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Where are our business role models?

It has been a while since I wrote for Blue Chip, and the reason for this rather extended writer’s block has been my new job, where I have been extremely occupied analysing the technology sector, especially the mobile phone and the semiconductor industry. Interesting stuff indeed, but that which I will leave out for the moment. One thought that has been disturbing me for a while now is the lack of an entrepreneurial culture and the dearth of business role models in our society.

In the modern world, business leaders and entrepreneurs are the new celebrities; the role models who inspire others from their examples and whose methods make case studies that are taught in classrooms and used in boardrooms. Bookstores are filled with biographies and success stories of the giants in the worlds of finance, industry and media. A lot of these fine people, ranging from Bill Gates to Jack Welch to Alan Greenspan, have written their autobiographies and their own “how to” books, which if not always academically insightful and professionally valuable are, most of the time, very inspirational. However, when I start searching for stories about successful businessmen and entrepreneurs in Pakistan, the only stuff I find (and that too just on the Internet) is the scandalous and malicious stories about corruption, fraud and cheating. Hardly the material which one could consider inspirational, in fact, it is rather dangerous material to be inspired from!

In all of my bi-annual visits to the bookstores in Islamabad and Karachi, I have never seen any book on the story of any business group or any case study of any entrepreneur. The only written material available is the brief articles and interviews in magazines like this one, which have limited shelf life.

There can be quite a few explanations for this absence of positive success stories and plethora of slanderous material. The explanation which I find most plausible is that it is the disparity and inequality in our society, which has disillusioned us to a level where instead of respecting and getting inspired from success stories, we tend to rebel, criticise and malign them. We like to hide our own failures by blaming the system. Scandalous books like Parliament Say Bazaar-e-Husun Tak and tales of fraud, deception and cheating seems to be giving more pleasure to our senses than respecting, understanding and emulating role models. Success stories of our fellow Pakistanis make us envious rather than proud. We have degenerated into a nation of Ansar Abassis and Hamid Mirs.

I am cognisant of the counter arguments to my hypothesis. The first argument which will be thrown at me (and indeed this line gets repeated by every journalist in the “new media” age in Pakistan like a broken record) is that these stories are only true and the writers are only showing the reality (the exact sentence would go something like “a mirror showing reflection”). It would be futile to put a defence to this and, in fact, I am not against people writing and talking against businessmen, capitalism or about lack of ethics in business. Indeed, for every ten books published glorifying Wall Street there would be one on the scandals and “evil” ways of the high and mighty. Besides getting praise for their business acumen, the Rothschilds would also be characters in nefarious plots. I am not concerned about the presence of negative material about Pakistani businessmen but I am rather concerned about the sheer absence of positive material.

The reason for my concern is not because of any sympathy for the business tycoons in Pakistan but I am really very worried about the impact this can have on our nation and our society. The only training and signal which the new generation of entrepreneurs are getting is that corruption is the route to success. This not only takes the society on a wrong path but also is a huge discouragement for the rest. Lack of an entrepreneurial culture and lack of support and direction for entrepreneurship really worries me.

As a nation, we direly need business role models as institutions for cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship. The methods of business leaders and visionaries like Syed Babar Ali, Mian Mansha and the Dawoods need to be documented and taught in business schools. Their business acumen should be used for guidance of budding entrepreneurs. On a social level, we need to start respecting success in order to try to emulate it. On a personal level, I would love to read a book on how the Habib family got its genius in banking or what inspired Syed Babar Ali to become Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of our times. How did Shaukat Aziz rise to the top ranks in the global world of finance? How did Dr. Ishrat Hussain manage to transform State Bank or even what skills make Aqeel Dhedhi (a.k.a. AKD) the best trader in Karachi Stock Exchange. If England can respect and learn from the autobiography of Nizam Khan (who changed his name to James Caan for his business ambitions), then certainly we all can benefit from a few good books on a few good men.

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