Samson H Chowdhury

Early Life

Samson H Chowdhury was born on 25 September 1925 at Aruakandi in Gopalganj. His father Eakub Hossain Chowdhury was a medical officer. Samson started his schooling in a mission school in Chandpur, since his father was posted as a medical officer at the Chandpur Mission Hospital. In 1932, Mr. EH Chowdhury got transferred to Ataikula in Pabna. Samson moved to Pabna with his father, and was admitted to a village school in Ataikula. Later, in 1933, his father sent him to Mymensingh for better education. Samson got admitted to the Victoria Mission School in class IV.

After studying in Mymensingh for two years, Samson moved to West Bengal in 1935 and got admitted in Siksha Sangha High School in Bishnupur, which was around 15 miles from Kolkata. But he had to leave the institute before completing his schooling when World War II broke out. His family felt that it was unsafe to be away from home during the war. Responding to his father's concern, Samson returned to his village home in 1942. He began a new academic life at the Ataikula High School in Pabna. Samson took the Matriculation Examination from this school in 1943 and passed successfully.

At the very young age of 17 Samson left his home at Ataikula for Kolkata with a few friends, without informing his family. He first took shelter at his uncle's house in Kolkata. Later, he left for Mumbai with his friends in search of a fortune. Samson looked for jobs at different places in the port city, and finally, he faced an interview at the naval recruiting section and got selected.

Life in Navy

Samson always had a knack for using new technology. After being recruited by the Navy, he was appointed in the signaling section. But Samson refused to join. Instead he applied for the position of a radar operator. He was keen to learn about radar - how it worked to trace enemy ships and planes. The radar was a new invention at that time and was being used secretly against enemies during World War II. As an obvious consequence of disobedience in a force, Samson was sent to prison.

Samson spent four days in custody. Every morning the higher official used to come and asked him if he had changed his mind. But Samson adhered to his decision. Finally, on the fifth day, the officer succumbed to his unwavering will and decided to appoint Samson in the radar unit.

Samson served in the Royal Indian Navy for around three years. When World War II ended, Samson along with his colleagues retuned to Visakhapatnam Port in Madras. There he joined a naval mutiny against the then British ruler in February, 1946, and ultimately got caught.

After five days in prison, the mutineers were taken to Talwar, the then headquarters of the naval forces. They were put into a castle barrack. The rebels, however, received clemency and were given a choice - whether they wanted to continue in the force or wanted to quit the job. Samson opted for the second. Surprisingly, he was given a clean certificate of discharge and a recommendation for a government job in any administrative position, or in the law and order agency.

Job at Post Office

After returning home, Samson joined the postal department in Pabna in 1947. On the 6th of August the same year, Samson got married to a 15-year old girl named Anita Biswas. Samson was 22 then. Samson worked for the postal department for several years. His duty was to make correspondence. But just-back-from-war Samson did not confine himself to day-to-day clerical work; he got involved with the trade union movement of the postal department workers. Once he was working in the post office. A police officer came inside and asked Samson for service. The arrogant lawman refused to queue up with other people. Samson got irked. He instantly protested, and at one stage, they locked in a scuffle. Strong and sturdy Samson gave the unruly lawman a good beating. The issue was even taken to the higher authorities. As a punishment for violating administrative discipline, both Samson and the police officer were transferred. In 1952, Samson quit the job and returned home.

New Venture in Pabna

On the advice of his father, Samson started running a medicine shop called 'Hossain Pharmacy', which was actually owned by his father. Samson's father was a popular medical officer in the region. When the mission charitable dispensary was shut down, Eakub Hossain Chowdhury opened a medicine shop in his own name 'Hossain Pharmacy'. Because of his reputation, even patients from remote areas used to consult him and buy medicine from his shop. When Samson took over the pharmacy, it was already doing good business. Eakub Hossain Chowdhury owned a lot of properties, including farm land. With all the earnings, they were a well-to-do family. But ambitious Samson was not satisfied with that. He started looking for new opportunities. He finally decided to set up a medicine factory.

In 1956, Samson approached his father and borrowed 5000 taka from him for the factory. He named the company 'Esons', means Eakub Hossain and sons. He began with manufacturing syrups. Samson used to manufacture these syrups at home. He was the owner, the worker, the distributor and also the marketing officer of his new company. The only assistant at his factory was his wife Anita.

Establishment of Square

At that time in Pabna, there was a Hindu pharmacist who used to manufacture an anti-malaria mixture. In 1947, he migrated to India. The person who bought the pharmacy from him later established a pharmaceutical company named Edruk. This boosted the confidence of ever-enthusiastic Samson – 'if they can establish a pharmaceutical company from a small medicine factory, why can't I?'

Samson had a good friend named Dr Kazi Harunar Rashid. On Samson's request, he used to come from Pabna town to sit at his medicine shop twice a week -Sunday and Wednesday, which were 'hat-bars' (weekly market days) in Ataikula. Samson shared his idea with Dr Rashid and requested him to be a partner in his new venture. Dr Rashid happily agreed. Samson also contacted his two other friends namely, Dr PK Saha and Radha Binod Roy. Finally they made a partnership plan to build a pharmaceutical company. Samson named its Square. The name has a philosophical significance for him. In his words, "We named it Square, cause we, four friends, built the company. The other significance of the name to me is that the four sides have to be equal to make it a square that symbolizes accuracy and perfection."

In 1958, Square started its journey with just Rs 17000. Samson had an investment of Tk 5000 for Esons. He added two thousand more to the total. The three other friends gave two to three thousand taka each, all together the capital stood at Tk 17000. Samson rented a small tin-shed house in Pabna town and converted it into a factory. He recruited 12 workers. The first medicine they manufactured was blood purifier 'Easton Syrup'. During the first three years, Square could not make any profit. As a consequence, the four partners had to invest more money, and in the third year the total investment increased to Tk 80,000. In the fourth year, Square managed to generate some profit, and that was the beginning. It has never looked back.

In 1962, the company opened a branch office at Hatkhola in Dhaka. In 1964, it was converted into a private limited company with an authorized capital of Tk 500,000 and a paid up capital of Tk 400,000. The turning point for Square was in 1974 when the company became a licensee of Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgium, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson International, USA. The agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica motivated Square to modernize their manufacturing plant and to adopt international standards in manufacturing medicines. Under the deal, Square started manufacturing anti-worm medicine Virmox and Imodium, a medicine for diarrhea patients. The new drug policy formulated in 1982 came up as a real blessing for Square. The 1982 drug policy restricted manufacturing of 1,700 medicines by multinational companies as part of a plan to provide opportunity for local pharmaceutical companies to flourish. Square took full advantage of this, and within three years, it became the market leader among all national and multinational companies in 1985. Square has successfully retained the same top position since then. In 1987, Square became the first Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company to export products abroad.

Consistent Growth of Square

In 1991, when Square became a public limited company people showed their confidence by vastly oversubscribing the initial offer and by paying Tk 900 for shares which had a face value of Tk 100. In 1995 the company reached a new height, as it started producing pharmaceuticals in bulk, commonly known as API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient). In 1997 Square received the National Export Trophy in recognition of its contribution to exports in Bangladesh. In 1998 Square obtained ISO 9001 certification. In 2010 Square Pharmaceuticals received the 'Best Enterprise' award given by the Daily Star and the DHL Worldwide Express.

In 1988, Square Toiletries started its operation as a separate division of Square Pharmaceuticals. In 1994 Square Textiles Ltd started its journey and one year later the second textile unit was set up. Square Textiles was listed on the capital market in 2002. In 1998, the Agro-chemicals and Veterinary Products Division of Square Pharmaceuticals started its operation. Square Spinning Ltd started its journey in 2000, while Square Knit Fabrics Ltd was set up in 2001. In the same year, Square Fashions Ltd and Square Consumers Products Ltd commenced their operations, while Square InformatiX and Square Hospitals Ltd were also incorporated.

Association and Accolades

During his life time, Samson H Chowdhury was a well-respected personality in the business community. He held a number of important positions in different business bodies and also received many awards. In 1998, he was awarded the 'Business Executive of the Year' by the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham) for his "pursuit of professional excellence, practice of high ethical standards and contribution to society and country." In 2000 he received the 'Business Person of the Year' award, given by the Daily Star and the DHL Worldwide Express. He was also awarded the 'Mercantile Bank Award-2003' for "special contributions to the country's industrial and commercial sectors." His company Square Pharmaceuticals Ltd received 'Bankers' Forum Award-2005' for 'ethical and socially-responsible business practices and smooth operations with bankers.'

Samson H Chowdhury was the President of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) in 1996-1997 period. He also held the positions of Chairman of the Micro Industries Development Assistance and Services (MIDAS), Vice President of the International Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh, Chairman of the Central Depository Bangladesh Ltd (CDBL), President and also a advisory committee member of the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries, Director of the Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Founding President of Bangladesh Association of Publicly Listed Companies, President of the Bangladesh Herbal Products Manufacturing Association, Executive Member of the French-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Director of Credit Rating Agency of Bangladesh.

Samson H Chowdhury was well respected by the Bangladesh government and acted as a consultant of industrial policies at different periods. He was a member of a government committee that published a report in 1991 titled 'Bangladesh Development Strategies for the 1990s'. The National Board of Revenue or NBR honoured him as the country's highest tax payer on the first National Income Tax Day on the 15 September 2008. The government gave Samson the status of CIP, Commercially Important Person for 2009-2010.

Involvement with Church

Samson H Chowdhury was a 'born-again' Christian. During his lifetime, he never had his breakfast without reading the Bible. He introduced a rule in his family - 'No Bible, No Breakfast.' Samson believed that it was his obligatory duty as a human being to serve his fellow creatures.

Samson H Chowdhury was deeply involved with the Church ministry and served the churches in different capacities. He showed his prudence when the church faced problems created by the different governments and also by the religious fanatics at different periods. Both the Catholics and the Protestants used to hold him with high esteem and respected him a lot.

As a young married man in the early 1950s, Samson got involved at a national level in the East Bengal Baptist Union—now the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship (BBCF). In 1956, he became the honorary general secretary of the then East Bengal Baptist Union. He discharged duties as the general secretary for 11 years till 1967 despite criticism from his business colleagues that he should spend less time on church work and more on his business. Samson represented the BBCF at the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) meeting for many years. He also served as a vice president of BWA for five years between 1985 and 1990. Samson was elected as the President of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship in the year 1976, 1978, 1980, 1983-85 and also for the period of 1990-93.

Samson's involvement was not confined with the Baptists only. He was the honorary secretary of the East Pakistan Christina Council, that was later renamed as the National Council of Churches Bangladesh, for the period of 1961-64 and 1968-72. He also served as the President of the National Council of Churches, Bangladesh in 1975 and 1978. Before the independence of Bangladesh, Samson represented the then East Pakistan Christian Council to the World Council of Churches (WCC) more than once. Through the EPCC and WCC, he was able to tell the world the true story of what was happening in Bangladesh during the 1971 Liberation War.

After the independence of Bangladesh, Samson as the honorary general secretary of National Council of Churches Bangladesh attended a consortium of donors in Stuttgart in 1973. From this consortium, with his initiative, an organisation named 'Christian Commission for Development of Bangladesh (CCDB)' was formed to carry out relief, rehabilitation and development work in the new-born state.

Samson had a broad view of Christian involvement in society and he encouraged the development of agriculture work with David Stockley of the Baptist Missionary Society. He also sourced funds for cholera and smallpox vaccinations for the marshy areas of Barisal and Faridpur. In 1983 he helped establish Koinonia, the development arm of the National Christian Fellowship, Bangladesh and continued as its chairman till 2009. Samson's influence went much wider than these organizations. He had always been very conscious about his responsibility as the 'steward of God', and he continued to assist individuals, churches and Christian organisations in Bangladesh. He was a generous benefactor of many in this country. Samson used to say, "I have given many hours and days and months to God, but my business has never suffered. God indeed does not owe me anything. Rather I continue to owe to God for the blessings he has given me."


Samson H Chowdury passed away at the age of 86 on 5 January 2012 Thursday while undergoing treatment at the Raffles Hospital in Singapore. He left behind his wife, three sons, a daughter, a host of relatives and well wishers to mourn his death. His funeral prayers were held at the Kakrail Catholic Church in the capital around 11pm on 6 Januray 2012. Ministers, lawmakers of both the ruling and the opposition parties, bureaucrats, business community leaders, bankers, industrialists, media professionals – all joined the sobbing family members at the prayers to say good bye to the legendary industrialist. On 7 January 2012 around 2pm Samson H Chowdhury was laid to eternal rest at his Astra Farmhouse in Pabna.

The news of his death brought a pall of gloom at every level of society. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia, Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Industries Minister Dilip Barua, Bangladesh Bank Governor Dr Atiur Rahman and leaders of different business bodies joined the mourners, expressing deep shock at the demise of Samson Chowdhury and prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul. On 16 January, the cabinet unanimously adopted a condolence motion on the death of Samson H Chowdhury. To pay homage to this business legend, all leading business organizations of the country including Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Bangladesh, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) held a memorial meeting on 14 January 2012 at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC), Dhaka. The event started with a minute of silence in honour of the iconic businessman.