It is truly the end of an era, and a remarkable one at that.
Samson H Chowdhury left behind an unmatched legacy of entrepreneurship and industrialisation. He built up from scratch Square Group, one of the largest conglomerates in Bangladesh, and set an example of ethical business that is certain to inspire many others in the years to come.
Samson, chairman of Square Group, died yesterday around 10:20am at Raffles Hospital in Singapore, from old-age complications. He was 86.
Samson saw the future and led the corporate world to it, in a legacy that spans five decades. He ranked among the greatest of the country's corporate leaders -- brave enough to take up challenges and talented enough to innovate to reach the goal.
His passing prompted President Zillur Rahman to describe him as a visionary entrepreneur and an industrialist.
In a separate message, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “Samson H Chowdhury has made immense contributions to the development of various industrial sectors in the country.”
As the news of his death spread, condolences and memories of working with the corporate giant poured in also from his friends and colleagues in the sector.
“He [Samson] was a role model for young entrepreneurs who could see in him innovation, leadership and perseverance in creating a market and make a success of it,” said Anis Ud Dowla, chairman of ACI Group.
“He was a rare example of honesty in business,” recalled a depressed Anis, a long-time friend of the deceased.
Samson left behind wife Anita Chowdhury, three sons, Samuel H Chowdhury, Tapan Chowdhury, a former caretaker government adviser, and Anjan Chowdhury, daughter Ratna Patra and a very large number of admirers to mourn his death.
Born on February 25, 1926 in Pabna, Samson H Chowdhury was the eldest child of EH Chowdhury and Latika Chowdhury. His siblings included five brothers and a sister.
Educated in Mymensingh and Kolkata, he also obtained a diploma in management from a Harvard University school.
Samson Chowdhury, son of a medical officer in an outdoor dispensary in Pabna, started a small pharmacy in the district's Ataikula village in 1952.
That move was followed by his venturing into a pharmaceutical company in partnership with three friends in 1958.
The company was named Square. He was to explain the genesis of the name of the firm thus, “It was started by four friends and also because it signifies accuracy and perfection, meaning quality.”
Square Pharma became the market leader among all national and multinational companies in 1985.
Looking farther ahead, he made his entry into other industries -- from textiles to consumer goods, banking and insurance, agro vet products, information technology, media and herbal medicine -- to help the country grow with local products.
Square Group has at present an annual turnover of $781 million (2009-10) or over Tk 6,000 crore, according to Dun and Bradstreet Rating Agency Bangladesh. The group employs over 33,000 people.
Samson is considered to have been different from other top businessmen in the country in his approach to business in that he always put people's welfare at the centre of entrepreneurship. Throughout his career, he remained above controversy of any kind.
He received awards from the revenue board for being one of the highest taxpayers.
While big family-owned companies are still shy about going to the stockmarket and sharing their hard-earned profits with others, he did the reverse in 1995. The public hold over 39 percent stakes in Square Pharmaceuticals. Square Textile, too, has been in the capital market as a listed company since 2002.
“He [Samson] is a legend and the most respected businessman in the country,” said Ali Reza Iftekhar, managing director of Eastern Bank. “Whatever he started he made it the best.”
“Every bank felt honoured to give him loans. Banks no more have such transparent and committed customers in the country,” said Iftekhar, citing his 26 years' experience in banking.
During the Liberation War, 1971, Samson sheltered freedom fighters and supported them with medicines. He did lot of philanthropic work, both in his ancestral home in Pabna and Dhaka. But he is someone who did all these outside the glare of the spotlight.
A former president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Samson served as the chairman of Transparency International Bangladesh in 2004-2007, besides holding a number of key positions in local and international organisations.
He was adjudged the Best Entrepreneur of the Country for the Year 2000-2001 by The Daily Star and DHL. The American Chamber in Bangladesh honoured him as Business Executive of the Year in 1998.
He was founder president of Bangladesh Association of Publicly Listed Companies and vice-president of International Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh. He was also the chairman of Central Depository Bangladesh Ltd.
Samson served Bangladesh Aushad Shilpa Samity as adviser and president. He was the president of Bangladesh Herbal Products Manufacturing Association and chairman of Mutual Trust Bank.
In his passing, the country has lost a leading business figure; and 33,000 employees of Square Group have lost a caring father figure. He was a source of inspiration for all of them.
“He [Samson] had the same lunch at the same venue with the employees. He never made any differentiation,” said Fakhrul Hasan, senior manager of Square Pharmaceuticals.
The group has decided to keep its factories shut tomorrow in honour of its chairman.
A prayer service will be held at Catholic Church in Kakrail today, according to Square Group.