The long-serving businessman talks about his policies on business development
In the fifth episode of IPDC Finance Limited’s webinar series titled “IPDC Ogroj,” M Anis Ud Dowla – chairman of ACI Limited and one of the most stoic business leaders in Bangladesh – was the guest.
Born 1934 in Faridpur to a liberal family grounded in Islamic values and Bengali cultures, Anis and his cohort of siblings – four sisters and three brothers including himself – were heavily influenced by his father Khan Bahadur Mohammad Ismail, a lawmaker.
“My father would make my two brothers and I read English papers and listen to the BBC to develop our language skills. My brothers and I would have to speak in English among ourselves to practice our skills.”
When as a child, Anis compared how much bigger the house of the lawmaker – who preceded his father – was than their own, Ismail told them “Plain living and high thinking. You will be able to live in vast houses of your own. But what you need to do is develop your character, make yourselves ready for the future, and prosper through honesty.”
Ismail made use of literary examples like the Felicia Dorothea Hemans poem Casabianca to emphasize loyalty to his sons.
Anis’s mother Kakabun Nessa Begum was devoutly religious and heavily read Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
His early education at Faridpur Zila School was largely uneventful, save for the renowned poet Golam Mostofa being the headmaster and Anis being one of the top students. He joined Dhaka University in 1952 to study physics, as he was enthralled by how the science could be used to explain countless natural phenomena. After obtaining a scholarship, he enrolled at Karachi University to study public administration where he excelled as an athlete before graduating in 1959.
After graduation, he joined Pakistan Oxygen Limited as a regional branch manager. After several postings all over West Pakistan, he was assigned to Dhaka in 1970. And after the Liberation War, he became the inaugural managing director of the newly-christened Bangladesh Oxygen Limited.
He recalled: “I had a very straightforward approach towards work. Whatever work had to be done in the company, I knew how to do it – from the paperwork to the technical details – I had to be able to do everything. When the Six-Point Movement was in full swing, the Punjabis in West Pakistan had attempted to intimidate me, they were under the impression that Bengalis were soft. My father had not raised us to be soft. I was a hard taskmaster, and would confront these thugs until they cowered and fled. They sent me letters threatening my family, I responded by publicly displaying them.”
In 1987, Anis became the managing director of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Limited, and subsequently became the chairman and renamed the company to Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI) Limited when the British owners divested their interests in 1992.
Regarding ACI, he said: “It was a heavy burden to bear, but an excellent opportunity as well. I set up a guardian to guide me and ensure I did not deviate from the best course of action for the company. Our focus was on quality products and fair pricing. We set up our mission, vision, and values and set up an elaborate structure. We staffed the structure with qualified people with multinational backgrounds and experiences. Quality was the number one value, followed by customer focus, continuous improvement, innovation, and fairness. We have lived with those values and sufficiently empowered and rewarded our employees, all of which has led to ACI Limited growing up to be one of the leading companies in the country.
“My son Arif Ud Dowla later joined and now runs the show. He set up ACI Logistics Limited, the largest retail chain in the country now, and I’m looking forward to what else he has to give.”
In his past time, Anis indulges in golf with his brothers early in the morning. He remains laser-focused on learning and adapting to circumstances in order to stay relevant.
His advice to the younger generations is to maximize the opportunity to learn through all the technological advancements and means available to them.
“You must always be passionate. Don’t look for a job, focus on entrepreneurship and creating solutions. Pursue what you are good at and pay attention to feedback. Persevere and never give up.”
He ranks among the leading entrepreneurs and corporate giants who helped cement the pharmaceutical sector in Bangladesh.
IPDC Finance Ltd presents Ogroj takes place from 8pm-9pm every first and third Thursday of the month. Guests on previous episodes include Matiul Islam, Prof Rehman Sobhan, Geeteara Safiya Chowdhury, and AMA Muhith.