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Amer Hashmi – pioneering innovation in Pakistan

  • Posted On: 11th June 2013
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Amer Hashmi – pioneering innovation in Pakistan

Having achieved success in the global technology industry through his multi-million dollar company Si3, Amer Hashmi is not resting on his laurels but has returned to Pakistan from the United States/Canada to help bring about a positive change.

A business graduate from the York University in Toronto, Canada, Amer Hashmi specialized in Corporate Strategy, Finance and Marketing. He gained a wealth of experience working with global giants like IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and is also a graduate of the prestigious IBM Executive Forum. He is also a member of the select club of high-level executive managers at IBM Global Services North America.

As the founder of Si3, Amer Hashmi gained international renown for his pioneering initiatives in technology outsourcing for Pakistan. Si3 has emerged as one of Pakistan’s premier technology outsourcing firms and during his tenure as CEO, Si3 was rated as the fastest growing IT outsourcing firm in Pakistan.

In recognition of his exceptional leadership abilities and his success with Si3, Amer Hashmi became the only Canadian-Pakistani to have been featured in leading international business and finance publications like Business Week, Financial Times and Forbes

A graduate of the National School of Public Policy, the elite leadership college for Pakistan’s policy and decision-makers, Amer Hashmi has advised the Government of Pakistan on its strategic plans for ICT development. He was the Senior IT Advisor to the Commonwealth Society of Canada as well as to the Central Executive Committee of the Pakistan Association of Software Houses (PASHA). His expertise on national ICT development has been sought by governments in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

 Amer Hashmi is currently the Advisor to the Rector of the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), Islamabad. He has played a leading role in formulating a comprehensive strategy for realising the five key strategic objectives of: excellence in teaching and education, focus on research, fostering a spirit of enterprise, internationalization of higher education and bringing about a positive impact on society. He has spearheaded the establishment of various initiatives at NUST including the National Science and Technology Park (NSTP), Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) and NUST Global Think Tank Network (GTTN).

He is also the Secretary General of NUST Corporate Advisory Council (CAC), a pioneering platform in Pakistan for industry-academia-government collaboration. He is the Executive Committee Chairman for the establishment of NUST National Science & Technology Park (NSTP), Pakistan’s first university-hosted science park. He has played the key role in getting NSTP the full membership of International Association of Science Parks (IASP) and an associate membership of World Technopolis Association (WTA), two leading science park bodies in the world.

His strategic plan for the transformation of NUST into a 21st century entrepreneurial university also includes the establishment of a venture capital fund for innovation and entrepreneurship to facilitate the process of the growth of new technology-based firms at NSTP.

Amer Hashmi is also the President of NUST Global Think Tank Network (GTTN) – an initiative for creating special knowledge partnerships for regional and global peace and prosperity with leading academic and non-academic think tanks in Asia-Pacific, North America and Europe, of which the first is the China-Pakistan Joint Think Tank, a trilateral partnership between Tsinghua University Beijing, Southwest University of Political Science and Law Chongqing and NUST. He is also currently serving as Member of the Board of Trustees –NUST; Board Chairman of Eocean, the largest mobile e-commerce company in Pakistan; Associate Partner of Singularity Ventures, a leading Venture Capitalist firm in Malaysia; Chief of Secretariat – Canada Pakistan Business Council Karachi; and Board Vice-Chairman of Si3.

 He talks to Blue Chip about his success with Si3, his views on Pakistan and his vision for the future.

What prompted you to set up Si3?

Amer Hashmi: “My years at IBM were spent acquiring key corporate management skills. IBM cemented my professional skills and career as my training consisted of corporate strategy, technical solution delivery, sales and marketing. I was IBM’s National Principal – Banking Sector in Canada and managing financial services giants like the Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC, the Bank of Montreal, TD Canada Trust and Scotia Bank. I wanted to start an IT company in Pakistan which could become a leading brand name in IT services and which could become an exemplar in Pakistan of the international standards in technology management and service delivery to which I had become exposed by virtue of my professional association with IBM. Moreover, I knew many exceptionally bright and young Pakistani professionals who were working with various Fortune 500 companies in North America. I wanted to start an IT venture in Pakistan which would allow the repatriation of this talent pool and contribute to wealth and value creation in our own country.

The business model that we created proved interesting enough to gain support not only from iconic Pakistani corporate leaders like Khalid Rafi, Chairman Si3 Board of Directors and former Senior Partner of A. F. Ferguson and Co. and the legendary Hussain Dawood, but also a big industrial group in Malaysia which invested in Si3. We recruited Pakistanis working at senior positions in Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Citigroup, HP, AT&T etc., and brought them back to Pakistan as Si3 employees. We, therefore, succeeded in creating the right kind of company which enabled the transfer of global best practice in IT solutions delivery to Pakistan and at the same time made money for its shareholders. The combination of the right intention, right money, right people, and the right environment in the country during the early 2000s were the main factors behind the establishment of Si3.”

Participants at the Launch Ceremony of China – Pakistan Joint Think Tank
January 16th, 2012

Did the runaway success of Si3 surpass your expectations?

AH: “Si3 was a smart start-up which garnered success not only from the kind of talent that it attracted but by the quality of work that it produced since its inception. Honestly, I hadn’t really expected Si3 to be so successful.  However as Si3 gained momentum and built its brand, it also faced incredible obstacles which made the whole experience one big rollercoaster ride! The exposure to Pakistani business realities like ‘bid bonds’, ‘bank guarantees’, ‘unpaid receivables’ came as bit of a surprise to me, to put it mildly. There was even a difficult time when Si3 was owed almost Rs 400 million in ‘unpaid receivables’. Another significant setback was having signed a foreign contract on the dollar, so when the US dollar shot up from Rs 60 to  Rs 80 in May 2008, we lost Rs 21 per dollar on a couple of million dollars. This hurt the company but we took all these experiences in our stride. Si3 became a success due to the right mix of its vision, people and the high-quality IT solutions we offered to big corporations and large public sector enterprises in Pakistan like PSO, SECP, Mobilink etc.

I am excited for the future of Si3 as we have been working out a national-regional service delivery strategy for Si3 coupled with changes in the shareholding structure of the company that entails the arrival of a few big international corporate players on board. Moreover, my association with various IT companies is going to factor into the reformulation of the Si3 business strategy. For instance, I am currently serving as Chairman Board of Directors of Eocean Pvt. Ltd, a leading mobile value-added services company offering services that include robust SMS gateway capable of handling millions of SMS each day, IVR/call center development, Mobile Applications, Sales force automation, Social Media, Mobile Banking, anti-counterfeiting solutions, asset tracking services and billing integration. Eocean’s CEO Asif Jafri is an entrepreneur and a dynamic business visionary passionately interested in win-win business partnerships with other players in Pakistan’s IT industry. I also sit as a Member on the Board of Singularity Ventures, a leading IT company in Malaysia. All these associations are going to factor in the revision of the strategic business plan of Si3. We are going to come back with an exciting value proposition.”

What factors do you believe contributed to your success?

AH: “My unshakable belief in the mercifulness and beneficence of Allah the Almighty! Moreover, I learnt the value of working hard early on in life; this taught me the importance of carrying ideas and projects through to the end and helped me understand what it really means to succeed. Most people today, especially our youth, are bedazzled by the conspicuous glamour and admiration that attends successful people in any walk of life. I think the trappings of success appear so seductive that people fail to notice the sweat that goes into producing success on any day. I was luckily immunized against this misunderstanding, thanks in large part to my mother who made sure in myriad ways while I was growing up that I will always prioritize substance over appearances. In a nutshell, Si3 was a brilliant idea translated into reality with perseverance and great teamwork.

I am of the firm belief that most of us are blessed with some innate talent that is just waiting to be tapped into. If you are already lucky to know what that talent is and you are really good at something, do not just sit on it hoping for things to work out in your favour all by themselves but rather maximize this innate advantage by proactively seeking to acquire mastery in the area in which your natural brilliance finds its most powerful and meaningful expression. I was naturally good at managing things, people and situations so I chose to specialize and work hard in what came naturally to me. I shall also add an irrepressible joie de vivre as a reason that allows me to bounce back from momentary setbacks which also enhances my ability to experience success with my head and heart in the right place but with a sense of relish than perhaps would someone who is a pessimist.

I was always a fearless person, never averse to taking risks and the courage the take responsibility for my actions. My self-belief also translates in my ability to put faith and trust in people. I have been proven wrong many times in my estimation of people but what makes me happy is that the number of times my trust in people has turned out right is way greater. So, yes, I would say we should trust and believe well of our fellow human beings, no matter what. My experience is that success comes easier in the West, whereas becoming successful is harder in Pakistan as our social and professional environments are infested with unnecessary obstacles to self-fulfillment. My values and morals have been consistent throughout. I attribute my success to my ability to cling to values like a strong regard for gender equality and female empowerment which allowed me to build successful teams, respect for elders which helped me learn from the experience of my seniors and honesty of intention and acts which led to correct solutions delivery.”

Launch of China – Pakistan Joint Think Tank
January 16th, 2012
(From Left to Right)
• Engr. Dr. M Akram Sheikh, Professor Emeritus NUST
Co-Chair Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) NUST
Co-Chair NUST Global Think Tank Network (GTTN)
• Engr. M Asghar, Rector – NUST
Co-Chair Corporate Advisory Council (CAC)-NUST
Co-Chair NUST Global Think Tank Network (GTTN)
• Prof. Dr. Zhang Guolin, University CCP Secretary, Chairman of Governors, Southwest University of Political Science and Law (SWUPL)
• Prof. Dr. Li Xiguang, Dean, Tsinghua University (THU) International Center for Communication

What initially drew you to a career in IT?

AH: “I was always interested in computers. During the late 80s, when I was in high school, I intuitively knew that computers and related technologies would be the next big technological breakthrough and will, therefore, give a lot of room to the entrepreneurially minded to turn ideas into economic and social value. After I graduated I was naturally motivated to join the technology management of top North American services companies which in time led me to IBM and later down the road to starting Si3 when I thought I was ready to start my own IT  company with a difference of which social entrepreneurship was an important strategic element.”

After achieving career success in the United States, what led you to move back to Pakistan?

AH: “My passion for Pakistan is unwavering! Nothing could take that feeling out of me. I love the country, its people and the fact that perhaps we may be one of the most resilient nations in the world. The diversity of social attitudes, thoughts, ideas, and behaviours is by far the most lovable thing about Pakistan, I reckon. Being a Pakistani defines me in the most essential sense, my very life-world is conditioned by the fact of my belonging to this wonderful country. I wanted to give back to it what I believed was its due and part in my success. I had a socially advantaged upbringing, one in which I had lacked for nothing. At the same time, I was aware of a pervasive deprivation that seemed to cripple people’s energies; and the fact that you were living a privileged existence whereas there were millions of your fellow countrymen who had to eke it out real hard, was a realization that always stayed with me even during the years I was abroad. I wanted to play an active part in doing something in and for Pakistan which will help create economic and social value immediately. In the early 2000s Pakistan was on the cusp of its ICT revolution as well as there was a prevalent feeling of regeneration about Pakistan inside and out. I just felt that the growth and success of information industry in Pakistan would speed up the process of national technological catch-up and also create jobs and livelihoods in the process. Si3 was my way of making a means which could allow me to help create structured conditions which would play an active part in the growth of national IT industry and socio-economic value at the same time.

By the success which Si3 experienced, I guess my gut feeling about Pakistan being a place where great things do happen was right. I have studied Pakistani society deeply and am of the view that if we can use the different kinds of diversity – economic, social, cultural, ethnic, etc., – that exist in the country rather than squelch them, we can do great things for this country which we love so much. Even, the coexistence of tradition and modernity, which has usually been one of the most difficult things for post-colonial countries to negotiate and which has normally inhibited growth in the third world, can be turned to good account with a bit of strategic wisdom. I have shared these views in my various advisory roles both for the public and private sectors. When I was abroad, I had this acute feeling of being away from the real scene of action, where all the great and good things could happen and some of them were really happening. Even success could not remove this feeling of being far and away.”

What are your views on Pakistan’s IT industry?

AH: “The future of Pakistan’s IT industry is really bright. It experienced a spurt of growth in the early to mid-2000s but has slacked off in the recent years. Sporadic growth of our IT industry may be one of the reasons that the knowledge economy contribution to the GDP of Pakistan is still negligible at best. High-technology exports constitute about 2 percent of the total manufactured exports of the country. Although, the government in the past years rolled out many initiatives to kick-start growth in the IT industry like the technology parks in Islamabad and Lahore, yet these have been reduced to the level of merely property initiatives.

To redress this situation not only for the ICT sector but also in so far as high technological development in Pakistan is concerned, NUST is spearheading the National Science and Technology Park (NSTP), the country’s first proper university-hosted science park where technology is incubated and technology-based firms created. NSTP is a trail blazing initiative, which shall surely spawn a generation of similar projects all over the country, helping this young nation of 180 million achieve their true destiny. Being the first of its kind initiative in Pakistan, this idea is very close to my heart. We have already initiated the groundwork for NSTP by developing policies, plans, facilities and services to support the concept. I am proud to inform that it is the first organization from Pakistan to become a Full Member of International Association of Science Parks (IASP), a worldwide network of Science & Technology Parks; as well as the World Technopolis Association (WTA), a multilateral international organization created with the purpose to connect the advancement of science and technology with local development.

I look towards the NSTP as a landmark venture that can help transform the technological and industrial landscape of Pakistan, propelling this hugely talented nation in a direction that leads to its true destiny; a progressive, modern and prosperous country with opportunities for all.

Furthermore, we have a very vibrant Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) which is the apex NUST body for promoting interaction between government, business and academia to promote innovation in the country. We have about eleven sectors in CAC, of which ICT is one of the most active and productive. I officiate as the Secretary General of CAC which is being run by a team of highly dedicated and competent management and technology professionals. We are inspired by great hope in the future of Pakistan’s technological progress which we try to harness for the success of various programmes.”

Your are President of the Global Think Tank Network (GTTN) in association with the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), how can this unique initiative play a role in adding value to Pakistan’s future policy strategies?

AH: “As I said earlier, Pakistan needs to use its diversity for national unity not for divisiveness. So far our diversity has been aimed against us; I think it is about time that we learnt the difficult but great art of using it as a cohesive force, as a tissue that connects rather than as a gulf that separates. GTTN has the real potential to create a narrative that can help the country reform institutions that already exist, and create new ones which will lead to the communication across so-called divides, whether resource-based, ideological or geographical in nature. Our knowledge methodologies give us the confidence in our ability to achieve this for Pakistan. Pakistan’s policymaking will need to liberate itself from the trap of a priori-ism that has plagued the whole process of decision- and policy-making. What it really means in practice is that our policy makers, seduced by their respective idée fixes and vested interests, have always made policies in defiance of the logic of the domestic situation which has led to formulation of policies that have exacerbated rather than fixed crises.

At GTTN, we are trying to discard this policy a priori-ism so that we can gain an objective knowledge of the country and its peoples, and the challenges both face and how they can surmount them. We are trying to build knowledge partnerships with select academic and non-academic think tanks in at least four economically and socially advanced regions in the world. The idea behind these partnerships is to effect the transfer of policy-making knowledge in Pakistan and to become acquainted with policy making practices and traditions in the most successful regions of the world, work towards appraising these various regional policymaking knowledges in the light of our own domestic and local requirements of development and indigenizing relevant foreign experiences for their maximum internal utilization. At the same time, we hope that our local experiences will be shared and used, when need be, in other cultures and other settings as per the needs and choices of those foreign societies and cultures.

Our China-Pakistan Joint Think Tank with Tsinghua University, Beijing, and Southwest University of Political Science and Law (SWUPL), Chongqing, China is working at full throttle. We have gathered together select thought leaders of Pakistan who come from the worlds of statesmanship, diplomacy, policymaking, academia, business and industry at the platform of China-Pakistan Joint Think Tank. More think tank nodes of GTTN shall be coming up in the next few months.”

Who have been your role models through your life and career?

AH: “Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is my ultimate role-model. I have made it a life-long habit to start all my professional presentations with a brief description of the inimitably multi-faceted greatness of his personality.

I admire my mother for her indomitable willpower and determination. She has inculcated in me a knack for independent thinking and righteous action. Thanks to her, I am always game for a challenge that tests the limits of my hard work and intellectual application.

Dr. Akram Sheikh, former Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission of Pakistan, and currently the Professor Emeritus at NUST, has been my mentor ever since I met him eight years ago. I have never met a man like him who combines in his personality, greatness of vision, an exceptionally incisive intellect, iron-cast firmness of character, and an endearing modesty of conduct. It is quite interesting how I met him for the first time in 2005 during a high-level NLC project event. I was giving a presentation on Si3 to a high-level audience, explaining systems integration to them when I saw a kind elderly gentleman walk into the hall unassumingly, sit down on one of the seats amongst the audience, and start taking notes assiduously moments after he had sat down. It was only when he rose to speak after being introduced as the chief guest of the event that I came to know that this was none other than Dr. Akram Sheikh himself. In his remarks, he summed up systems integration better than many subject experts could do. I immediately developed a strong respect and admiration for him. He commands the rare ability to explain complex things with one simple metaphor that drives the point home. I am grateful to him for teaching me many a thing about human nature, Pakistan, and life in general. Dr. Saahib is a silent hero of our nation who has dedicated his life to national service without any thought toward personal reward in a highly distinguished career. He is not just a great man but a great human being as well.

I admire General (retd.) Muhammad Asghar, Rector-NUST, for his strength of character and understanding. He and I make an interesting team; for a person like myself who has a completely civilian background, to work comfortably with a senior military commander like General Asghar is a sign of his earnest desire to establish NUST as a leading promoter, exponent and participant of innovation-based knowledge economy in Pakistan.  We have the constant benefit of the advice of General Asghar and Dr. Akram Sheikh as Co-Chairs of NUST GTTN and CAC.

Steve Jobs is another person I have a lot of respect for. His design creativity was unparalleled. He singlehandedly transformed Apple into a leading global phenomenon in smart telephony. He pioneered the winning combination of design aestheticism and technological sophistication proving that two completely discrete fields can be successfully brought together to their mutual accelerated improvement.”

Are you optimistic about the future of Pakistan?

AH: “Absolutely! I know, at first blush, it seems unreasonable to feel gung-ho about the contemporary plight of Pakistan but pessimistic view is based only on surface-view of the Pakistani reality. Things are not going well but they are capable of improvement and this is what drives my basic but realistic optimism in the face of current odds. Most pessimism stems from an inability to understand things as they truly are. The basic human tendency to see things in the light of emotions and subjective impressions prevents the attainment of knowledge of the social reality as it is. My study into the state, society and culture of Pakistan has convinced me that, though the scale of the national malaise is broad, yet it can be fixed definitively. What we need to fix this malaise is a national game-plan that takes a total approach to the national problems and sees these different problems as interconnected. Once we see crises to be interconnected, the key is to catch the main problem or problems and fix those before anything else. This shall allow us to understand the origin of our problems and help in the formulation of a national trouble-shooting protocol. I must warn here that appearances can be misleading here and that what appears to be the main problem on a deeper analysis may turn out to be only a peripheral problem caused by something bigger but not necessarily more visible. Once we grasp this calculus of social reforms, it becomes possible to identify and fix problems. At GTTN we are trying to create processes of knowledge production which would prioritise this logic.

I have a firm faith in the potential of our youth to haul Pakistan out of the woods. In my role as Advisor, NUST, I come into daily contact with dozens of young people who are extremely talented and who are brimming over with great ideas with direct relevance for the development of Pakistan. We need to put into place a mechanism that allows for the utilization of this limitless pool of bright ideas and distil them for honing them into razor-sharp solutions for fixing the problems of health, education, foreign policy, security and contribute towards building a positive progressive global image of Pakistan.”

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