Mahbubur Rahman -- president of International Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh (ICCB) -- is among the 150 high-impact leaders in business and social enterprise from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, who have been interviewed under the "Creating Emerging Market Project (CEMP)" at Harvard Business School (HBS) recently.
The interviews address pivotal moments of transition throughout these regions with emphasis on entrepreneurship, innovation, family business and globalisation of firms and brands, says HBS while explaining CEMP, which is viewed as a unique teaching and research resource in business leadership.
Some of the interviewees include India-based global firms like Bajaj, Cipla, Tata, Godrej, Oberoi and Tata; regional multinationals such as Dubai-based Aramax and Chalhoub Group, and Saudi-based Jarir; multinational Latin American companies like Bunge and Cencosud; and African firms, including Nando's and the former Celtel (now part of Bharti Airtel).
Rahman, during the interview, reflected on his family background and childhood in Cumilla, and how, in 1962, he started his first business, Eastern Trading Company (now ETBL Holdings), located in Chattogram.
He said his company primarily focused on importing consumer goods and representing foreign companies which were selling their products in East Pakistan.
He dwelt on the early years of his business, which he started in a small cottage built by his father, and worked by himself with no employees until 1966. By the late 1960s, ETBL Holdings had become the sole distributor of coconut oil for Sri Lanka and East Pakistan.
Rahman also threw light on the difficulties that businesspeople used to face when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan and during the post-liberation days. He also explained how he had strongly lobbied for establishing banks, insurance companies and financial institutions in the private sector in the early 80s.
Rahman -- who is also chairperson of The Financial Express's board of directors, the country's first English financial daily -- also explained his entry into newspaper publication. He gave details of the newspaper's start-up process, how he was able to raise capital, how the company gained an edge over other newspapers, and how it became the second leading English language daily newspaper and even became profitable.
When asked to comment on the level of corruption in Bangladesh, Rahman traced the root of the vice in the British colonial rule and a resulting lack of transparency, archaic laws, and political cronyism.
Turing to his engagement with the ICC, Rahman described how ICCB differs from other chambers of commerce globally.
He presented a few examples of banking and financial sector reform that he has done with the organisation, including encouraging an opening to private sector activity.
Rahman concluded his interview by discussing how Bangladesh reacted to the 2008 financial crisis and issues of succession.
He felt that the biggest priority and opportunity for Bangladesh for the private sector is to engage in poverty alleviation and explore solutions for climate change.