Power of the Executive Order, how the government killed entrepreneurship from NERO to NRO

NERO – Nationalization and Economic Reforms Order (1st Jan 1972)

On 1 January 1972, in a speech to the nation, Bhutto and the peoples party’s government promulgated the three-staged program, under “Nationalization and Economic Reforms Order (NERO)”, which nationalized all major metal industries, including iron and steel, heavy engineering, heavy electrical, petrochemicals, cement and public utilities except textiles industry and lands. The first stage of the nationalization program integrated approximately 31 major industrial mega corporations, industrial units and enterprises, under direct management control of the government under 10 different categories of basic industries. The program intended to assert public ownership over the industrial mega corporations.

NRO- National Reconciliation Order (5th Oct 2007)

It granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between 1 January 1986, and 12 October 1999, the time between two states of martial law in Pakistan.

For a quick historical perspective the 22 Families who owned these businesses pre nationalization were essentially driven out of business, for the state to take over business. Irrespective of what one thinks of these families, their claims to fame or the equality of wealth, the external narrative at the time was as follows and sadly not much has changed.

Since we have no national database that I know of, to do an evaluation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan from the time of independence to date, the recent de classification of the CIA documents has provided a nice treasure trove for history buffs. Albeit how much you read into these documents is a personal choice. About 13 million pages of declassified documents from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been released online Jan 18th 2017. The above snippets come from there.



Not much has changed, the government decided to take action then to repatriate alleged funds and savings over seas and to try a method of equalizing the playing field by curtailing influence of those in business and theoretically spawning economic growth.Sadly most of it didn’t happen that way. Further the Government of Bhutto collapsed and we were in a state of martial law, clearly not much innovation was happening then either.

But we fast forward to 2007 and essentially any one who was in a position to dominate, influence, execute, political or business control by either being in or by being in a position to manage positive outcomes for them selves and their clans got a clean chit and their cases were dropped by the NAB. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) presented a list of 248 politicians and bureaucrats to the government, whose cases were cleared by NAB due to NRO. That’s 248 folks who got the better end of the stick in a country of 200m+, essentially economically enslaved every one else.

That in any system is an unfair advantage to 0.000124% of the population. By way of wealth, access, influence, power, business and any other way you cut it. You and me and every one else has to reclaim what belongs to us. This sort of un fair advantage typically afforded by access to large, industrial, land, feudal complexes can only be overtaken by building scalable tech companies. The only way to ever be equals is not by how much land we can acquire or how much access to influence we can have, because they already run/own/operate the system and we have to get smart if we want to get our selves and our country out of the current state of disrepair  it is in.

For the rest of us the game from NERO to NRO will only end well if are able to build value by virtue of large scale disruptors. We have no other edge and no other resources besides the god given ability to level the playing field by applying our intelligence with a view to scale faster, more quickly than the generational reliance of these guys and turn the balance of power in our favor.

For every Unicorn you build, you impact the lives of thousands of people, that is the only way to take on the industrial/feudal/political complex and their un fair advantages garnered over the course of history. The only way to change history, is to make history by coming up with ideas and executing those that will disrupt the status quo, there is no other way any one can compete with the established brands, family franchises, politicians, bureaucrats and those in uniform because they gamed the system from inception. The only thing to do, is to the change the game in town and make it your own.

38 Ceos? The Interesting case of our very own Alternate Facts

For the last three days roughly, there has been a positive sentiment around a lot of foreign Ceo interest in Pakistan. I for one actually missed the news item initially but later saw variants on official FB Pages, Media outlet sites, TV and last but not lease a frenzy of “fwds, via  Whatsapp”. Most interestingly there was a list of 38 CEOs floating all over the Pakistani Internet ecosystem.

Whilst there is, will be and continues to be long and short term FDI into Pakistan the way this story was laid out or en cashed by the powers be, did not make sense.  For one, there weren’t 38 CEOs. There were 13 Chief Executives/MD/Heads representing 12 Different organizations.

Further there were 19 Additional people from one organization only, so unless they operate in 19 countries and each had an independent CEO & P&L, just a cursory glance shows that the optics of the media releases did not align with the data on the ground. No body is taking away the fact that whom ever brought these various leaders and senior executives is truly doing us a service. No less had any one only, more than glossed over, it would be evidently clear, that in affect 38 companies were not represented, they are not coming to open shop here, at least not all of them. We continue to mis guide our selves by presenting our “alternate facts”. There were and are 38 people who came..

One of them already has large scale operations in Pakistan in the tech space. Further, excluding Pakistan these 38 people were from 15 countries or markets.

Had the news focused around the fact that we had arguably 2 billionaires + a few Multi 100m$ folks in town along with an even more interesting mix of individuals, minus the fact that not all were CEOs. There were guests of the visitors + embassy staff + other friends of friends in the list. Goes to show proof reading is a dying art form.

I took some time to put a list together of all the Public Domain data available on the foreign non Pakistani origin visitors. You can get a snap shot here Who was A Ceo?? . Some of the highlights were Mr Alessandro Benetton of  Bn$ Fame most easily recognizable because of the Benetton Group . When you look beneath the surface you quickly figure out where their business interests lie beyond private  equity. On closer inspection “The family’s other interests run from Atlantia, the company which operates the majority of Italy’s motorway toll roads, to airports in Rome, Florence and Turin and a share in 13 of the country’s main railway stations. They also control Autogrill, the roads and airports caterer”. So its befitting that they met the Pakistani motorway moguls too. (https://goo.gl/2TPHPh)

Sadly we were busy talking about quantity over quality. There was some interesting visitors, like the son of the EX Prime Minister of Spain, whose father is on the Board of a Pakistani origin company along with being on the board of News Corp that owns 21st Century FOX and other news and programming assets. He is listed in the documents as a “Silent Programme Manager, Spain” . Ive frankly never heard of a silent program manager before and couldn’t lookup a reference from google or the Project Management Institute , I suspect when your dad is an ex PM , his  connections came in handy  to craft such a curated title. No less 10 points for trekking it across even if it was for the ride or the adventure trip on the side as per the press releases earlier. The best part of all this, is that we had 38 people show up, who will take some thing positive back with them. If we only had an equally sensible government apparatus to capitalize on this visit as was needed vs for their own data trolling before election year.

We have the ex Banker turned Chairperson of the Aussie Billionaires  Gaming and Entertainment holding company. Rob Rankin, who works for the Billionaire James Packer. Packer, who has a net worth of about $5.2 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He was born into an Australian media dynasty started by his grandfather Frank Packer and expanded by his father Kerry Packer.

Since inheriting the family business at 38, James Packer has quit most of the media investments inherited from his father and expanded into casinos in an attempt to capitalize on Asian consumer spending. So a Casino bosses point man in Pakistan? Now that makes for an interesting cover story. Perhaps he came to meet his usual high rollers in Pakistan:) I guess our tax payer money will be adequately  utilized for more roulette.

Then we have the CEO of Huawei, not a surprise because of our CPEC items, but clearly big news. Global head of Huawei making the time to come across clearly means business engagement at some level + his family to come along, I guess to meet with our first family. Almost looks like a family outing to scope out the sites for what ever future industrial complex/housing etc is to come. There is a fairly dynastic feel to what they might be out to accomplish here.

On the subject of housing we the Sinolink World Wide developers son in the mix. With almost billionaire genes he also makes for a perfect candidate for the trip. Ceo of Snam from Italy from the energy sector also a hard hitter and heavy roller. So the focus is fairly evident, transport, construction, energy, high tech and if we include Kolon group of Korea we bring in heavy manufacturing too (Plus they will fit right in , they settled with Dupont over industrial espionage of the Kevlar technology and paid over $250m+ in a $900m+ award ( https://goo.gl/GbWicT ). Minus a few under whelming investor types, like the adventure tour operator from UK Mr Cookson or the Ninja Van Ceo from Singapore who I think came along for the sight seeing trip which the larger group went on earlier. There was a banker from Italy too. Who at a closer look is fairly connected to all the Italians on the list so seems like “friend of a friend” who came for the ride. No less in his own right comes from money/wealth and a fair bit of board positions back home.

All in all the 13 key folks are on the money, what their motivation is or could be, is up for debate, the way this circus was orchestrated for optics, could have been done better. Here is to hoping that these alternate facts turn to real factual execution on the ground and these folks just didn’t come for a short R&R break to Pakistan. I, like many others, will be heart broken if this does not translate to some real deals resulting in some real economic benefit. Here is to hoping that the alternate fact machinery takes a hiatus and to thanking the people who continue to do good work for building Pakistans image across the world.




Drawing room politics and the impact of apathy on business

There are many beautiful things about Pakistan including the fact that we are the largest group of conspiracy theorists or, so lost for direction, that the national past time is an ongoing debate as to what will happen next.

Tragically, when most should be worried about internal politics and its correlation to industrial, commercial and financial growth, we are busy debating if Trump will be good or bad for Pakistan.

Yes so typical lets find some one else and blame all our problems on them or as a consequence of their actions, but the finger pointing should start at home; look outside, the filth in the average middle class neighborhood, look to the skies, the poles carrying power/telephone and or other misc un-licensed cables. The web of their complexity displays the chaos and indifference in our social fiber.

We haven’t been able to streamline how to run wires between poles in 50 years, we haven’t figured out if where we live also doubles as garbage dump, 2 degrees north of our main gates. Look at the guy(s) coming in the opposing direction to the drivers right of way, look to the line up in a bank. You know what; look even closer at the line or the lack their off, at break time at any canteen at any school.

The elite are spending $ & £ to send their kids to private schools, yet none have taken out the time to see where our civic sensibilities are, especially in those formative years. We are too busy discussing all the shit we shouldn’t and none of what we should. Same parents would end up at coffee mornings debating how badly the system is broken, yet contribute nothing to its regeneration.

Our commercial reality is that to this date we do not produce indigenously, be it automobile engines, be it PCBs, we do not produce any thing at scale, we have no national computer or semiconductor production company, we have not a single 1$Bn tech company, let alone companies that are legitimately in the $B club, barring a few exceptions. We can debate how dada jis tax free money result in the creating of that empire to begin with.

We have no large institutional players doing any ecosystem building for industry, tech, education i.e growth hacking. We have empires built around 1st/2nd generation saiths, their children typically neither have the inclination or the ability to sustain this pipe dream beyond their own generation.

We would rather debate nightly and daily will our COAS have his term extended, is he about to become a Field Marshal, who is in or out of prison, what will happen to the accountability of a sitting prime mister viz a vi his family’s alleged involvement in only the biggest scam exposed ever.Where’s Musharraf, more importantly what is Zardari thinking, what will happen to MQM. Day in and Day out, the national debate cant rise beyond this garbage.

In a country boasting youth to be at 60% as a subset of the total population we cant find a Governor under 70 for the largest economic and tax contributing province. How can some one govern a populace where the representatives chosen to lead them have nothing in common.

A place where the reps of the judiciary come out and say the point man has no social profiles and does not use any social media, because some one was using a fake profile under their name. Clearly we have bigger issues at hand than making public statements about this stuff. “Az Khud Notice” is the proverbial cluster f** of this generation. If some one were to analyze how many of these were initiated and their outcome, they’d need a full time staffer to analyze what I can tell them now, ZERO.

The stack, breed, pedigree of politicians we have, make Trump not from a lesser child but the son of a saint. Surely we didn’t not elect these morons, I for one have not, they do not represent me, I did not ask for a guy who opens or used to open briefings by saying “skoority(security)” I did not ask for men and women fighting out the agendas of their shitty political establishments on air. I am sick of the pundits and spin doctors who nightly predict this or that, a cursory glance says that all the pundits predict both sides of the coin and then side with which ever holds true. We as a nation clearly deserve this, due to the lack of calling a spade a spade, due to the lack of us giving a damn and due to our combined apathy.

Minus China not much is going on, we are in the circle of life that says

  • Find a bad guy party- give the population some thing to be busy about(this is called eating the mind share)
  • Make incumbents shaky so there is noise all over
  • Appoint ministers who my best guess says wouldn’t last 2 rounds of the popular TV show “are you a smarter than a 5th grader”
  • Rinse , repeat every day, till you die

China Is coming, China is coming, that may not be a bad thing, but what have we done to make sure our national interests are safeguarded, our jobs and money are not exported, what have we done to make sure there is transfer of knowledge and we up skill our workforce, where is the public discourse on routes, investments, growth plans, land acquisition disclosures and foreign policy changes to ensure mutual growth. Just yesterday we saw profiteering on the back of knowing where the routes will be and people having acquired wholesale land in those areas prior to the announcement.

We are growing in spite of all of this, not because of any of this, we are growing because in chaos there is opportunity. But we are being victimized by brain dain, people giving up- are victimizing us, we are victimized by the average persons in-ability to:

  • get credit
  • get respect in line at a bank or any public service
  • get fair compensation for our work
  • get professional counseling and direction to grow professionally
  • get social security
  • get free health care
  • get free education
  • get skills or training for basic sustenance

There are little to no Unicorns coming from the tech sector who will lift the fate of the country. I say this, not because I do not believe in our ability to innovate, I say this because of what we are using the technical revolution for

  • forwarding memes on whatsapp as a national past time
  • political and religious discourse on various groups on social media and then hating the other point of view
  • the consumption of content on youtube, based on the now trending button (cant even mention what it is, go look)*per capita we consume more video than India.

When was the last time you got a forwarded message from the MIT open courseware session, when was the last time some one shared any thing worthy of a share that was not in the political satire space or a joke.

We are a reflection of what gets shared. Religious intolerance, the gross categorization of the conspiracy of the E number in all processed foods being haram. I could go on, what we don’t see is people organizing focus groups to discuss pressing business issues, what we don’t see are youth organizing to discuss community action plans.

What we do see is the mental spacing out of kids, meeting virtually whilst ignoring reality and living in their bubble, I call these kids the helmet babies, they are so encapsulated within their helmets they cant bear being without them.

Lo and behold the Panoptican, a Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behavior constantly.

Modern day version of this for our youth is the Cell phone, whilst it can also be used to build the Unicorns like Uber and AirBnB our take is slightly different we are busy waiting for likes on our mindless shares and being the first guy to find a shitty viral video in our social circle.

Long term impact of this on business will be a completely disconnected middle class; and when they grow up, under skilled, mis-guided, of no genuine service to them selves and to our great nation, but perpetually in waiting for the Army, US, Politicians , everybody besides them selves to do some thing so that our passport doesn’t need a visa to get global access.