After getting Masters examination from Dhaka University, he got a job in Pakistan Tobacco (now British American Tobacco), a multinational company. He started his career in Karachi. When the political situation heated up in 1970, he was transferred to Dhaka. Sometimes the workplace was in Britain for a few months. In higher positions. The salary is also quite good. There are many other benefits as well. Even then, the stinking Hazaribagh chose to leave the aristocratic sure life. He left the expensive car in the rickshaw. He found a new chapter in the folds of leather.
Syed Manzur Elahi, who left his job in a multinational company 49 years ago to join the leather business, is now a successful leather businessman. The export of leather shoes produced in Bangladesh started with his hands. Apart from exports, his company Apex has also occupied one of the top positions in the country’s shoe market. Even though he used to tell his parents and siblings when he was a child that he would become a businessman when he grew up, he would laugh and blow them away. He used to say, ‘What do you mean by business? There is no trader in our fourteen generations. ‘
In 1972, Syed Manzur Elahi started a leather selling business on a commission basis with a company called Manzur Industries. Four years later, in 1976, he bought the state-owned Orient Tannery for 12 lakh 22 thousand Tk and established Apex Tannery. Apex Footwear, which started its journey 14 years later, is now the top shoe exporter in the country. In all, Apex Group employs more than 17,000 people. Their annual turnover is Tk 1 thousand 851 crore.
However, it would be wrong to keep Syed Manzur Elahi within the boundaries of a successful businessman. He was an adviser to the former caretaker government in 1996. He was then in charge of the Ministries of Communications, Shipping, Civil Aviation and Tourism, Posts and Telecommunications, and Housing and Public Works. He was also an advisor to the former caretaker government in 2001. Apart from him, Syed Manzur Elahi is also doing a lot of work as an organizer. Acting President of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) Dhaka. He was the President of Dhaka University Alumni Association from 2004 to 2013. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of CPD, a private research institute.
On November 9, at the Apex office in Gulshan, Syed Manzur Elahi talked about his childhood, job in a multinational company, business and trade. He will set his foot in the eighties in September this year. The man is quite young at heart, even at the end of his life. He opened his heart and smiled while telling various incidents of life. “I have no regrets about my life,” he said. How much more does a person need? Somewhere or other you have to end it …’
‘The dream was not to get a job’
Syed Manzoor Elahi was born on 26 September 1942 in an aristocratic family in Calcutta. His father Sir Syed Nasim Ali (1887-1946) was appointed a judge of the Calcutta High Court in 1933. A decade later, he became the chief justice. After World War II, the British government gave him the title of Knight. Elder brother SA Masood holds a bachelor’s degree in law from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. He was later a judge of the Calcutta High Court. Like his father, he was appointed Chief Justice in 1977. After completing his studies in engineering from Britain, his brother SA Moudud joined the civil service. Sage’s brother SA Manzur was a founding member of the Communist Party of India.
Syed Manzoor Elahi finished school and college in Calcutta. He graduated from Calcutta University in 1962 with a degree in Economics. Then he was admitted to Dhaka University for post graduation. He completed his master’s degree in economics in 1964. If Salimullah Muslim (SM) lived. While studying at Dhaka University, he was involved in student union politics. At that time DUCSU’s VP was his classmate Rashed Khan Menon (now MP). The GS was Matia Chowdhury (former Agriculture Minister).
Syed Manzur Elahi said, ‘My childhood dream was not to get a job; I will do business, I will stand on my own feet. Every human being has a dream; I had too. So once or twice my brothers laughed when they talked about business. He said, “What do you mean by business? In my 14 generations no one was a businessman. ” Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person. All in all, there is an anti-business attitude in our society. That was more then. ‘
Jobs in Pakistan Tobacco
Although he dreamed of not getting a job from his childhood, Syed Manzur Elahi started his career in a multinational company. That incident is also quite startling. After the MA exam, he started studying for the CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) exam with other classmates. However, before sitting for that exam, he suddenly got a job. Listen to the rest in his mouth:
Then the CSP exam would be held in September. Our plan was to study for the MA exam in August and sit in the CSP. However, before the MA exam, the then Governor Monaim Khan came to a function at Curzon Hall. Those of us who do politics then did not get along well with the governor. He is the Chancellor of the University. As a punishment for not doing well, the governor postponed the MA exam for three months. As a result, he did not sit in the CSP that year. This is about 1964.
I finally took the MA exam in December. I am preparing for government job. Money is coming from home every month. I’m eating. Studying. There is politics with it. One day I was walking along Jinnah Avenue (now Bangabandhu Avenue) with my friends. Suddenly I noticed that someone was calling me Moni, Moni (my nickname). Looking back, we see our family friend Humayun Khan. He said, come here. As soon as he left, he asked, what are you doing? I said, the test is over. Now I will give CSP exam. Humayun said, got a government job? Do the company job. I laughed and said, who knows me? Who will give the job?
Hearing this, Humayun forcibly took me to his office. He then said that his brother-in-law Anwar Douza worked in the marketing department in Tobacco, Pakistan. Asked to meet him. That day. I went without preparation. Talking to Anwar Douza, I came to know that he was an employee of my father’s High Court. Said, have a resume? I wonder what the resume will be, name, birth, BA, MA … nothing else. He said, write that. I wrote it down on a piece of paper. Then I forgot.
Three weeks later, in the last week of January (1965), Anwar Douza appeared at SM Hall. Then there was no mobile. If there was a telephone, it would always be dead. He said, “I am looking for you.” You have to give an interview, in Karachi. Can you go next week? I said, I can. Everyone on the interview board is English. They told me to talk about it. I said, what can I say about myself. Nothing to say. Then one of the board said, are you really interested in this job? I wasn’t very interested. But that cannot be said on the face. I said of course interested. Then they wanted to know how much salary I want.
I had no idea about the salary. At that time CSP officers used to start their career at Rs. 450. At that time the exchange rate was 3 rupees per dollar. After thinking for a while, I said, 1 thousand rupees. After a while I said again, even if you give 900. The board members are smiling. I thought, I think I have demanded more. Grasp-all-lose-all. Then I said, even if it is 600 rupees. Then they started laughing out loud. The company’s finance director said, “We can’t give you 600 rupees.” I said okay. He said, not right. We cannot change our pay scale for you. Will you take 1,900 rupees? Then I think, they seem to be joking. I said, of course. Then they said, Come with us for lunch.
Leaving the job in the leather business
Syed Manzur Elahi took part in a two-year training in Karachi after joining Pakistan Tobacco. The condition was not to be married at this time. But after the death of the future mother-in-law, pressure came from the daughter’s house. The training is not over yet. Requested the boss. Authorities finally finalized his job five months ago. But the workplace is Karachi. In 1966, Syed Manzur Elahi married Nilufar Manzur, daughter of Joypurhat MP Mofiz Chowdhury.
When the political situation heated up in 1970, Syed Manzur Elahi was transferred to Dhaka. During the War of Liberation, the Pakistan Army issued an arrest warrant against Mofiz Chowdhury, father-in-law of Syed Manzur Elahi. He went to his village home and brutally killed some members of his family. Although at the beginning of the war of liberation he moved to India. He continued to work for the freedom fighters. The father-in-law advised Syed Manzur Elahi to leave for India. Instead, he moved to Billet with his wife in September. He came back 11-12 days after the country became independent. He started working. He was transferred to Chittagong.
Saturday and Sunday are weekly holidays. The father-in-law was then the minister. He used to go to his father-in-law’s house on Minto Road in Dhaka on weekends. One day in May-June 1972, his father-in-law Mofiz Chowdhury invited Lehai University friend FICCI President Sanjay Sen and other traveling companions to his house for dinner. Syed Manzur Elahi is also present there. So I talked to a French businessman on the occasion.
Syed Manzur Elahi said, at the dinner that French businessman named Raymond Claire asked me, what to do? I said, I work. I also wanted to know what he does. Said, do business. I import chemicals from Germany. I bought leather from Dhaka again. The country is still in turmoil. I did not believe that any foreigner would come to the country to do business. Apart from that, Chittagong port has not been opened yet. I asked out of suspicion, how do you take the skin? He said, “I rented the whole cargo plane and brought the chemicals, then I bought the leather again and loaded it.” I’m surprised. I thought, maybe he is exaggerating. I asked, why are you telling me this? Said, will you join my company? I laughed and said, I do a good job. Maine is good. Why join your company? Said, I’m not asking to join. I’m asking you to be my company’s agent. Will do business on commission.
I was curious to know what kind of commission. Raymond Clare told me he would get so much commission. I calculated and saw a lot of money. But the problem is elsewhere. I told my wife to quit her job and start a business, she smiled. Say, your head is bad. I told my elder brother, he also smiles. Say, you are doing a good job. I was stubborn then. I met my father-in-law. We had a very friendly relationship with him. I told him the story. He said, well done. I said, your daughter is not agreeing. The father-in-law then said, I will agree.
On September 26, 1972, on his 30th birthday, Syed Manzur Elahi resigned. Then his monthly salary is a lot of money. Apart from that, there were other facilities including houses and cars. Before leaving the job, he was the finance manager of BAT’s Dhaka factory. He said, I used to go to Hazaribagh by rickshaw. I used to buy leather in the stench. But I was quite happy to do the job. I started to feel quite independent.
First the tannery, then the shoe business
Syed Manzur Elahi was doing good business by buying leather from Hazaribagh and selling it on commission to Raymond Clare’s Hollander Group. All tanneries were then state-owned. After a political upheaval in 1975, the government decided to leave the tannery to the private sector. The Orient Tannery was first auctioned the following year. Syed Manzur Elahi took part in it. He bought the tannery with a maximum bid of 12 lakh 22 thousand Tk. Then Apex Tannery started its journey. AKM Rahmatullah (MP of Dhaka-11 constituency) was jointly owned by him.
Syed Manzur Elahi started processing tannery and exporting it. The Japanese buyer Mizuje was the first buyer of leather. Gradually the buyer continued to grow. This is how the business went on for 14 years. Then began to think, since the final destination of leather is the shoe factory; Then why not a shoe factory. The work that you think. He set up a shoe factory on 50 bighas of land at Safipur in Gazipur. When the groundwork for the factory began in 1990, the only son, Syed Nasim Manzur, returned to the country and joined the project.
The factory building was designed by an BUET architect. Modern equipment comes from abroad. In 1991, in the first phase, this 100% export oriented factory with a capacity of producing one thousand pairs of shoes daily with 150 workers was started. Shoes began to be exported to Germany. However, due to inexperience, low quality and not being able to deliver on time, the purchase orders started to decrease in the second season. Then the entrepreneurs got worried. Keep looking for new buyers.
Syed Manzur Elahi was introduced to the owner of Marutomi, the country’s largest shoe company, by Ocean Trading and Mizuz, a Japanese buyer of Apex Tannery leather. After many requests, the company ordered the working men to make shoes of a certain design. Then they used to make these shoes from Korea. However, 97 percent of the shoes in the first purchase order could not go down. A consultant named Greensburg was brought in from the United States to solve the problem. Gradually the situation improved. In the end, it was possible to reduce the cancellation rate to 7 percent.
When the recession hit Japan in 1994, Apex Footwear was in danger again. Because, their buyer organization goes bankrupt. The father and son went to Italy together to solve the problem. Mr. Adelki, the owner of Apex Tannery leather buyer. Met with Adelki. They also had a huge shoe factory in Italy. Syed Manzur Elahi said Adelki was in trouble at the time. Labor costs have risen. It is not able to compete with China. So I said, make us a factory here. Didn’t pay attention. He said he was going to China. But I am stubborn. I told him how to go. Said, China through Bangkok. I said, Dhaka is only two hours away from Bangkok. Said, what to do in Dhaka? I said, I will make a shoe factory. If you don’t want to do that, transfer the technology. If necessary, I will pay for it. He said, let’s see.
Adelki went to China. From there he telexed me, I’m coming. After coming to Dhaka, his eyes were opened. I was really surprised to see the factory. Finally he said, I will give you technical knowledge. I will do the marketing. We agreed to that proposal. Then the people of Adelki came from Italy. They changed the management of the whole factory. Apex Footwear slowly turned around.
The relationship with Adelki was severed in 2013. Apex Footwear has been doing business alone since then. Meanwhile, Syed Manzur Elahi and his son joined another export-oriented shoe factory called Blue Ocean Footwear in a joint venture with Greenland International of Taiwan. The factory in Safipur has been exporting women’s shoes to US market brands and buyers for 13 years.
Keeping in mind the demand of the country’s market, Syed Manzur Elahi set up another factory on the opposite side of the export oriented factory. A new journey has begun. Apex Footwear currently has about 600 outlets across the country. Half of them are under their own management. He said the shoe factory used to produce and export three to four lakh pairs of shoes a year. Subsequent production and exports reached 5.5 million pairs per annum, and at present the estimated production and export of Covid is 3 million pairs per year. Apart from that, we are currently producing 2 million pairs of shoes per month and 24 million pairs of shoes per year for the country’s market. Although it was hard at first, I was stuck. There has been a lot of turmoil over Nasim (Syed Nasim Manzur). That is why we have reached today’s position.
Advice to young people
Addressing the youth, Syed Manzur Elahi said, one has to be patient. We have to give up the mentality of making money fast. The faster the money comes, the faster it goes. Whatever the business, there must be a focus. Must stick. Another thing is that you can’t get up without the help of a bank. For that you have to keep the promise given to the bank. I mean, you have to pay the installment on time. Reminding to do business honestly, Syed Manzur Elahi said, you have to do business honestly. VAT must be paid properly. If not, one day or another you will be caught. It is wrong to think that you will get the pass. He added that business requires more hard work than luck. There is nothing to say about family life. So the help of the family of the businessman is very much needed.
No regrets, but …
Syed Manzur Elahi has no regrets about his life. But at one point in the conversation, he said, he would have been more satisfied if he could have done more to improve the quality of education. He lamented that if the education system of one nation breaks down, the others will not be right. Earlier, a professor at Dhaka University was a big deal. There have to be so many books published, so many researches. Although there are a lot of schools and colleges, the quality of education has not increased. That is why 25 to 30 thousand people from India, Sri Lanka and other countries still work in this country. They take five to six billion dollars a year from Bangladesh as salary.
Syed Manzur Elahi added, “Millions of young people are unemployed. And foreigners are working. There is no connection of reality with the education system. We need skilled people. But we are not getting the required manpower. It’s very sad. ”
Apex Group at a glance
Established in 1972
Chairman Syed Manzur Elahi
Number of institutions 8
The number of employees is 17 thousand 321
Annual transaction (2020-21): Tk 1 thousand 851 crore
Annual Export (2020-21): Tk. 1,042 crore
Organization: Apex Tannery Limited, Apex Footwear Limited, Gray Advertising Bangladesh Limited, Apex Pharma Limited, Apex Investments Limited, Blue Ocean Footwear Limited, Quantum Consumer Solutions Limited,