From transit passenger to business tycoon
Mohammed Mahtabur Rahman, chairman and MD of Al Haramain Perfumes Group, has witnessed a sea of change in the UAE since 1970.
I first experienced the UAE hospitality when I landed in Dubai as a transit passenger from Dhaka, flying to Saudi Arabia via Mumbai on Gulf Air in the second half of the 1970s. It was a short trip, but I enjoyed some golden moments in the emirate and decided to establish my future business here.
Although I was a transit passenger, I took a good look at the market to expand the business of Al Haramain Perfumes - the company established by my father in Saudi Arabia in 1970. I had just joined the business in Makkah, We started as a small shop, selling oriental perfumes and agarwood, sourced from the north-eastern part of Bangladesh, Sylhet district, where my family comes from.
During my first time in the UAE, I stayed for three nights including the first one at the hotel on the Deira side of Dubai Creek, where wooden dhows provided the economic lifeline to the small trading community. From the windows of the hotel, I could see the trading activities.
I also observed that the life was simple when we started out in Dubai nearly four decades ago. Business was mostly limited to manufacturing, buying and selling in the local market. People used to pay cash. Most people used to speak Hindi and the Indian rupee was the common currency. Most UAE nationals used to say Rupaiya - when they meant dirham - while bargaining. There was less or no traffic on the streets. Business was mostly limited to Deira - Murshid Bazaar, Sabkha, Gamal Abdul Nasser Square and Meena Bazaar, Cosmos Lane and Karama on the Bur Dubai side. Life was slow. We used to know customers almost by the name due to closeness.
Murshid Bazar and Al Ras Area of Deira used to be the country's biggest wholesale market and centre of the spice, electronics and essential commodities. Nearly 40 years later, Murshid Bazar and Al Ras remain almost the same - although the economy of Dubai and the UAE has undergone a tremendous transformation since the country's independence in 1971.
By 1980, I had visited Dubai a few times and developed a better idea about the business environment. In 1981, I decided to open a shop in Dubai to expand our business in the UAE. So, we found a shop in Murshid Bazaar and set up the business, including a packaging unit at an apartment where we also had started processing the perfumes.
We found the UAE a very good place to do business in those days. Khaleej Times was the only daily newspaper available in the market back then.
The business environment was dominated largely by demand and supply with less regulation that allowed people a greater degree of freedom. Because the leadership of the UAE was very business friendly and honest, most businessmen remained honest in their dealings and intention. We never saw people misuse freedom or cheat others - that was the beauty of doing business in the UAE.
Besides, good air and sea connectivity has helped us import raw materials, process perfumes and export them in shortest possible time. This was not that easy in other countries.
So, we decided to shift our business base in the UAE in the early 1980s. In 1982, we set up our Agarwood processing Attar manufacturing plant in Ajman. This helped us reduce costs as well as multiply output. Due to quality of our products, our reputation started to spread and our sales started to pick up. We then started to add new retail outlets.
However the Iraq-Kuwait war posed a major threat to the economy of the UAE. When the conflict started, most people started packing their bags and were planning to leave. I also went to the United States for a while. However, as soon as the war ended, I saw things coming back to normalcy and returned to re-establish the business.
It was around this time, somewhere in 1992-93, that I was looking for a piece of land to develop a perfume factory. Luckily, I was offered a piece of land by His Highness Shaikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ajman, in the new industrial area, Jurf, for the same. I found the place empty with nothing but sand. The whole area was deserted. When I raised it with Shaikh Humaid, I was told that the area would soon be developed.
Within a few years, the whole area became abuzz with industrial activities while people started to build villas to live in the new residential community. Since then, there was no looking back. We continued to grow our business and it kept multiplying every few years.
We have invested more than Dh100 million in our factory in Ajman. Today, we produce enough perfumes to penetrate in 60 countries in the world with three good brands - Al Haramain, Al Halal and R&R Perfumes - that cater to a wide diverse customer base and different tastes.
Battling regional crises
When I look back, I see a sea of change in the socio-economic landscape of the UAE. It has transformed itself from a collection of a few trading outposts to a major economic power in the Arab World as well as the global economy. While the country went through so many regional crises, the UAE leadership succeeded in providing the citizens and residents political and economic stability and steered the country out of every crisis.
I have not seen a country that achieve so much in such a short time. It's an economic miracle in many ways. Despite the changes, the UAE remains an oasis of peace and prosperity and a land of opportunity.
The UAE has helped me contribute to its economy, as well as the country I belong to - Bangladesh. I have helped set up a bank in Bangladesh, established a university and two hospitals. In the UAE, I helped establish Bangladesh Business Council, of which I am the founder-president.
All these have been possible due to the wise leadership of the UAE and its good citizens who appreciate our presence and our businesses.
As told to Muzaffar Rizvi
Bangladesh Business Council, Dubai, of which Mohammed Mahtabur Rahman is the founder-president, established for Bangladeshi business communities in Dubai and the Northern Emirates
Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia (Pvt) School in Abu Dhabi, of which he is the sponsor
The University of Asia Pacific, of which he is the trustee, is one of the leading varsities in Bangladesh
Al Haramain Tea Company Ltd in Bangladesh, of which he is the chairman, boosts the production of Bangladeshi tea
Al Haramain Hospital Pvt Limited, a 250-bed hospital of which he is the chairman, is one of the most modern upcoming multi-specialty hospitals in Sylhet
Beani Bazar Cancer Hospital, of which he is a trustee, provides better treatment and care facilities to cancer patients in Bangladesh
> He was ranked the top commercially important person (CIP) for the three consecutive years in 2012, 2013 and 2014 by the Government of Bangladesh
> He was awarded the prestigious 'Bangladesh bank remittance award' by the Bangladesh Bank, consecutively for two years - 2013 and 2014 - in recognition of his highest remittance into Bangladesh
> International University of Morality has conferred on him the degree of Honorary Doctoral of Philosophy in World Peace and Morality in Business Administration in 2014
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