A tribute to an unsung hero of life insurance | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 12, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 12, 2012

A tribute to an unsung hero of life insurance

Khuda Buksh

Although life insurance as business had emerged in British India, the real growth as a viable business started taking shape in the then East Pakistan in the late 1950s and 1960s. In fact, there was no dearth of owners of life insurance companies. Nor was there any paucity of sellers of life insurance policies. However, the forgotten name of Khuda Buksh can be singled out as one of the top pioneers of the growth and development of life insurance as a profitable social service business. His name was also synonymous with the life insurance industry.
It was Buksh who had played a pivotal role in establishing salesmanship of life insurance policies and programmes as a respectable profession. Indeed, the history of marketing the life insurance policies and programmes in both Pakistan and Bangladesh would have been different, had he not joined as the life manager of the Eastern Federal Union Insurance Company (EFU) in the early 1950s. The chief intent of this commentary is to pay a respectful tribute to Buksh, a generous, hardworking, most decent, selfless patriot, and a forgotten son of our soil, on his 100th birth anniversary.
Born on February 1, 1912 in a village named Damodya of Shariatpur of the then greater Faridpur district, Buksh was the eldest child of Moulovi Shonabuddin Hawladar and Arjuta Khatun. His grandfather, Tenai Hawladar, was a landholder of sizable parcel of cultivable land.
Buksh started excelling in schools from primary to secondary via middle schools. He was a brilliant student from primary and high schools to colleges. He possessed an ingenious mind as a school boy, and he was endowed with a rare gift of interpersonal skills. He was also a sportsman during his boyhood, and his exceptional organisational skills and abilities were well recognised. He was a student of Damodya Muslim High School but he was later transferred to Shyama Charan Edward Institution in the village of Koneshar, more than two miles away from his village home at Damodya. Buksh passed the matriculation examination from Shyama Charan Edward Institution in 1929 in first division with distinction in mathematics.
Buksh made the determination to pursue higher study in Islamia College in Calcutta. He got himself admitted into Islamia College in 1930, and he studied there for two years. He passed the intermediate examination in 1932 in first division.
Later he got himself admitted into the prestigious Presidency College of Calcutta for the Bachelor's degree where he diligently completed full course of study for two years.
Unfortunately, he could not appear in one of the papers in the final examination for his BA degree due to his illness. He could not reappear in the BA final exam due to the unforeseen financial hardships that he was enduring in the city of Calcutta.
Waiting for one more year for the BA examination, Buksh had to accept a lower level clerical job in December 1935 with a monthly remuneration of Tk 40 in Oriental Government Security Life Assurance (OGSLA) Company Ltd. On the advice of an acquaintance, he later switched his career direction from the desk job to life insurance sale at the field level, and this was the beginning of his career as a full-time life insurance agent of OGSLA. He excelled as the most charismatic life insurance agent at OGSLA, and worked there for 17 years. In 1946, he was promoted to the rank of an inspector at OGSLA, and he stayed in Calcutta as the insurance sales executive of OGSLA even after the partition of India in August 1947.
However, he left OGSLA in July 1952 to join Eastern Federal Union Insurance Company as its life manager in charge of East Pakistan. He had recast the entire pay plans and incentive plans for the employees and agents of the EFU. He reinvented the administrative procedures of the EFU for better office management.
He was promoted in 1960 to the rank of life manager of the All-Pakistan EFU office which was located in Karachi, and he was promoted to the rank of deputy general manager in charge of life in December 1963. By dint of his merit and extraordinary accomplishment, he rose to the rank of general manager in-charge of life insurance of EFU in January 1966.
By mid 1960s, Buksh was acclaimed throughout both wings of Pakistan as the “most magnetic and dynamic insurance sales executive” and “the builder of life insurance.”
It was under his dynamic leadership when the EFU appeared as the most successful life insurance company in both wings of the then Pakistan. Yet the then EFU's life insurance general manager of Khuda Bukh's stature (at that time SM Moinuddin was EFU's general manager in charge of General Insurance) had to leave EFU in April 1969 under humiliating circumstance at a crucial juncture of Pakistan's history. Doubtless, he had an indomitable personality. His insurance acumen knew no bounds. Although he had remained immune from politics, he had a great deal of political sagacity. He was a natural builder of institutions. Instead of disappearing from the business scene or from the insurance industry in a politically volatile situation, Buksh had reappeared in the insurance business in the then East Pakistan in May 1969 as the founder and the chief executive of Federal Life and Assurance Company (FLAC). He started to build FLAC from the scratch throughout 1969 and 1970.
Immediately after the emergence of Bangladesh as a nation-state on December 16, 1971, the fate of insurance companies in the new nation became uncertain. Buksh was appointed as the 'custodian' of FLAC. However, all life and general insurance companies of Bangladesh were nationalised in August 1972. While Surma Jiban Bima Corporation and Rupsa Jiban Bima Corporation were created by amalgamating all life insurance companies, Tista Bima Corporation and Karnaphuli Bima Corporation were established by combining all general insurance companies. Jatiya Bima Corporation was also created as the centralised controlling authority of these nationalised insurance corporations under the management of four directors. Buksh was one of the four appointed directors of Jatiya Bima Corporation.
Pursuant to a series of decisions of the government, the insurance corporations of Bangladesh were further revamped and reshaped in early 1973. First, Jatiya Bima Corporation was dismantled. The government demonstrated its commitment towards reorganising the insurance business in Bangladesh through the creation of Jiban Bima Corporation by amalgamating Surma Jiban Bima Corporation and Rupsa Jiban Bima Corporation and Shadharan Bima Corporation by combining Tista and Karnaphuli. It needs to be underscored that the Herculean task of merging four insurance corporations (life and general insurance) into two separate government insurance corporations could not be fully accomplished by the then government without soliciting insights and recommendations of Buksh. In recognition of his extraordinary life insurance experience and his life-long commitment to life insurance industry, Buksh was appointed in May 1973 as the first managing director of the newly established Jiban Bima Corporation.
He took over as the managing director of JBC as a challenge, and he started working hard to reorient Jiban Bima Corporation. Yet, Buksh found it hard to manage JBC in a very hostile political environment. JBC in 1973 was infested with various problems from the very beginning because many unresolved issues and grievances of the defunct Surma and Rupsa were essentially inherited by JBC. Most of the problems were also politically motivated. The rise of uncontrollable nature of trade unionism started destroying the rudiments of personnel and financial systems of JBC.
The recruitment system of JBC became corrupt. The personnel system was not only inefficient and ineffective but all aspects of employee management were riddled with corruption, nepotism, favoritism, and embezzlement. He had clear conflicts with the trade union leaders at JBC.
There is no doubt that Buksh tried to find out amicable solutions to many of the complicated problems in an intricate situation. Yet he was not willing to compromise his principles even under tremendous political pressure of the unruly trade union leaders. Nor was he willing to be bullied around by the self-declared political touts. Instead of leashing the unruly trade union leaders, the then government decided to relieve Buksh from the position of the managing director of JBC on November 27, 1973. Although he had a short tenure at JBC, his life-long career in life insurance came to an abrupt end in May 1973. He became ill, and he died on May 13, 1974.

The author is a professor and the chair of the Department of Public Management and Criminal Justice at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee, USA, and can be reached at zamanw@apsu.edu

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