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A tribute to Hamid D Habib


Syed Farukh Mazhar
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A tribute to Hamid D Habib

THE LIFE OF A MOMIN............

Jun 19 - 25, 2000

On May 25, 2000, a prominent Pakistani industrialist, businessman, banker and philanthropist, Hamid Dawood Habib, died at Karachi at age 74.

His end was a reflection of the way he lived — with dignity, without fanfare and with unbending faith in all matters, big or small. He constantly infused courage and fortitude in his family members and friends, even as he himself suffered during the brief but serious illness.

Hamid Dawood Habib was the grandson of Habib Esmail, who founded the Habib group over 100 years ago. He was the eldest son of Dawood Habib who had, in association with his brothers, Mohamedali and Ahmed Habib, founded the sub-continent's first Muslim-owned bank in 1941. But Hamid, who was educated at St Mary's School, Bombay, did not confine his interests to banking alone. He went into trading, business, industry, foreign trade, even sports promotion, with uncommon zeal and determination seldom found in most people.

At the behest of the Quaid-e-Azam, Habib Bank's headquarters was shifted from Bombay to Karachi in order to meet the challenges of the new nation beset with problems of economic development. Therefore, the story of Habib Bank and its parent company, Habib & Sons, is not just the story of one visionary family; it is a saga of commitment to the socio-economic development of Pakistan. Although he was Chairman of Habib Bank Ltd., he firmly believed that the future of Pakistan's development and emergence as a great nation depended upon rapid industrial growth, which would provide employment, education and career opportunities for the Pakistani youth. Therefore, spearheading a strategic move from trade and finance to large-scale industries, Hamid founded the Habib Sugar Mills in Nawabshah in the 1960s and later diversified into several large and medium scale industries.

In business ventures Hamid Habib's fairness and honesty were exemplary. He insisted on payment of higher than the prevailing wages to workers with the objective of raising their productivity and as a measure of social upliftment. To him nothing was more important than earning wages through hard work and to make an honest living. He prevailed upon other family members also to pursue this objective in disregard to personal comforts and luxuries. He insisted that, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the customer should receive more than contracted for. A person with strong moral and ethical values, Hamid did not allow any unethical, irreligious or immoral practices in his organisations.

On account of his firm belief that education and high technology alone could take the country forward, he established the Habib Institute of Technology to be aligned to the sugar mills to provide gainful employment to the youth. At any given time 7000 boys and girls are pursuing school, college and higher education both in the country and abroad with the support of the Habib Education Trust, headed by him.

In view of his wide experience in industry, trade and finance he was appointed Chairman of the Export Promotion Bureau, Government of Pakistan and subsequently raised to the rank of a Federal Minister. A task he fulfilled wholeheartedly for over a decade at no pecuniary benefit. Integrity and honesty were always the foundations of his policies. One staff of the EPB recalls:

"I watched Hamid Sahab negotiate with international delegations both in Pakistan and overseas and not once did I find him compromising on quality, morality and business ethics".

While he was at the helm of affairs, Pakistani exports achieved respectable growth. For a time he was also Chairman of the Karachi Cotton Association.

Hamid Habib could make his presence felt in any gathering by the sheer strength of his charming personality. His inspirational qualities and desire to achieve certain aims and objectives in life were matchless. A younger brother said:

"Perseverance and determination is what counted most for Hamid Bhai. He looked for excellence and never settled for second best. But this quest for excellence was supported with a smiling countenance and a decisive stand on principles".

As a brave man, there are many instances where Hamid Habib showed great courage in the face of difficulties. Nothing illustrates this more than his response to bank nationalisation, which had the most telling effect on other businesses of the Habib group as well. When, on January 1, 1974, all banks, including Habib Bank, were nationalised and he, as the Chairman, and his younger brother, Rashid Habib, as the Managing Director of the bank were asked to leave, they did so with steady steps and heads held high. They were justifiably proud because they were leaving behind a network of 800 branches, staff training centres at Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar; besides an enviable team of banking experts groomed by them who, in later years, were to lead most bank/ financial institutions, including the State Bank of Pakistan.

A keen sportsman, Hamid Habib excelled in golf, which he played competitively until the very end. He played a key role in raising funds for the greening of a 18-hole golf course so that the city could have a sports facility of international standard. He was also an accomplished rider, tennis player and participated in various other sports in the best tradition of the Habib family.

Deeply religious, but not dogmatic, Hamid Habib encouraged his family members and associates to follow the tenets of Islam, both in letter and in spirit. He would often remark, "When he cannot fulfil his obligation towards Allah, what surety do we have that He will do so towards us!" He encouraged research and learning of Islam and supported many institutions and scholars engaged in this noble task. No wonder at his "Soyem" the large gathering of mourners included a number of renowned "Alims" belonging to all sects and beliefs to pay their homage to the person who gave them honour and respect throughout his life.

The spirit of social service and philanthropy were inherited by Hamid from his elders, particularly his father, Dawood, and uncle, Mohamedali, who saw in young Hamid the visionary zeal and humanist values to look after the dispossessed. To the several charitable institutions, trusts and societies founded by the family, Hamid Habib added a new dimension by devoting a large part of his time and energy, as did his younger brother, Rashid D Habib. For over 40 years he personally nurtured the growth and development of Habib Public School and Habib Girls' School, the Ghulam-e-Abbas School and Dispensary, the Dawood and Haidery Homes for orphan girls and boys, and numerous other charitable trusts for widows, orphans and destitutes. A couple of months before his demise, he had finalised the blueprint for the Ghulam-e-Abbas College to be located in the backward area of Lyari.

It was Hamid's personal charisma that attracted the best medical talent in the city to serve the 100-bed Masoomen Hospital, and other dispensaries run by the Habib Medical Trust, without any charge and with utmost dedication.

At the Namaz-e-Janazah an old man was found crying inconsolably. Someone who fetched him water asked softly:

"Are you related to Hamid Habib Sahab?" "No" he replied, "But he was such a nice man and so kind to everyone that I feel I have lost a dear relative".

Human goodness leaves an indelible mark; every good deed, however, small, triggers off a chain reaction of goodness that may continue to the end of time. Hamid lives in the hearts of all those who loved him, in the memories of those whose lives he touched and in the work that he did himself or inspired others to do.