10 September 2018


From plastics, Aziz Khan powers his way to business empire

The Straits Times, 10 Sept, 2018

Bangladeshi businessman Muhammed Aziz Khan, a Singapore permanent resident, is the founder and chairman of the Summit Group, which has interests in power, ports, fibre optics, real estate and liquefied natural gas in Bangladesh. Earlier this year, Mr. Khan became one of three newcomers in the Forbes 2018 list of Singapore's 50 richest

Bangladeshi, who has his roots in Singapore since 1970s, considers the Republic a role model

Singapore’s other two richest newcomers

Besides Summit Group’s Mr Muhammed Aziz Khan, the other two newcomers in the Forbes list of Singapore’s 50 richest tycoons include China-born Singapore permanent resident Gordon Tang, at position 32 with a net worth of US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion). He and his wife are sole shareholders of Haiyi Holdings, which owns a 56.17 per cent stake in Singapore- listed property development, investment and management company SingHaiyi Group. The third new entrant at number 42 is Mr Forrest Li, a Stanford graduate who founded and runs

online gaming firm Sea, which also has interests in e-commerce and e-payments in South-east Asia. Born in China, he is now a Singapore citizen. Mr Li joined the Singapore richest list after listing Sea on the New York Stock Exchange last October . Backed by Chinese multinational investment holding conglomerate Tencent, which has a 35 per cent stake in the company, Sea’s other investors include Wilmar billionaire Kuok Khoon Hong and private equity firm General Atlantic.

Step into Summit Power International's headquarters, located on the 52nd floor of One Raffles Place, and you will be met by 360-degree views of Singapore.

The expansive and stunning outlook seems apt for Mr. Muhammed Aziz Khan, the company's 63-year-old founder and self-made millionaire, who earlier this year became one of three new entrants on Forbes 2018 Singapore's richest 50 list. He set up Summit Industrial and Mercantile Corporation in 1985 and has since expanded it to include various subsidiaries. Summit Power International is part of the Summit Group, which has interests in power, ports, fibre optics, real estate and liquefied natural gas in Bangladesh.

Coming in at number 34 on the Singapore list of 50 richest tycoons, his net worth for his power assets was listed by Forbes as $910 million as at July 25. Like Mr. Khan, the other two new entrants to the list this year, Mr. Gordon Tang and Mr. Forrest Li, are also new immigrants (see other report).

But any concerns that Mr. Khan's ego might match the size of his pocketbook are dismissed the minute he walks out to greet you in person. The chairman of the company may walk the talk with his sharp suit and crisp speech. But lest you be worried that he might have the airs to match, he quickly proves you wrong.

with small talk and formalities, he kicks off the conversation with his desire to support art and artists before segueing to his grandchildren, pictures of whom are peppered around his office, alongside a selfie he took at a grassroots event with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr. Khan bought his first home in Singapore in 1988, when he became a permanent resident.

"I've lived in Singapore since 2007 and I'm very lucky to be able to live next to one of my three daughters, so I get to see my grandchildren all the time. They are really how I spend my free time these days," says the Singapore permanent resident, who resides in the Dempsey area.

Though much of Mr. Khan's business is focused in Bangladesh, his roots in Singapore were planted as early as in the 1970s, when as a young 18-year-old economics graduate in newly independent Bangladesh, he ventured into the business world.

"I'm the third of seven siblings and because I was a good student, my father's dream had always been for me to go into civil service," he says. "But the huge vacuum for business in Bangladesh at the time had me trusting my instincts and going another route. "

Working alongside a friend who had started a wholesale business importing plastics into Bangladesh, he left South Asia for the first time and came to Singapore, where he recalls staying at the brand-new Peninsula Hotel and meeting local suppliers such as Singapore Polymer and Mazda Plastics. He set up an office here, at Jit Poh building, in 1988.

Even then, I was completely amazed by Singapore - it was so different to Bangladesh and I was immediately drawn to the country. I remember even now going down to the shops at High Street like wholesalers Lekhraj & Brothers; it was a very exciting time for me."

Starting with Singapore, he was soon importing plastics as well from Japan, Poland and the United States - becoming, over a decade, one of the largest importers of thermoplastic molding compounds, which were supplied to various industries in Bangladesh.

Mr. Khan then began exporting fertilizers produced in Bangladesh to overseas markets through a Singapore company, Kin Yuen. Naturally enterprising, he later also chanced on an opportunity to export molasses to countries like Holland, which used the sugar byproduct for animal feed during their colder months. "A friend of mine was exporting molasses out of Pakistan and I saw the opportunity to do the same because molasses was literally being dumped into the rivers from sugar mills in Bangladesh. No one knew what to do with it," he says. "I was very fortunate in that sense - it allowed me to buy a throwaway product at throwaway prices for export."

One could argue that it was not luck but necessity - and foresight - that continued to lead him towards new ventures - first infrastructure, when he built a storage facility for his export business at Chittagong Port, and later electricity generation, when the lack of a power plant near Mongla Port meant his import business could not run smoothly.

His request to build a power plant coincided with the Bangladeshi government's decision to allow private sector entities to tender for energy generation projects.

In 1997, Summit Power established Bangladesh's first independent power plant. Since then, Mr. Khan has steadily grown his business empire, with Summit Power International now the largest independent power producer in the country - comprising 21 per cent of Bangladesh's total private installed capacity and 9 per cent of Bangladesh's total installed capacity as of last year. In recent years, the business has also expanded into fibre optics and built access to over 33,000km of network, nationwide.

For Mr. Khan, keeping his focus on Bangladesh has not stopped him from looking to countries like Singapore, which he considers a role model. "A lot of what we were the first to do in Bangladesh had already happened around the world. But it was seeing how these things took off in countries like Singapore that allowed me to think bigger for my home country," he says.

It is also what fueled his decision to move his business headquarters to Singapore in 2016. Given his hopes to list his company on the Singapore Exchange in the near future, Mr. Khan says: "In the international arena, Singapore has AAA credit rating while Bangladesh's credit rating is BB minus. A company's name is extremely important when it comes to credit and capital and in that sense, our company's reputation has undoubtedly been further enhanced after beginning operations in Singapore."

Moving his headquarters to Singapore will also allow the company to become a regional player in energy generation, says Mr. Khan, adding that they hope to expand into countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

On a more tangible level, the move has allowed him to transform the corporate governance of Summit Power International, in line with Singapore's code of corporate governance. It now has five independent directors, including private equity investor and former politician Lim Hwee Hua and deputy chairman and independent director of SIA Engineering, Mr. Tang Kin Fei.

"Being around such a diverse group of people is what I love about being here. My daughter, brothers and nephews work in the company but having a varied board, intellectual conversations, and new and different insights from them has been a huge learning opportunity for me," says Mr. Khan. "Businesses cannot be grown alone and so having that buy-in to move and grow the business from Singapore was very important for me. Overall, it has undoubtedly been a great decision for us."