CHENNAI: B S Abdur Rahman, the trader-turned-builder-turned-entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist who constructed some of the noted landmarks in Chennai, including the Gemini flyover, M A Chidambaram stadium and Valluvar Kottam, passed away in Chennai on Wednesday.
He was 88, and leaves behind a vast empire comprising insurance, construction, shipping and educational institutions.
Originally hailing from Kilakarai in the coastal Ramanathapuram district, Rahman, affectionately knows as Sena Aana, dropped out of school and headed to Sri Lanka to try his hand in pearl trade when he was all of 15 years of age. Though his father was an established businessman in the island nation by then, young Rahman decided to venture on his own. It, however, was far from easy. Those close to him say he had to work as a messenger for other traders from his native district before eventually managing to find his feet in the business.
After he established the foundation of his empire in Lanka, Rahman began touring countries including Belgium, then the hub of gem trade, and other parts of the world, including the Americas, and set up bases in Chennai and Kolkata in India, and also in Malaysia and Hong Kong. In 1954, he set up the Precious Trading Company in Hong Kong, followed by Amana Group that was the mother of all companies he founded.
Rahman started East Coast Construction and Industries in 1962, the company that built some of the most noted post-Independence Chennai landmarks including the first two flyovers at Gemini and Kodambakkam and Marina Light House among others. Among the recent ones are the Government General Hospital, Raheja Towers and Citi Centre mall in Chennai. A magnificent mosque at his home town Kilakarai is another noteworthy project by the company.
A decade later, the company became the conglomerate ETA-Ascon, with Dubai as its base. From civil construction contracts, the company soon spread wings to businesses like elevator and electrical installations, real estate, mechanical engineering, building maintenance, automobile dealerships, aviation, shipping and insurance, employing thousands of people, including hundreds from the State.
Even as he continued his success run in the fields that the company ventured into, Rahman turned his attention to education, with philanthropy at its heart. In 1967, he launched the Seethakathi Trust for this purpose. The first venture was Thaseem Beevi Abdul Kader Women’s College in Ramanathapuram in memory of his late sister, who died young.
In 1984, Rahman laid the foundation for Crescent Engineering College near Vandalur in the outskirts of Chennai, under the aegis of the All India Islamic Foundation, Chennai. This went on to become the B S Abdur Rahman University that was elevated to the rank of deemed university in 2008. Besides the trust and the foundation, Rahman also founded Islamic Studies and Cultural Centre and B S Abdur Rahman Zakat Foundation Trust to undertake philanthropic activities.