Building an agarwood empire from scratch
The story of Habib Mohammed Chowdhury, Founder Chairman and Managing Director of HSMM Group of Companies. His group is the second biggest Indian Foreign Direct Investment in Lao PDR.
Habib Mohammed Chowdhury captured a niche market for agarwood and built an agarwood business empire from scratch. As an 18-year-old entrepreneur in 1989, he looked beyond the shores of his hometown in Assam, India to mine the rich agarwood oil market in Dubai. He went through the wringer raising money for his tickets, including trips to Thailand to purchase agarwood chips, but his venture paid off, and it set him for life.
Habib grew up in a middle class family in Hojai, a town surrounded with agarwood, and its classic fragrance permeated the air in his home. Agarwood was a heritage that defined his youth and it helped shape his future.
In the highly competitive international business environment in Dubai, he easily showed his mastery of agarwood chips and oil trade. He built a reputation as an expert and reliable source of agarwood products.
But success did not come easy. He recalls the difficulties of turning his dream into reality. He started by obtaining agarwood oil on credit in his neighborhood and planning to sell in Dubai, which offered better prices. To raise funds to cover transport costs, he was forced to sell part of his stocks locally at lower prices. The result was not encouraging. The income was not even enough to cover his start-up costs.
Habib, however, was determined to succeed. Using his deep knowledge of the industry, he made good profits getting agarwood chips and oil in Thailand to fill up orders in Dubai. After several trips, Habib made enough money to settle his debts, and he was well on his way to fulfill his destiny.
He dropped out of college and set up his own company in Dubai. From 1992 to 1999, his business grew and the small company he established became the precursor of the conglomerate that became known worldwide as HSMM Group of Companies.
As a boy he heard stories about the abundance of agarwood in Laos and his curiosity about the country grew through the years. He wanted to come to Laos where he sensed he would be rich and successful in the agarwood business. As a businessman, he became a frequent traveller to the country after his first visit in 1997. In 1998, he established the Lao Agar International Development Co. Ltd. It is now one of the largest agarwood company in Southeast Asia. His company have initiated the One Million (1,000,000) Agarwood Tree Plantation Program in Lao PDR under which they have already planted Four Hundred Thousand (400,000) Agarwood Trees.
The HSMM Group of Companies was incorporated under the laws of Lao PDR and Vientiane became the center of its operation that extends to several countries in other parts of the world. In Lao PDR, the Group operates agarwood plantations, agarwood chips and agarwood oil extraction, perfume and fragrances, mining, and line-of-credit projects funded by the government of India.
The Group has set up ownerships and joint ventures in other countries making it a global company. As founder of the HSMM Group of Companies, Habib remains as Chairman and Managing Director. His brother, Sadik, is Vice Chairman and has contributed equally in the success of the Group. After group diversified into other verticals in 2008, he is managing the Agarwood business of the Group.
As a prominent businessman, Habib Mohammed Chowdhury has been generous in sharing his talent and resources. He initiated the “Look East Policy” of Indian Government that North East India implemented to establish relations with Southeast Asia. It is now called the “Act East Policy.”
In 2010, Habib founded the Indian Chamber of Commerce (INCHAM) in Lao PDR under the patronage of H.E. Dr. Jitendra Nath Misra, the Ambassador of Republic of India to Lao PDR. He served three terms as President of INCHAM.
Habib organized and sponsored several business forums in Northeast India to promote bilateral trade and open business opportunities and cultural exchanges between the Lao PDR and India’s northeastern states. In 2011, he also sponsored the visit of high-level government and business delegation from Laos to North East India.
On the 10th of May 2013, Habib and the HSMM Group of Companies were awarded the ‘CROSS OF LABOUR’ and the ‘CROSS OF FRIENDSHIP’ medals by H.E. Dr. Nam VIYAKETH, former Minister of Industry and Commerce of Lao PDR. Habib is the first Indian entrepreneur to receive this award in 56 years of diplomatic relation between India and Lao PDR. He also received a Business Excellence Medal during the Asia-Europe Business Forum in year 2013.
Habib was cited during the North East Festival in New Delhi, India as an iconic figure, who contributed to the social and economic development of the region. On the concluding day of the Festival at IGNCA Ground on November 9, 2013, Honorable Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Shri Nabam Tuki, in the presence of various ministers of NE and Central states, and other dignitaries presented him with a citation on stage.
He also received the North East Business Excellence award and a citation from Hon’ble Former Union Minister of DoNER, Shri Paban Singh Ghatowar on 22 November 2013 during the "9th North East Business Summit - Building Bridges with ASEAN Countries", Dibrugarh, Assam, India.
In 2016, Habib assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN India Business Council (AIBC) Lao PDR Chapter as the first chairman of AIBC Lao PDR Chapter. He then attended the AIBC Consultations 2015-16 held in Vientiane, Laos with AIBC Co-chairs and council members to discuss and present the 14-point agenda on how to enhance trade between India and ASEAN countries to Smt Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
In addition to his accolades, he was invited to the “North East (India) – CLMV Business Submit 2017” where he received mementos from Shri Ravi Capoor, Principal Secretary to the Government of Assam for Industries & Commerce and Mines & Minerals and Shri Honchun Nangdam, Honorable Education Minister, Government of Arunachal Pradesh for his invaluable contribution for strengthening the relationship and bilateral ties between ASEAN and India.
On May 24, 2017, he attended the ASEAN-India BIZTECH EXPO CONFERENCE with H.E. Dr. Khamlien Pholsena – Deputy Minister of Ministry of Planning and Investment of Lao PDR, Mr. Manothong Vongsay – Director General of Investment Promotion Department of Ministry of Planning and Investment of Lao PDR as member of the Laos delegation.
Later on that day, Habib joined H.E. Y.B Dato’ Shri Mustapa Mohamed – Minister of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia, H.E. Dr. Khamlien Pholsena – Deputy Minster of Ministry of Planning and Investment of Lao PDR, H.E. Shri T.S. Tirumurti - High Commissioner of India to Malaysia, Dato' Ramesh Kodammal - Co-Chair of ASEAN-INDIA BUSINESS COUNCIL and Chairman of ASEAN-INDIA BUSINESS COUNCIL Malaysia Chapter, Dr A Didar Singh - Secretary General of FICCI at the Official Launch of the ASEAN-INDIA BIZTECH EXPO and CONFERENCE.
He received the “INAUGURAL ASEAN-INDIA EMERGING ENTREPERNEUR ACHIEVEMENT and EXELLENCE AWARD” from H.E. Y.B Dato’ Shri Ong ka Chuan, Minister II of International trade and Industry, Malaysia.
Following the success of the ASEAN-INDA BIZTECH EXPO in Malaysia, Habib came up with his brainchild; to host the 25th ANNIVERSARY OF ASEAN-INDIA DIALOGUE PARTNERSHIP CELEBRATION AND CONFERENCE in Vientiane, Lao PDR. It was attended by H.E. Somchith INTHAMITH, Vice Minister of Industry and Commerce of Lao PDR, H.E. N Biren Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur, India, Dato' Ramesh Kodammal, Co-Chair of ASEAN INDIA BUSINESS COUNCIL and Chairman of ASEAN INDIA BUSINESS COUNCIL Malaysia Chapter, H.E. Dr. Khamlien PHOLSENA, Vice Minister of Planning and Investment of Lao PDR, H.E. Chowna Mein, Deputy Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, India, H.E. Ravi Shankar Aisola, Ambassador of India to Lao PDR, H.E. Southam SAKONHNINHOM, Ambassador of Lao PDR to India, H.E. Honchun Ngandam, Education Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, India, Mr. Rajat Sethi, Principal Advisor to Chief Minister of Manipur, India, Mr. Thanongsinh Kanalagna, Vice President of LNCCI, Dr. Mridul Hazarika VC of Gauhati University, Assam. The event also included the MoA signing between National University of Laos and Gauhati University that would initiate the student exchange program to enhance the bond between India and ASEAN countries.
Most recently on 11 September 2017, Habib attended the AIBC Annual Consultation Meeting with Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India Delegation lead by H.E. Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce and Industry of India accompanied by H.E. Jaideep Mazumdar, Ambassador of India to Philippines for presenting the AIBC Annual Consultation Report 2016-17 and AIBC Draft Agenda 2017-18. The reports were presented by the AIBC Delegation lead by Dato’ Ramesh Kodammal, Co-Chair of AIBC and Chairman of AIBC Malaysia Chapter accompanied by Dr. Sanjaya Baru, Secretary General of FICCI and AIBC Council Members at Marrriott Hotel, Manila, Philippines.
Later on the same day Habib attended “THE FOURTEENTH AEM-INDIA CONSULTATIONS” Meeting with H.E. Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce and Industry of India and ASEAN Economic Ministers at Marriott Hotel, Manila, Philippines. The AIBC Delegation was lead by Dato’ Ramesh Kodammal, Co-Chair of AIBC and Chairman of AIBC Malaysia Chapter to present the AIBC Annual Consultation Report for year 2016-17 to the ASEAN-India Economic Ministers.
Habib was part of a U.N. delegation to the 4th United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul, Turkey in May 2011; where he addressed the delegates on "Sustainable Economic Growth in Lao PDR". An ardent philanthropist, he set up the JF Foundation in Assam, India and the HSMM Foundation in the Lao PDR.
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