The day after the final examination at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), I joined the US consulting firm PARSONS Corporation as a project engineer in their Dhaka office in September, 1969. After publication of engineering degree results in December, 1969, I joined Titas Gas Transmission and distribution Company Limited as a Junior Engineer in April 1970. It didn't take long to find out that less than 25 per cent of my work related to engineering and the rest managerial - planning, budgeting, organizing, controlling, evaluating, etc. BUET curriculum, even today, is high in technical content and lacks subjects related to the role of engineers as managers. I realized that to be successful I need management education. In 1969, I attended an IBA executive management programme on "Finance for Non-financial Executives" and in 1970 attended another three-month course on "Management" at the West Pakistan Institute of Management in Karachi. These exposures reinforced my urge to pursue management education but the evening or executive MBA programme was yet to start in the country.
Then came our glorious Liberation War and after a protracted nine-month-long gruelling war Pakistanis were defeated and we became an independent country. I was assigned to mobilize a team and move to Bhairab Bazar to assess the condition of the gas transmission pipelines that ran alongside the badly damaged railway bridge there. Accordingly, we took a tug boat to reach Bhairab Bazar on December 18, 1971. There I was face-to-face with an emergency management situation about which I absolutely had no idea. We, however, succeeded in restoring gas supply to Dhaka in four weeks.
In 1972, the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka introduced the evening MBA programme. I availed of the opportunity to apply and was accepted to the evening MBA programme. Professor (Dr.) Mawdudur Rahman was the acting Director then. Thus began the change of course from being an engineer to a manager. We were fortunate indeed to have teachers of the calibre of Dr. Mawdudur Rahman, Professor at Suffolk University of Boston, Dr. Alimullah Miayan ( VC of IUBAT), Dr. Hafiz G A Siddiqui (former VC of NSU), Dr. Rahim B Talukder (former VC of APU), and many other outstanding academicians of repute. Interestingly few of my classmates became my teachers at IBA, of them Dr. Anwar Hossain (former VC of SEU) and Dr. Mahmood Hasan (in USA) must be mentioned.
After becoming a student at IBA I was curious to find out how this glorious institution, which would have far-reaching impact in the country's economic and social life, came into being.
THE ORIGIN OF IBA: Before the war of liberation the founder-director of IBA, Professor M Safiullah, was a member of the Pakistan Public Service Commission representing the interests of the Bangalees. During the war he left the assignment and escaped with his family from Pakistan via Afghanistan and India and returned to Bangladesh. In mid-1973 he rejoined as director of IBA. One day I gathered courage and went to the office of the Director to ask him about IBA coming into being. He gave me a long stare and asked me to take a seat. What followed testifies his vision.
"Before IBA, there was no institution of formal business education in Bangladesh", he began and the emotion was showing. "Pakistan had one in Karachi and it was my dream to set up a similar one in Dhaka."
"I went to the USA in 1954 on a 'leadership exchange programme' of the US State Department and researched business and commerce education there," he continued. "The 'Master of Business Administration (MBA)' programme intrigued me. I devoted my time to research and understand in-depth the newly introduced concept of Management education in North America."
On his return to the Dhaka University, Professor Safiullah submitted a report to the Vice Chancellor and suggested that MBA could be introduced as a new post-graduate programme. The Vice Chancellor agreed and formed a committee with Professor Safiullah as the member secretary. A feasibility study was conducted with technical and financial help from the Ford Foundation. The study concluded that a separate autonomous institute could be set up under the Dhaka University and an MBA programme could start with an annual intake of 25 students.
The IBA project was created with Professor Safiullah as the project director. Ford Foundation agreed to finance the project. The project director went to USA again and visited the Tuft University and, for a longer period, the Indiana University School of Business in Bloomington. Indiana University School of Business agreed to provide technical support in setting up a business school in Dhaka in line with the Karachi University IBA raising the possibility of realizing his long-cherished dream.
AN EDUCATOR, VISIONARY, BUILDER AND ADMINISTRATOR: Professor Safiullah's distinguished contributions to the higher education in Bangladesh, especially to business management, is phenomenal. It is as a result of his vision and tireless efforts that Bangladesh now proudly produces thousands of business undergraduates (BBA) and graduates (MBA) from many higher education institutions meeting the needs of the expanding administrative, business, industry, and financial services on which the foundation of our economic development rests. Following the IBA model most universities now follow 'course system' and 'grade system' which was unknown in Bangladesh before IBA of Dhaka University introduced the same.
I have listed only a few of his contributions here. The founder of IBA would be remembered for his manifold activities at the Dhaka University. He joined the University in 1937 as a Lecturer of Commerce after passing M A in Commerce from the University of Calcutta securing 1st class. He was an assistant house tutor of Salimullah Hall. During the Second World War, the present Salimullah Hall was converted to a hospital for the British soldiers and the hall was temporarily housed in a building within the present foreign ministry complex during his tenure as assistant house tutor. He was also the Proctor of Dhaka University, Provost of Fazlul Huq Hall and Surja Sen Hall. Professor Safiullah served as Chairman of the Boards of Jiban Bima Corporation (JBC) and Agrani Bank Limited for many years. It was through his initiative that the Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM) was founded and he served as its first Principal. He also helped set up the Bangladesh Insurance Academy (BIA) and served as faculty.
Professor Shafiullah was a strong proponent of the 'co-operative system' and profusely wrote about it. He believed that for the capital-starved Bangalees, co-operative system would be a good way forward. The then East Pakistan Co-operative Insurance Company was formed following his guidelines. Today's 'micro credit' concept is essentially based on the 'co-operative principles'
Professor Shafiullah introduced B.Com (Hons) and later M.Com in Dhaka University. He mobilized part-time teachers for the commerce department. He was the main initiator of setting up the Chittagong Commerce College and Khulna Commerce College. He also tried hard to introduce commerce departments in colleges in order to have intake for the DU Commerce Department. He took lead in setting up the Dhaka University Club, the DU Alumni Association, DU Central Mosque and the purchase of the land in Green Road - laying the ground work for setting up of IBA hostel and teachers' quarters. It was also his vision that led to housing IBA at a premise separate from the main university complex.
In order to ensure managerial jobs for MBAs from IBA, he started a programme of sending prospective employers from Bangladesh to the Indiana University to attend short executive training programmes. He started visiting prospective employers routinely to present the value of employing MBAs to their businesses. Thus the concept of student placement service was introduced in the country as a result of Prof. Safiullah's initiative.
He led the team to write the university administrative manual. Since the inception, Dhaka University always had an Honorary Treasurer. This had inherent problems of responsibility, accountability and transparency. The manual provided for a full-time Treasurer and he became the first full-time Treasurer of Dhaka University in 1976, with the Registrar, Controller of Examinations and the head of accounts reporting to the Treasurer.
In 1973 Bangabandhu sent him to study the socialist management system in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, India, Poland, the former USSR and former Yugoslavia. He studied their systems for a period of six months. Although India followed a socialist system, it set up Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) following the North American system and Prof Safiullah's recommendations for IBA was also likewise. However, socialist economy was introduced as a subject of teaching at IBA. As the USA didn't recognize Bangladesh by then, this visit had paved the way for the IBA faculty to pursue higher studies in some of these countries. Dr. Anwar Hossain was possibly the first to go to Belgrade for his Ph. D. programme. Dr. Muzaffar Ahmed, who was a division head in the Planning Commission of Bangladesh, was also brought in as a Professor of IBA at around the same time. Later Professor Ahmed became one of the IBA directors.
A K M Shamsuddin is a BUET graduate and MBA of the 11th (evening) batch of IBA, DU. He is now the Chairman & CEO of E-Zone Group, Management Consultants and Outsourcers.