country very much. Whenever we met somewhere, he used to ask me to send my car back and offered to drop me home so that he could talk on our way back. We used to have discussions on issues such as good business practices and governance in the country. He was genuinely concerned about the high number of non-performing loans and reckless lending by banks. He was a strong critic of repeated rescheduling of non-performing loans. He used to tell us that MCCI should always oppose the opportunity extended for whitening black money. He felt that such a chance is an injustice to honest businessmen who pay taxes regularly.
Just a few days ago, I sent him a short message inquiring about his wellbeing. I was thinking of paying a sudden visit to his home at Chauddagram to see him. But that was not to happen!
My last travel with him was to Mumbai, where we spent two days together at the Taj Lands End. He was voted the best businessman in the region. Mahbubur Rahman from HSBC, Shams Zaman from Citibank NA and I accompanied him from Bangladesh. We saw how much respect he commanded from the renowned businessmen of India. Our good friend Sanjeev Mehta of Unilever almost touched his feet to pay his respect to him. Shamim bhai delivered an excellent speech on his vision and ethics in business. After returning to Bangladesh, we arranged a reception to honour and celebrate his achievement. In 2012, he became the first Bangladeshi businessperson to receive the prestigious Oslo Business for Peace Award.
I met him for the last time at his house during the farewell dinner of the US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat. He was coughing a lot and taking deep breath while talking. His European friends advised him to buy a country house somewhere in France or England and live in a pollution-free environment. I told him, "What's the harm? It will be good for your health." He was unhappy to hear that and said, "I will stay at my village home, that is no less."
Shamim bhai used to say that businessmen should not get involved in politics. If they put sincere efforts into business, more people will get jobs and the country will move forward. Those who have worked with him would know that he trusted each of them a lot and allowed them to work independently and gave them the opportunity to lead. By virtue of his work, dedication and faithfulness, he became an iconic businessman who was well known in the international arena. He kept close contact with each and every good employee of the different companies of his group. He used to motivate and encourage them regularly.
I have never seen him compromise on the question of ethics and morality. He was also a person who implanted family values within his family. He loved his wife, children and grandchildren very dearly. He used to tell his grandchildren, "Wherever you go for higher studies, you have to come back to the country and work here. Bangladesh is your final address." My respect is also for his children and grandchildren as they are also among the finest people I have met.
The departure of such a good soul is painful. But the Almighty has a better plan for each one of us, especially a person like him. May Shamim bhai rest in peace.
Mamun Rashid is former CEO of Citibank NA, Corporate and Institutional Banking Head at Standard Chartered Bank and Commercial Banking Head at ANZ Grindlays Bank Bangladesh, and currently Country Managing Partner at PwC Bangladesh.