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.




New Frontiers: 9 days to plan 26 days to build and the longest night of my life to execute…

(Wed Sept 28th, Midnight)

The idea was one of a kind proposed by a key strategic partner; the partners’ man on the ground was enthused this could be done. Reeling from a year long journey of building, re building, stabilizing platforms, home grown technology, winning notable mentions, guest speaking engagements whilst still keeping our heads down and producing work we could be proud of that bore the, made in Pakistan badge. This was perhaps easier to process as an idea over a conversation as opposed to the reality.

In hindsight which will happen in 10 hours and I will update this entry via an appended Para will either be, “we knew all along this could be done” or “we gave it all we had”. I am hoping for the former.

We are taking a dinner break, pausing, to re calibrate, every ones been on the go for the last 24+ hours. There is a calm, before the storm, hopefully the ships will weather the storm. For now this is an epic proportion journey. Some times it must be done it just must, every time I tell my self why change or challenge the status quo, why pick a task that doesn’t need solving, why pick a solution and define the problem. The problem is as I’ve realized today, is the desire of scale and adrenaline, for junkies of the digital world. There is no known cure, than to try harder and aim to not fail, but if you do fail fast and re calibrate.

Some would call it diversification risk, I call it emerging marketing capitalization. Venture to do what most would not, deliver and plan enough to not die trying. But be ready to weather the storm, it wont be an easy storm. What this new experience has taught me is that Pakistan has a key “infrastructure personnel” and “architect” shortage, what it gives me hope for is that we have the potential to scale up and learn these things.

The National Information Infrastructure can and will scale with a clear and present focus on expanding our technical depth. We can write all the code, all the apps, all the prose and poetry, but if we do not have the engineering talent to scale our infrastructure depth to take on large scale digital audiences we wont be ready for the conversations we play back in our mind.

An other lesson learnt is you cant do it all. That goes for my self + every one else on the team. Amongst many other lessons learnt the key is as always to not break at the tipping point and give up but strive to make sure you are re calibrating all your options. It also pays to have a team that believes in working together and partners that want to change the status quo.

Sept 30th Midnight

“we knew all along this could be done”

Pakistan say Panama – (From Pakistan to Panama)

We are a joke, we want to be treated as a joke. We have one of the poorest countries in the world, with the worst industrial growth averages, completely un fit to be economically competitive in any thing but labor arbitrage of any kind. I have proof, we built a profitable labor arbitrate 3-4 years ago and made a lot of early stage investors a lot of money. On the back of cheap/inexpensive Pakistani intellectual labor. Yet the biggest thing that is upsetting us as a nation is a what the outcome of 4 peoples flight to the UK holds for the fate of the nation. How lost as are we that literally 4 people hold the keys to our fate. You(the average Pakistani ) put them there, sadly.

I do not want to be part of a nation where my fate and my kids fate is in the hands of a few politicians who I didn’t put into power, who have abused the balance of power to leverage poor Pakistanis to vote for them. Who collect votes on the basis of family, creed, ethnicity and not outcomes of their performance? What f**ing democracy? We are not fit to be left on our own. Given the performance of the last few governments. Corruption is rampant as the fabric of society, we have stopped giving a shit about what is not acceptable any more, as almost every day, the lowest form of low is becoming acceptable. The bottom of the pyramid are completely F**d and the top 1% driven by greed and lust for more money are doing what any where else in the civilized world would be considered a war crime.

Lo an behold the Prime Minister, their family. Whilst its not illegal to have an offshore account, our illiterate country is being riled in to believing it is. What the larger fundamental issue is that for every off shore account or any account of any type you need to have funds. The key question being over looked, missed, or mis understood by every one is, where did this money come from?

By just saying we are rich from Behind(peychay say ameer) doesn’t cut it any more. We the seemingly educated class must do some thing about it, we must ask pertinent questions. It’s a 24 hour exercise to figure out the following

  • Source of funds
  • Paper trail of migration of said funds from Location A to Location B
  • Taxes paid on said funds
  • Declaration of Wealth and assets in national tax filings from the reported year of this wealth being in the family
  • Compliance with the foreign exchange regulation of the country

If all the above are met, chapter closed. If not, a resignation and trial by military courts. Further when they froze the FCA(foreign currency accounts) worth roughly 11bn$ the question needs to be asked as to why the night prior 500m$ was still remitted via friendly banks and where is the accountability for that. When these goons have the right to protect their money, why doesn’t the average Pakistani?

So look at this in perspective, the sitting Prime Minister does not have faith in the monetary system of the country so he stashes any money, ill gotten or other wise in Panama. He has no faith in the country at large, so his Kids reside in UK. He has no faith in the medical system so he goes over seas for treatment. The irony of the situation is lost on these morons. Further by just looking at TV footage, if this is a private medical trip, why must the national carrier foot the bill(which btw is also being pillaged and r*p*ed by these super stars), further why is his press contingent and spokes person and groupies traveling with him. Who is bearing the expense on that? Sadly the broken roads and leaking drain pipes in my and your neighbor hoods are bearing the cost of this and all their other trips.

We must demand a daily balance sheet of the Prime Ministers expenses and the ROI of his spend. Everywhere else where there is a just financial system, there must be a balance of accounts presented to the people. The government works for you and me, and not the other way around, they should fear us, the citizens and not the other way around. Democracy is great when its equal for all, not when the scales are tilted like they are in a monarchy. No one wants to hire a policeman to oversee them but given the filth we have; by virtue of politicians the lesser of two evils is some one playing big brother for the sake of the country. Democracy is great when cyber crime bills are not passed to silence the other side of the popular debate, when its not used to pass draconian rules to silence any one who seeks responsible answers.

There is no shame left, there is no business left in this country to do for the average person. When the average Joe tries to do some thing online, they cant get their funds back into the country legitimately for offshore services, why is there no F*u*king national debate on how to enable online payments and make repatriation of funds easier? Why the f*k are we sending our idiot politicians to Turkey to do deals on transport items when we cant even sort our payment woes, why is the tax exemption from IT services export being withdrawn? Its because not a single person in the government is either fit to understand the need nor the plight of the average Pakistani. Having not worked a single day for spending pocket money handed to, by daddy’s goons in brief cases, the realization is not there. These guys are no less entrepreneurs, people who have figured out how to get the first movers advantage in ripping off people, stealing national resources and building diversified asset bases over-seas on the back of the sweat and blood of the average Joe who cant even die in peace in this country as there is a waiting period on “qabar” real estate in most places. This is what this political system has reduced us to.

Given all the above, there is a reason why Panama Khappy (Sindhi phrase which means “Long live”), because in the end, Panama provides the safety, security, anonymity, respect and business environment they couldn’t create them selves even after being in power many times over….

On being so fortunate as to finding the right mentor and role model

Bright eyed and bushy tailed I arrived in Smyrna, Georgia some where in the 90s. First Co-op at General Electric, met my direct manager and then his boss and was wowed by all the free Ice cream, this was a time for cultural conflicts, the dotcom craze was making giants like GE uncomfortable. Every one had to use the “Internet” and graduate an entire generation of non tech hard liners in the most manufacturing oriented company in the world on the right side of the digital revolution.

All the Co-ops were assigned housing, swanky corporate apartments and we got a company car rental. What more could a middle class kid want? Right? With this transaction came my corporate buddy, Ajay Singh, a typical East Coast dude. We were all assigned to different Directors and roles but all the Co-ops were basically spending a lot of time on organized activities “the GE way”.

Says Ajay to me, “hey my manager is a Pakistani dude” perhaps the most profound and joyful moment up to that point. Wow a Pakistani guy at GE. This I had to see. Ajay said, “hes some top level shit but really cool guy” I just met him.

Fast forward almost a week, middle class values intact, Friday rolls up, I look up the Directors name in the corporate address book, reach out to him and introduce my self and ask if he knows of a Masjid near by. He says back to me, “see you down stairs in 5 mins, I am headed there, will take you with, I have a red car”

So at the risk of embarrassing him, I will only use his Initials. So I am waiting and rolls up a Red Mustang, top down, it’s the middle of summer in Georgia and the guy says “Are you Faizan” , I am “AD” get in.

I don’t speak to AD every day, I don’t speak to him for months now, most of it is on me. But let me tell you, the single biggest person who impacted my professional life in any profound way has to be him. As I try and mentor folks my self, I always think back to that moment, what does AD have that totally makes him tick.

The answer, real life experiences, completely self made and Zero Bullshit. From humble beginnings in Lahore, to driving a bus in London to working at a tailor and then making it to biggest consulting companies in the world, to GE and probably a half dozen C Suite roles in every imaginable corner of the world with one Fortune 10 company or an other. Whilst picking up an MBA on the way from one of the best schools out there.

Top qualities, he’d offer time, even when I knew 100% he had been traveling weeks on end and just got back home . He would pick you up, drop you off, he donated a car to me some years later, when he recruited me to Tyco. I say donated, because what he paid for that sporty little number I totally didn’t pay him. An other top quality, sharing in his success, a middle class boy from Karachi didn’t even have the aspirational target to be in that 2 door. But he made you aspire, he made you think bigger, want larger, work harder. The massive subsidy helped no less.

Taking interest and helping beyond being tied by a Pakistani bond, to this day, he would do the same for any one who asked. People who worked with him at GE, worked with him at other companies, work with him today… Its not out of any thing besides sheer respect.

Time spent with AD, be it in the board room, on a flight for work, or once upon a time being convinced by him to take up making a new staircase and doing some basement work has been a unique learning experience every time. I realize now or rather many years later that a top Fortune 10 executive didn’t need free labor, he was passionate about doing work around the house, but that left him with no time, and since I sought his time, he’d get me in on what ever activity he was doing. Teamwork, like you wouldn’t believe. Ive never met a person who didn’t admire him or like him.

Amongst other emulation worthy qualities was cooling you down and providing lessons in how to manage corporate rage:).  Over the years, I’d find my self at his door step “completely pissed off at some thing or an other” and he’d say, go back “write your self an email save it, re read it. If you still feel the same way in 24 hours, come back and we will chat.” Once I went to see him and he ended up having me open his mail using a letter opener, a good 30 mins not speaking to me in his study as he was busy doing some thing when I arrived and said “yaar sort this out”..

Most importantly every time I had the itch to do a new gig, do some thing crazy or just do some thing different. One phone call later he’d probably talking me into exploring a possibly bigger role etc., advising not limit my self because I was unhappy in any current situation. So seeing through the short term and planning for the long haul, this guy has it down to an art form.

I have a few dozen stories if not more, the guy has the most authentic work ethic, I’ve never seen any one work harder, smarter or with the tenacity he has, hence every word of advice coming from him seemed legit, implementing half or a third of what I saw him do, is perhaps better than all that I could have come up on my own. All the advice seemed legit, hence it inspired a 20 some thing year old to try it out.

Biggest trait, being on time always, without fail, without question, irrespective of who set the time, why it was setup. Ive seen interns setup time with him(my self included) to CEOs. If hes not 5 mins early he is probably 10 mins early. Just like children emulate their parents, good bad or ugly, entrepreneurs or wantapreneurs emulate their mentors.

Only so many of us will ever be this fortunate, I most certainly have been.


Stop Learning – Start Earning

Seems like every one in the country is building a startup or learning to build one. Startups are cool, startups are special. But startups with daddy’s money are neither cool nor special. Its like an Arab kid a flush with oil money buying 2 dozen franchise to bring back home and one of them eventually taking off. Where’s the excitement in that, what’s the real value creation, its like buying your self a long term job and telling every one that you really cant innovate and you are better off being a cog in some one else’s large scale corporate dream.

Then we have the middle class minions who think, who believe, who aspire to build the next Whatsapp. Snap-out of it I say. We need to move past the Me2 phase of copying others. The biggest dis service being done to people who are grounded in the country middle class, is that our friends are our biggest hindrance.

Since we’ve never learnt to push back and being really honest with our friends, we encourage shitty ideas till they break the bank. So we must move past that. We have got to stop soliciting feedback from the “mamu, the chacha, the uncle who works for some guy whose successful to the one Doctor in the family, to friends whose dad does import export, or some one who has a friend the Army” That is a sure fire way to get f***d trying to do an MVP or trying to prototype an idea on a limited scale.

Resources are scarce, relatives are not. So don’t rely on relatives who know nothing about your dreams, your aspirations or your goals. Some one who has worked all their life and barely gotten by, wont :

  • Give you their vote of confidence in your chosen discipline of being an entrepreneur
  • Wont relate to what you want or empathize with your cause
  • Wont be able to share any thing practical that will help you being successful
  • Would probably want you to come back to your senses and apply to an MNC just like bhai janaans son did.

The learning you so yearn for viz a vi people around you is basically useless. Time to move on.

Its good to have role models, but look around you, outside of your comfort zone. Don’t go out on a limb and have Richard Branson as your role model, the likely hood he will give you any practical advice or of you ever meeting him are next to none. There has to be a teacher a mentor a colleague a person you admire professionally, it takes a simple courtesy call to have them help you out and take you under their wing. The worst that can happen is a no.

You can then move on to the next. Be clear in your mind what you want from the relationship, most folks who are remotely successfully are dreadfully busy(topic for an other day) so its best to capitalize on the time you get.Be grateful when people offer you the biggest gift you will ever get when you are a “nobody”, its “somebody’s” time. Also remember that when you are a “somebody” you return the favor in kind and always be grounded in reality of your own origins.I see so many successful entrepreneurs who forget this rule..

Coming back to earning, you have to get of this death spiral called pivoting, because you can re calibrate only so many times. Make it, market it, manage it. If you cant do that then some things broken in the model. You can and should go back to the drawing board, but don’t get caught up in the lies you tell your self about one more week, one more month, one more deal, one more positive review. If its not working out(take the learning) cut the cord. Move on. Do some thing productive and constructive with your time and the feedback you have so generously received.

“Being an entrepreneur is not special, making money whilst being an entrepreneur is.”

You have to monetize it…if you cant, no one else can. This is not the valley, we don’t have VCs who have cash to burn, we have limited “so called” Angel investors and some real hard core “vulture capitalists” locally. Every one wants your pound of flesh along with a deal. We rarely have the “feel good” “philanthropist” investor who will write you a check because your idea is cool and they really don’t want you to make money. There is zero to limited “patient” capital in this country, so dream and dream big, but dream about ideas that can commercially get funded and when you make it big, you can use your own money to fund your “real dreams” and “the crazy ideas”. Till then, focus on earning…$$$$$


A Master Class in being ready for all seasons

I once had a friend… Stories and theatrical presentations start like that. I was 19 , I got a call from the Trust and Estate office of a prominent Law Firm.

The person on the other end said things, I’d only heard in Hollywood productions up to that point in my life. “I am sorry Mr Siddiqi, to have to call you at this hour, Id like you to sit down and if you have some one around, I want you to call them in, I am sorry to be the one to convey this to you but AJ has passed you are named a custodian of his trust. I am sorry for your loss”.

Some how, the news of AJ leaving was less shocking then my mind trying to visualize the fact that AJ had even planned his exit, gracefully and perhaps informing the only person who he thought it would ever matter to. I haven’t and perhaps will never reconcile with his leaving. What I have reconciled with is, that it never hurts being prepared.

He would have been celebrating his 21st birthday 4 days from the day I got the call. I sat there thinking, how does a 20 year old think about death, wills and estate planning. I had barely opened my first checking account in the US the year prior and was still trying to figure out how to get a consistent signature each time.

This is the story of the most extra ordinary person I ever knew. AJ came from what some one would call wealth; I would call it a broken home. Some would call it a fortunate upbringing; I would call it a most misfortunate end. When most kids get allowance he got an inheritance, when most kids get ready to go to University he was making investment decisions, when most kids have girlfriend issues, he was meticulously planning where and what his money would be put to use for.

This money in the shape, size , state he got would allow for most people to live out their days comfortably. But not AJ, he had a mission only he knew. Whilst kids his age were calling their parents at home he was calling placement advisors and pouring hour after hour researching bonds, markets, investment properties and offshore tax jurisdictions. He repeatedly told me he wanted to do good at scale. I always wondered why. Fate had not been on his side, but he wanted to change the fate of many others.

Whilst most kids had friends, AJ had 2 friends. One of them got this call on that fateful day the other one on the other side of the planet got a similar one a few days later. 5 Days Later, I met with his lawyer. I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t shocked, when they handed me a Will that read :

“If you are reading this, I am sorry I wont be calling again. But my friend, lets make this last message matter. I am leaving in your trust, the one thing that never brought me happiness in life, access to proceeds from investments for the better half of the last few years that need to be put to good use: not that easy, its not for you. Its for the two dozen things that will be explained to you by the gentlemen who will help you in helping me, forever indebted your debt free friend”

A trust left in my care I had no clue how to react. But that didn’t matter, every thing was planned to the last detail. All I had to do was sign and it would take care of it self. Every thing was planned out to the last detail.

The thing this episode ingrained in me was being ready, being prepared. Just like in life, in business the single biggest lesson I’ve ever learnt is the value of preparedness, the importance of thinking ahead, the necessity of not wasting hours on the past but putting some thought to the present and to the future. On that fateful day, my friend gave me the biggest gift any one could give a 19 year old, a Master Class in being ready for all seasons.

– In loving memory of AJ

Note: AJ passed from a medical complication resulting from an earlier car accident


Getting lucky in the tech game: Starring- High school grads with online degrees managing bottom of the pyramid eager beavers

Luck in every sphere of life is some thing that can grab your existence and thrust you into success; commercial, personal, business and then some. What luck doesn’t bring to people, more times than not, is class. Like luck, class is some thing that one cannot develop, just like luck, you either have class or you are class-less. If you happen to be lucky, one would hope that you have some class to share the spoils of your luck.

I’ve worked at Fortune 10, to ‘side of the road great idea type of startups’ in 4 distinct countries on 3 continents. There is some thing to be said about the shift I’ve seen from the time India was booming and outsourcing was king, the offshoring managers in the US who didn’t have a clue were the lucky ones, armed with high school diplomas the jackals of the trade who had nothing else to gain in the West, went in epic proportions to conquer India and all that she had to offer.

These offshoring managers were picked typically to manage less than acceptable teams in India who were supposedly stealing jobs away from them. Incidentally these guys were the, under 50k$ a year state side managers who hadn’t been out of Iowa let alone go to Indore. But they went, they didn’t have a choice, they has a passport; to their surprise, due to the Anglo-Saxon worship mind set that has scarred the subcontinent, these otherwise less than useful managers were the boots on the ground and some figured out that they were Kings and King makers if they leveraged this strategic stroke of luck correctly.

Long story short, the worst of the lot ended up managing some of the smartest minds in tech and engineering in India. What a travesty, for which we are our selves to blame. It paid off handsomely to the select offshore companies, their principles and titans of Indian tech industry, the average Information worker, not as much. Granted they had more options and better paychecks but from a long term perspective they would serve as sprockets in some one else’s well oiled machines.

This reverse migration of managing talent remotely is a fairly new phenomenon in Pakistan, about 10 years or so old. Pakistanis possess an other trait clearly missing in the rest of the subcontinent, we are the quintessential western worshipers, for while the Hindus have gods of every kind, and we make our own masters in this context. Given our general disadvantage, any opportunity to earn brownie points with the on-shore masters is perceived and rewarded by the said masters by creating an entire workforce that feeds off this negative energy. A class and sub class of corporate informants and thugs has developed.

In most cases the level of talent reporting back to the West is far superior, but given the balance of power most people interact with the onshore masters, just as such, in a submissive master slave relationship. In the last three years for sure and some prior to that, whilst I had been busy building offshoring centers of excellence at a decent speed and proportion, I feel I have the right to an opinion on the subject. My journey was one of scale and one of wanting to generate employment and social equality (1 person employed supports on average 4.5 Family Members in Pakistan), in my own mind the journey was left partially achieved because it had far greater potential than what the basic University of Phoenix online grad could comprehend.

But I feel that I was un-able to drive to the employee-masses that onshore doesn’t control destiny, its controlled in the clouds (not the amazon type either). Clearly there is some thing wrong with our genetic makeup we want to be shepherded even in times where we clearly should be the shepherds.

I feel very strongly about not working with or for people whose IQ and EQ are close to my pet chicken. I am on a mission to ensure that I save my self and others from over valuing the power hierarchy in startups and post startups, between investors and management, between offshore and onshore. I want to figure out a way to teach our young tech professionals and smart minds to develop anti bullshit radars to see past the shallowness of the high school grads, just because they are on shore and speak English or French or German better than the guys on the ground . It’s a need driven relationship that should be kept as such, they need offshore and offshore needs them it has nothing to do with skill(s), only to do with better economic empowerment, access to capital and the least, luck. With all others things being constant trust me, we would get equally lucky:). So its time we turn lady luck in our favor by turning the economic equation on its head and investing locally within our own.

Beyond that, being more loyal than the king is what gets our kids in to trouble. They go down the path of brown nosing and find them selves in a pile of deep sh*t, as at the end of that stream, the only thing onshore investors/startups etc value is a warm body on the other side of the phone that can solve their problems cheaper than what it costs to maintain a swimming pool each month in a good part of Colorado. Moral of the story is, we are selling our selves short, we are selling out and we need to be smarter than that. We need to promote our own eco system, we need to support our own companies, we need invest locally and take advantage of our labor arbitrage, so someone in the boonies on the other side of the planet doesn’t.

Its best to be in a class of your own, rather than expecting classy behavior from the types I’ve described above. Some one in the middle of Bum fuc* Colorado whose idea of International travel is Canada who thinks Pakistan being in Asia should be similar to Hong Kong clearly will not exude the class we expect them to, its time to turn the tables and invest locally then regionally and then globally as opposed to going globally looking for investments, trust me, you will get the capital but you will not be so lucky as to get the class of investor or partner you deserve.

“Don’t shrink your standards, link yourself with those who think and ink like you.” ― Michael Bassey Johnson

Drinking The Corporate Kool-Aid

You are born, you are loved, you are sent to school. You aspire for upward mobility. You are messed up for life.

Our universities and colleges have planned the end for us even before it is time. You go to university, you spend four years trying to avoid the over zealous faculty members, you some how graduate, then the desperation of finding a J.O.B starts—one that offers you upward mobility so that you might quickly work your way up to a salary that helps you pay off all the loans your poor parents took and the instalments you’ll be accumulating throughout your life should you not be able to help them out and start paying them back ; so they can then start the process again to have money, for an other middle class task like getting a sibling married off or re-loaning their own meagre belongings to some one else in need.

You aspirations start building up, your dad had a bike or a small car, you think you went to college you should have a bigger car, a bigger house and a better version of all the things that you family tried hard, very hard in providing you. It your turn now to dig your self and every one out of this hole, that’s what going to school was all about, wasn’t it? This constant delusion of wanting more, yet not having enough plus the constant threat of needing to finance the basic necessities of life you and your family potentially need. It’s taken from you the most precious thing you ever had growing up: your “Dreams & Freedom to Dream”.

What age are you when you get out of a 4 year degree program. May be 21? In my view no one in their 20s should be concerned about mobility, let alone upward mobility. Unfortunately our colleges and what we have amassed from the west has destroyed our cultural sensitivities to no end. Partly because we have no guidance Counselling in a broken system that barely has education to offer. Thanks to both family pressures and the consistent crisis of good news around us, most graduating kids compelled to get a job right away, or to go do and MBA(More Bad Advice) and then find a job right away.

Why settle there, no one wants just any job, we all want an excellent job, oh a dream job, a job in an office, in a building, with lots of other douchey college graduates around you.Realistically the same job that will push you into a premature middle age whilst your career is just starting off. Clearly , its taboo to have any other kind of job you’re meant to feel like a failure if you take a job slinging make shift dish antennas after college or let alone doing some thing creative like painting or taking up pottery. The false urgency that guides you and many like you to ascend the corporate ladder, with a false belief that some how that is the only route to success, it is actually the failure of our educational system, societal beliefs, cultural norms and the likes there of to make you think that way. In my limited view, those are exactly the things that prevent a lot of people from being successful, including you. You bet.

I know too well what happens when you take your first job. Let me provide some reflection for you on good authority. You feel grown up, wow you have your first desk job, but I know what happens(to the vast majority): You start off by trying to figure out ways and means to impress your boss, but due to your corporate/professional immaturity and lack of professional sensitivities, you do exactly what you shouldn’t. You come in early, you do every thing you get asked, you keep on brown nosing the boss by being the needy pup that you are, asking if you can do any thing else? Hold on eager beaver!!!

We know where this is headed, soon you grow to Loathe your boss and all the useless s**t he gives you. Funnily enough all the acts of graciousness you did by coming early and executing, have actually had your boss loose all respect for you, because sadly and frankly you don’t have any initiative of your own. That my friend is the persception you create by being an eager beaver. Soon you stop caring. Like clock work you start leaving before Mr.Boss Man, why, because f**k him. Now that’s not why you aspired for a desk job, you wanted a better car a house, you had dreams to finance…..

You come to the realization that you even though your job has started to completely suck the life out of you, the nagging in your brain begins, the worry that you will loose it, you try to get by, by doing the bare minimum every day, every week. Just enough so that your cost of replacement is a pain to the business. They are trapped, you are trapped, it’s a zero sum game. You F**ing hate your job, but you need it..

Clearly this is not what you thought getting out of school, this wasn’t the dream job your MBA had promised, this isn’t even half the job your Bachelors had lead you to believe you’d be entitled to. That is the whole issue here, the entitlement belief system..

So Kiddo, take it from a pro, these are the shadows lurking in the closet of the eternal work force and the corporation you are yearning to join. Please take a moment to evaluate this advice, you have a choice, even if you have obligations to meet and monies to return. You are freer than you think, that’s one thing I can assure you. You are free, because you believe you are, not because you think you aren’t.

So Kid, lets evaluate this, you are in your 20s, there is no spouse in the equation, and no one to please, hopefully there are no kids to feed (unless you are really really st*p*d and you had kids while you were in college and you got married too). At this stage in your life, there isn’t literally any thing that should hold you back or tie you down, (except maybe your parents and the token elder in the family demanding you to find proper employment, but you know what…just let it slide). Go define your own proper.

BTW, you don’t need to be in same gali, muhallah, area, street, town, city for that matter country. Don’t stick around your home town just because the girl who you’ve been sending the easy loads lives across the street or the guys who have chai with are the same guys you always knew..

The surest of way death is doing the same obscure shi* over and over again for the rest of your life. What you need to do is find some thing else, any thing, just not the stuff you are supposed to be doing, like getting a desk job. Time for you to figure it out, go to nathia gali if you have to. Clear your mind.

Its this kind of craziness in your 20s that helps you in the long run. You will absorb skills you didn’t think you had or needed, you will see cool stuff happening around you, meet new people, not at work, far from it, but under normal human interaction, within normally driven circumstances, not a dam* meeting in a 5X12 room.

Locate the last person who told you, you need to network, evaluate where their career is in relation to their job, do they see Richard Bransons reflection in the mirror in the morning when they comb their hair, if the answer is no, you don’t need their god damn advice.

Jump off a cliff, if you have a linked in profile in your twenties. Do you meet people like this, in sterility? That is the antithesis of networking, its border line corporate stalking and like the mafias lower cadres, organized harassment. Some random Joe wont help you find a damn job when you may potentially need one in your thirties. You know who will, the strange guy you met in Urdu Bazaar, who you had a political disagreement with and then later met to fix his uncles 1989 Honda Accord, that guy will help you eventually. If you’d like to be ignored by people who in your minds eye you are trying to impress then go the social media route and give them a reason to block you out. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is awesome for a lot of stuff. Just not what you think.

Every shi**y nigh spent trying to hitch a ride or loosing your bearings at a train station or airport, every single thing you experience from this point forth is useful, you just don’t know it yet. All this the soul food, you need it and it will help you. Every iota of negativity that you experience, you are likely to now have a higher probability of having a shared experience with others around you. Stuff others can relate to and so can you. Congrats you just upgraded the lenses on your world view, you now have one, your own. It’s all useful later on. You now have an identity and a story to tell. That’s it. Go tell the world.

This is the zero point in your journey, time to be selfish, have a go at terrible relationships, think about taking some mood enhancers, but please get it over with already. Learn the stuff every moro* your age has to learn. But for gods sake don’t be a god damn paper pusher at some Multi national because they have good looking peers. Imagine how much better you can do when you have your own money? Not borrowed money to count, report on and deposit on behalf of your slave drivers foreign ethics infused balance sheet.
Start doing some thing for your self, it will be way more meaningful than doing shit for others. The economy will always be terrible, the drawing room politics will always start with “bhai aap kay khiyal main haalth kiss taraf jaa rahay hain” your parents will always think less of you should you practice a profession outside of the family approved lineage or background. But be that as may, push comes to shove if you really falter in the end, and need a job, you will find one. You are over estimating your peers and your competition, just don’t text during an interview and you’ll get the job ahead of the m*ron who did.

Please stop associating with people who want you to have a plan, who want you to get a job, who are wondering what you are doing. You don’t need them in your life. Trust me it’s far better to have no plan, a plan will emerge . Consider it a badge of honor if you are the guy whose drifting along and people say “whose this person, what the F are they doing with their life”. You are now on to a remarkable journey. A journey of self belief .

I once met a guy in Ukraine, he was Pakistani. He came to pick me up in a company provided limo(note to self, the limo/the cars, the Mercs, are always company provided, don’t ever consider them yours). I was intrigued, because I was on the phone with my wife and as I switched off to say hello to him, he didn’t look any thing that would lead me to believe he was Pakistani. He turned around and said “bhai jaan sab khair hay ghar pay, bhabi theek hain?”. I could have sworn the guy was Ukrainian. Mazhar who I know to this day, was in Ukraine since 1970, he came to Russia on a Merchant Navvy Ship, he was exploring the local market when the vessel docked, it was the 70s, he got lost and in a rush to meet up with his crew, he fell down breaking his ankle and passing out. He woke up later in a hospital in a country, where he didn’t understand a word of what people were saying around him. He told me he made some shi**y choices early on, but then he started showing up at Junkyard, because he had no place to go, no place to sleep, but during the time he started tinkering with stuff, helping the guys fix things. He became a legend with his mechanical skills, he first learnt how to speak Russian, then he learnt how to write it, then he went to college in Russia and became a mechanical engineer, he was a ship hand on the ship that brought him there, he was 19 when he came. He then started fixing odds and ends and became the handy man of choice, he was the trusted foreigner who was becoming a local, he figured out a way to legalize his stay in Russia in an amnesty that was granted there. He helped a local engineer repair old cars and eventually ended up marrying his daughter. Fast forward some years, I meet Mazhar in Ukraine, he owns a fleet of over 200 Cars and trucks in a transport company he now owns. Mazhar came to pick me up because the service ticket had a Pakistani name, and he was a few drivers short on this bitter cold morning in Kiev . I was blown away with Mazhars story. It’s a true story it took him over 30 years of trials and life experiences but he made it by every stretch of the imagination. Mazhar will probably be amused when he reads it. But this is the spirit we need. This is the happenstance we must be willing to accept if we don’t want to die fat and stupid at a desk.

The likelihood that this will all happen for you is razor thin. But it is there, you wont know till you try it. There is no guarantee . The averages say it can’t be so. But that’s a success defined strictly by having lots of cash and having a big FU house with a car park supporting some double cabins per say loaded by armed personnel. That’s how society, the environment , the ecosystem of people around us , colleges and banks and the media think of success. Disposable , visible , available items that make up the cesspool that defines success. My dear 20 some thing year old, or perhaps 30 or 40 year old, that’s the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, all this is a con, every one thinks they are far removed from it, but every body plays to this bastar*ized, hosed down view of what success really is. It’s a dream created by spending millions of dollars and investment of hours classical conditioning of epic proportions so that you have the same blue print like the other zombies out there.

Do you self a favor, don’t be a numberless victim in this life pageant , designed by corporations, fuelled by capitalists, preached by media, endorsed by governments and glorified by pundits, all for morons like you to drink the corporate kool-aid.

What it takes to be Successful in a Frontier Market? A sense of Humor at the very least.

Wikipedia tells us that “A frontier market is a type of developed country which is more developed than the least developed countries, but too small to be generally considered an emerging market. The term is an economic term which was coined by International Finance Corporation’s Farida Khambata in 1992.” Pakistan is on the S&P, MSCI, Dow Jones and Russell Investments list of Frontier Markets.

By the above measure most Executives, westerners or otherwise, have very limited exposure to a frontier market until they are relatively senior and set in their ways. (Let me also point out that going to China/Hong Kong etc does not remotely constitute any viable frontier market exposure or experience). Late in the careers of western executives, their view of the world is largely formed and they are typically winging it in the end. They typically misjudge or simply pretend to draw parallels to their own experience, which are vastly different from any authentic experience on the ground. Not to say their own experiences aren’t valuable but clearly not in this context.

Spending time early in your career in a frontier market has a lasting impact on all your subsequent management decisions and it typically avoids you eating humble pie in the end. Not only do you get a birds eye view into the markets, but it also sets you apart when thinking about markets at home. I strongly believe, now having lived and built a relatively small operating frontier market company that the flow of human capital should not happen from the Frontier Market to the West, but more importantly the other way around at least in the beginning.

In Pakistan, consider the exposure to corner stores and small kiosks selling air time for mobile phones, or the small vendors who make up the agent network for branchless banking at the heart of Pakistans most visible money transfer service. They reflect a decentralized, de-institutionalized commercial structure that’s now clearly part of the US/Western economy (think Air B&B , Uber, Square etc).

Unfortunately those who research frontier markets on Google and seek tips online have a huge void of experiential learning; if they haven’t spent time in those markets, falsely believing they are rooted in an era gone by. I believe that young executives, entrepreneurs and generally any one who wants to be successful in the future should spend time in a frontier market even if it’s for a short duration. The life lessons, challenge and ingenuity of how markets evolve when resources are scarce are equally valuable if not more when I look back and compare it to economics courses I was fortunate enough to take at LSE.

So what does it really take to be successful in a frontier market? At the very least a great sense of humor, because there is no Walmart to run to or a Home Depot, alas neither is there an Ikea typically, nor is there a Better Business Bureau to redress any complaints you may have. All you have is your sense of humor and hopefully the perseverance to manage through any and all challenges. Challenges in the frontier market space aren’t like your utility company over charging you or you loosing your credit card, the challenges are real and typically “left field” that any where else you’d almost think you were in bizzaro world. It not all bad. Its just different.

So for comparisons sake on an average day in Karachi I would be dealing with a limited strike, logistics and transport issues and trying to figure out how to get teams into work safely. Nothing less than a master class for urban warfare planning. Whilst my larger challenge was never bringing in people safely or on time, it was to bridge the gap a few thousand miles away where a strike is some thing unions do, or you see at a Yankees game. Dealing with that, is a master class that doesn’t exist any where. Perhaps time to start one no less.

Entrepreneurs who are starting off in a frontier market will have an edge over the rest, they are forced to innovate due to lack of resources typically, in trying to solve the same problems as the rest of the world but their solutions need to go further and deliver longer. The moral of the story being, no time better than the present and no place better than Pakistan to exploit the bounties of what a frontier market has to offer, just make sure you bring your sense of humor to work every day.

Q: So How is Pakistan treating you?

A: Where there is chaos there is opportunity, can you handle the chaos? If not then read on.

That is what we call a loaded question with a more loaded answer. Pakistan for business is like going out on the street and finding them lined with gold bullion. If you know which streets to walk on. If you don’t, then you have an other thing coming.

Like most markets which are under developed or developing, the balance of power lies in the imbalance of information.

But chaos is not for every one, we have simple reasons in front of us which make it ever so hard to want to stick around and see if the balance of power turns out in our favor. The environment around us in general is negative and stifling, entrepreneurship, innovation, outside the box thinking or even dreaming big are crimes punishable by the sentiments from friends and family that question your mental state of mind.

When there is a general sense of hopelessness every where, not just in government or political circles but in and around our every day lives, from employment opportunities, law and order to the “in-bred, closed mindset” of every one around us, its almost impossible to break free of that thinking.

But you must do your self a favor, you must leave, you must give your self the opportunity to experience normalcy, apathy, moral courage, humility, civility and being human. All the things that seem to be drawn out from within us the day we enter the adulthood fold in Pakistan.

It wont be easy, you must therefore be prepared to “leave”. One has to open their eyes, see new things, learn new things, garner new experiences, understand how people co exist and how people debate ideas and build consensus. All it takes is the act of going away and experiencing it, without that, you will never figure it out, even though its not astro-physics, you will only see it if you remove your self from the daily rut of where you are today.

Once you have given your self the runway to see what else is on offer in the rest of the world, you then bring those learning’s and try to disseminate them, by coming back. Don’t try to solve big problems that ail the country, try to di-sect and solve problems that will bring meaningful change. Start small, from you neighborhood, to your self , then perhaps national and then potentially regional and from there on global. You cant solve things that have an internal inertial longer than your years you have to break them down first.

The worst kind of Pakistani, is the remote analyst, when you learn what you think is enough, don’t become a TV Preacher equivalent and talk about change and revolutions on FB and Twitter. No one likes or wants any one who doesn’t have skin in the game. Decide, if you want to have skin in the game and if you are committed to change, then by all means be a commentator, but with out being a competitor ever, those commentators generally don’t have a following of any kind and yield no influence.

We have the NY Times the WSJ and CNN who do a decent job at taking a stab at Pakistan every day, we don’t want to see more of our own doing it without offering solutions.

Remember the time when you left and dreamt of coming back and to inculcate change?

Never think, that one person cant change a system. The very crux of local, social, societal, corporate change is typically driven by one person. We need more people to leave and then come back to drive that change. One step and one person at a time.


Pakistan awaits your return.