Ispahani Family

Ispahani Family is one of the pioneers in making capital investment on a large scale in the industrialisation processes of Bangladesh. The founder of the House of Ispahani is Haji Muhammed Hashem (1789-1850), who first moved from Ispahan to Bombay in 1820. He extended his business to Calcutta in the 1830s. The family started its business in Calcutta with tea. Haji Hashem Ispahani was the sole Muslim name on the Calcutta committee of the Assam Tea Company. The Ispahani family subsequently expanded their businesses regionally from Bombay in the west, to Madras in the south and Burma in the east. Mirza Mehdi Ispahani (1841-1913), the grandson of Haji Hashem moved the family's corporate headquarters to Madras. He also spent twelve years in Cario expanding his trade there in leather, tea, turmeric, tamarind, peanuts and other products of India. He opened a branch office in Dhaka in 1888. His son Mirza Mohamed Ispahani (1871-1925) established the calcutta office of MM Ispahani and Sons in the year 1900, when a branch office was also established in London. Mohammed Ispahani's eldest son, Mirza Ahmed Ispahani, joined in partnership in 1918 with his younger brothers, Mirza Abul Hassan Ispahani and Mirza Mahmood Ispahani, established the private limited company called MM Ispahani Limited in 1934. It was under the visionary leadership of Mirza Ahmad Ispahani that the company rapidly expanded its business activities. By 1947, MM Ispahani Limited was the foremost exporter of shellac, kapok, hessian, jute bags, tea and chemicals.

from left: Mirza Mehdy Ispahani (1841-1913), Mirza Mohamed Ispahani (1871-1925), Mirza Ahmad Ispahani (1898-1986), Mirza Mehdy Ispahani (1923- ), Mirza Ali Ispahani (present chairman)

But prior to the flourising of the joint company's business Mirza Abul Ispahani was gradually leaving the family business for politics. He became Joint Secretary of Bengal Provincial Muslim League in 1936-37 and remained its treasurer up to 1947. He was elected Deputy Mayor of Calcutta Corporation from 1941-42. He was elected a Member of the bengal legislative assembly in 1937 and re-elected in 1946. He was President of Muslim Chamber of Commerce, Calcutta from 1945 to 1947 and led an Indian Trade Delegation to Middle East in 1947. He became a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly in 1946. In September 1947, Abul Hassan Ispahani was appointed an Ambassador of Pakistan to USA and worked there until February 1952. He was Federal Minister for Industries and Commerce from 1954 to 1955.

In 1947 the corporate Head Office Ispahani Group was moved to Chittagong, where it still operates today. Mirza Abul Hassan Ispahani's son Mirza Mehdy Ispahani (AKA Sadri Ispahani) born in 1923, was made chairman of MM Ispahani Limited in 1949 and worked in that capacity until his death in 2004. An official survey of Sylhet tea plantation conducted by the Pakistan government in 1970, estimated that out of 162 tea gardens, 74 were in the control of West Pakistani entrepreneurs. The most prominent of them were the houses of the Ispahanis, Ameens, and Adamjees. While most of the Muslim entrepreneurs of Calcutta shifted their businesses to West Pakistan, the House of Ispahanis alone moved to East Pakistan for settlement.

The Ispahani family played a pivotal role in the formation and industrialisation of the new country, Bnagladeh. And now, with corporate offices in Chittagong, Dhaka and Khulna and, through its tea, textile, jute, property, poultry and shipping divisions, the Ispahanis are now one of the biggest industrial and commercial family in Bangladesh.

The Ispahanis have the largest tea industry in the country. MM Ispahani Ltd (MMI) owns four tea gardens: Mirzapore, Ghazipore, Zarreen (all based in the division of Sylhet) and Neptune (Chittagong). These gardens produce approximately 2.5 million kilos of tea per annum. The average yield per hectare is over 1800 kilos; one of the highest yields achieved nationally. Each of the tea gardens has factories equipped with modern tea manufacturing machinery. The tea produced is of high quality and sells at a premium at the Chittagong Tea Auction. There are 167 tea gardens in Bangladesh, and Gazipur, Mirzapore, Zarreen and Neptune occupy consistently the top ten tea gardens for the highest auction price achieved. It is the single largest tea trading company in Bangladesh.

Ispahani group also has a long association with the Jute Industry, textile and shipping businesses. Before 1947, they were the largest raw jute exporters in India. Victory Jute Products Limited was established in Calcutta and transferred to Chittagong during the late 1940s. In the early 1950s, Ispahani group established Chittagong Jute Manufacturing Company Limited (CJMCL), the largest jute mill in the private sector. Pahartali Hosiery Mills (PTHM), established in 1954, is one of the pioneers of textile manufacturing in this country. For over 50 years, Ispahani Limited has been acting as agent for many world-renowned shipping lines and NVOCC (Non Vessel Operating Common Carriers). They are second oldest shipping agents in Bangladesh.

Mirza Ahmed Ispahani established the Orient Airways Limited, registered in Calcutta on 23 October 1946. After the partition, Orient Airways began to operate from Karachi and Dacca. The Orient Airways operated until the Pakistan International Airline came into operation.

The Ispahanis maintain the unique corporate social responsibilities. They have been playing significant role in the field of education. They have established so far nine schools and colleges, such as Ispahani Public School and College, Mirza Ahmed Smrity Biddalaya (CJMCL), CJM High School, Waisia Darassuna Dakhil Madrasha, Mirza Ahmed High School (PTHM), Victory High School, Comilla Public School and College, Ispahani Girls School and College (Dhaka), Siddeshwari (University) College.

Among the charitable institutions are Islamia Eye Hospital and MA Ispahani Institute of Ophthalmology. This hospital currently works in collaboration with many international organisations such as Sight Savers International, Orbis and standard chartered bank for the prevention of blindness. Ispahani Institute of Ophthalmology collaborates its activities with Chittagong Eye Infirmary and Training Complex, Children Leukaemia Assistance and Support Service, Purbokone Dengue Chikitsha Sheba Committee, Chittagong Press Club, Anjuman Mufidul Islam, Chittagong Medical College Hospital and Chattagram Maa O Shishu Hospital. [Ashfaque Hossain]

Bibliography SNH Rizvi, East Pakistan District Gazetteers: Sylhet, (Dacca, East Pakistan Govt. Press, 1969) pp. 191-209; Antrobus, A History of the Assam Company (Edinburgh, T and A Constable, 1957); Enayetullah Khan, New Age, 22 January 2004, Delwar Hassan (ed), Commercial History of Dhaka (DCCI, 2008).