Family business in Pakistan-II The Houses of Habibs, Adamjees and Saigols | By Ikram Sehgal


Family business in Pakistan-II The Houses of Habibs, Adamjees and Saigols

Esmail Ali, who was from Gujarat in Western India, began the Khoja Mithabhai Nathoo Trading Company in 1841.

Joining the firm in 1891, his son Esmail Habib established Habib and Sons in 1922, with the famous Habib family logo, the Lion of Ali and the sword of Ali, Zulfikar, above it.

When Seth Ismail Habib died in1931 the business passed to his four sons, Mohammad Ali Habib, Ahmad Habib, Dawood Habib and Ghulam Ali Habib, they shifted to Karachi when Pakistan came into existence.

While Husain Dawood has not only kept the light of the original Dawood House alive but has enhanced it manifold the House of Habib has not also kept their family business domination alive in Pakistan.

As they have split each of the Groups have grown independently much faster than the Dawood factions.

Mahomedali Habib is famous for two reasons – first, he and his brother Dawood Habib formed the Habib Bank in 1941, which is now Pakistan’s largest bank (and no longer in the control of the Habib family, due to Prime Minister Bhutto’s nationalization drive of the 1970s).

Second, Mahomedali Habib moved the bank, previously headquartered in Bombay, to Karachi on the request of the founder of the nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to whom famously he even gave a blank cheque for Pakistan.

He multiplied the family business in Pakistan, further expanded by his sons Rafiq Habib, Suleman Habib, Haider Habib, and H.M.Habib.

The global bank Habib AG Zurich, along with Thal Jute, were both started in the 1960s, while the Pakistan Papersack Division was started in the 1970s.

As the only living son of that generation, Rafiq is the de facto patriarch of the family while Ali Suleman Habib, his siblings and his cousins represented the third generation of Habibs in Pakistan.

After nationalization the members of the Habib family had also split, now operating into two distinct groups headed by Rafiq Habib and children of the late Rashid D Habib with Habib Bank A G Zurich, a joint venture of all the Habibians.

Rafiq Habib’s nephew Ali Suleman Habib was one of the five children of Suleman Habib. The Habibs were unusual and not just for sending him to Habib Public School, Ali Habib was also part of the first generation to go abroad for his higher education, receiving a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, then completing the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School in 1986.

He entered the family business in the late 1980s; these were the years of the Habib family’s re-entry into the private sector.

Ali remained head of the Indus Motor Company, which started production in 1993, till his death early this year.

We never did any business together, however we would debate every subject under the sun, he often joked that if I had been a Habib he would have competition in the Group for intellectual content.

As Chairmen respectively of the Pakistan Banking Council (PBC), Husain Dawood and Ali Habib both encouraged promoting Pakistan during the Annual Meeting at World Economic Forum (WEF)at Davos every year.

His untimely death is a real loss to this country. The House of Habibs contribution to education has few parallels among the other business Houses.

The Habib Public School (for boys) and the Habib Girls Schools have a whole network. Their schools in Karachi are contributed by the Habib Education Trust.

Habib University in Karachi is easily one of the top universities offering Liberal Arts and Sciences in Pakistan.

Adamjee Group: An activist in the Pakistan Movement, a Pakistani businessman and philanthropist Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood Bawany (1880 – 1948) founded the Adamjee Group.

He was born in 1880 in Jetpur, Kathiawar and Gujarat in British India in a Memon family. Established a commodity trading company in Rangoon, Burma in 1894, Sir Dawood Adamjee followed this by a big match factory and some rice mills, also in Rangoon.

A jute mill was then set up in Calcutta in 1937. Sir Dawood Adamjee thus headed a big industrial set up and export trade of rice and jute which allowed him to play a Birla-like role in Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

In the wake of nationalization, the assets of the group were divided among Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood’s three sons, Abdul Wahid Adamjee, Abdul Hamid Adamjee and G M Adamjee and three daughters.

These have been further sub-divided over the years. This diluted their strength, as a Group they do not compare to the other mini-Groups of the original 22 families of the 60s.

The company has had changing fortunes over the past 50 years, initially originating as a jute and banking conglomerate, later spreading to other industries such as tea, textiles, matches, sugar, paper board, chemicals, engineering and insurance.

In fact they have sold the controlling interest in most of them, some industries have been sold as real estate and the sale proceeds again divided among the successors who had no interest in the Group’s original objectives.

Some of the other family businesses have split, while a few are still doing well they have nowhere the clout of yesteryear of the new Business power houses that have come into existence, some still in their first generation mode.

Saigol Group: The Saigols (Awans hailing from Khothian (now renamed Saigolabad) set up a Rubber Shoes Factory at Calcutta in 1930.

They were doing fairly in business in Calcutta. As civilian contractors for the wartime logistics centred in Calcutta for the World War 2 effort in Asia they became fabulously rich.

The Saigols planned their first textile mills at Calcutta when Pakistan was born. On personal intervention of the country’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the machinery was shifted to Pakistan to set up Kohinoor Textile Mills at Faisalabad.

Nasim Saigol of the Saigol group claimed that the first “Letter of Credit” opened with the State Bank of Pakistan was for setting up of the Kohinoor Textile Mills at Faisalabad.

Saigol group was owned jointly by three of four sons of founder Amin Saigol, namely Yusuf, Bashir and Sayed Saigol while the fourth son Gul Saigol stayed back in India in 1947.

The Saigol Group split in the 1976 among 16 male off-springs and is currently operating in four distinct groups namely Saigol group headed by Nasim Saigol, Mohib group of Rafiq Saigol, Kohinoor group of Tariq Sayed Saigol and a small Iqbal Saigol group.

Travelling to Dhaka once Mian Rafiq Saigol in the 1980s, Mian Sahib was referred to as the “rich Saigol”, I got mentioned in despatches as the “poor Sehgal”.

While the many Saigol Groups continue still to be business power houses, their names do not evoke the awe and dominance Saigols once did.

(The Second article on the major family business in Pakistan)

—The writer is a defence analyst and security expert, based in Karachi.


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