Almost a decade ago, when the Rahman brothers, Sohail and Salman, explored Sarabo near Dhaka, the area was completely covered by lush fields and streams. “We had to get the local boys to ferry us in their boats to explore the land,” says Salman F Rahman, Beximco Group’s vice chairman.
A rapid evolution has happened in the 10 years; the squelchy land has been sapped and Beximco’s infrastructure, including ceramics and textiles factories, is built on it. More than 7,000 workers are hired on the site to mass-produce cloth, bone china crockery, and jeans. The textile industrial unit runs the array of operations from whirling and weaving to dyeing and finishing clothing products.
With $834 million (Rs 3,832 crore) in revenue, 45,000 employees, and a market capitalisation of $1.7 billion on the Dhaka Stock Exchange, Beximco is Bangladesh’s largest private conglomerate with five listed companies and 23 unlisted ones that straddle aviation, textiles, pharmaceuticals, media, real estate, financial services, energy, and ceramics. The numbers might not seem impressive when compared with companies in neighboring India and Pakistan (by revenue, it’s about the size of India’s Godrej Industries, which was ranked 185 in the Fortune India 500, and much smaller than Pakistan’s Nishat Group, which has annual revenues of $2 billion).
The Rahmans belong to a Bengali background; however, the cultural aspect hasn’t helped perk up trade with India. “It’s easier for me to export to the U.S. than it is in India,” says Sohail F Rahman. This is the reason why Beximco runs sales offices from New York and Dallas. In addition, the company has also invested $25 million to set up a pharmaceutical inhaler plant in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, and established two retail garment stores under the umbrella of brand ‘Yellow’ in Pakistan, gearing up to expand operations in China and the Far East.
Beximco’s growth so far has been impressive. It was incepted when the country was struggling blood-spattered battle for independence from Pakistan. When Bangladesh plead for international assistance in 1971, then in power Henry Kissinger, the U.S. national security advisor to the Richard Nixon administration, notably declined the idea, saying “the place is, and will always be a basket case”.
Today, Beximco has driven the country into a phase of growth where the country has achieved a global footprint.