Inclusion of women will add another dimension and diversity to the boards of companies
Interview with Ms. Ameena Saiyid — Managing Director, Oxford University Press
Ms. Ameena Saiyid, OBE, is the Managing Director of Oxford University Press, Pakistan and the representative for Oxford University Press Pakistan, India, China and Malaysia in the Middle East. She is the Co-Founder and Director of the Karachi and Islamabad Literature Festivals. She is the first woman in Pakistan to become head of a multinational company. In 2009, she was elected Vice President of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) and, in 2010, she became the President of OICCI. She is the first woman in the 150 years history of OICCI to become its President. In 2005, Ameena was honored by the British Queen with the award of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services for the promotion of Anglo-Pakistan relations, democracy, education, intellectual property rights, and women’s rights. In 2013, she was awarded the French Knighthood, Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, (Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature) by the Government of France. She has been the Chief Executive of Oxford University Press, Pakistan since 1988. She built up OUP Pakistan’s publishing program to such an extent that it began publishing a book a week from the earlier days of a book a year. She recruited and trained editors, designers and illustrators, sales and marketing staff and expanded OUP operations from Karachi and Lahore to the rest of the country by opening offices in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Multan, Sargodha, Faisalabad, Sukkur, Hyderabad and Quetta. She established a network of thirteen bookshops in Pakistan and organized the first nationwide book fair held simultaneously in twenty towns and cities in Pakistan. Cramped by the small size of a residential house in Karachi from which OUP Pakistan was operating, Ameena bought a two-acre plot in the Korangi Industrial Area and built an office of 40,000 sq ft and a warehouse of 20,000 sq ft. She equipped the new office with SAP, an integrated software solution that revolutionized its business practices in areas such as budget, liquidity control, supply and material management, distribution, customer services and royalties. She put in place global best practices and benchmarks to enable OUP Pakistan to operate at a high level of efficiency in different functional areas. The new office building is a celebration of Pakistani art, crafts and culture in which the works of Pakistani artists and craftsmen is proudly showcased. Ameena’s aims are to publish and sell as many books as possible, to develop a large number of bilingual dictionaries, to set the standards for school textbooks and children’s books, to employ the best possible people, to manage the business in an ethical manner, to be a good employer, to continue publishing textbooks for schools, colleges, and universities, to contribute to the academic community, and to promote readership. In 2010, she founded and organized the Karachi Literature Festival which was the first such literary festival of its kind to be held in Pakistan. The objective of the Karachi Literature Festival was to promote and project authors, particularly Pakistani authors, and to attract the general public to books and reading. She organized the eighth Karachi Literature Festival in 2017, which was attended by around 200,000 people. Karachi Literature Festival has become a major cultural event of the country. In April 2013, she co-founded and organized the first Islamabad Literature Festival. The fifth Islamabad Literature Festival was held in April 2017. Ameena is the co-founder of a travelling Children’s Literature Festival, which has been held 26 times in different towns and cities of Pakistan. She also organizes the Teachers’ Literature Festivals. Ameena comes from a literary family and this has had an enormous impact on her interests and development. Her aunt was Qurat ul Ain Hyder, her mother wrote Urdu poetry, and her father was an avid reader of both English and Urdu Literature. She had her primary education in New York and San Francisco where her father was a diplomat. On return to Pakistan, she joined Karachi Grammar School and then studied at St. Joseph’s College Karachi and Karachi University. She taught at the Lahore American School and then joined Oxford University Press (OUP) as a marketing and sales executive in 1979. In 1986, she resigned from OUP to set up her own publishing house called Saiyid Books. This began to grow and flourish but in 1988, OUP invited her to rejoin them as Chief Executive. She agreed. Throughout her career, her objective has been the advancement of education. Her work at OUP has been focused at publishing the best possible textbooks and reference books for schools, colleges and universities that are relevant to Pakistani students and the national curriculum, mirror the Pakistani environment and culture, and yet are benchmarked against the high-quality of writing, design, and illustration of books produced in the developed world. OUP books cover all aspects of Pakistan: its history, politics, literature, economics, sports, culture, art and school text and library books. These books disseminate information and research on Pakistan and project a soft and positive image of Pakistan internationally. She has been working for the promotion and projection of Pakistani authors by ensuring that their intellectual property rights are protected and their books are not pirated so that they get a fair return from the sale of their books. The objective is to make writing and authorship in Pakistan worthwhile so authors can contribute to and grow the literary treasure and heritage of Pakistan.
When asked about OUP, she elaborated as follows:
At OUP, we organize training events for teachers throughout Pakistan to familiarize them with modern teaching methodologies and techniques, innovative curriculum development, and to improve the standard of learning and teaching in Pakistan. In order to develop a reading culture and improve access to books, we operate dozens of bookshops throughout Pakistan as well as a Mobile Bookshop Bus and Mobile Libraries, which are parked in areas and schools where people do not have ready access to books. A large number of students, parents, teachers and general readers benefit from these. We also organize the Karachi and Islamabad Literature Festivals, the Karachi Literature Festival-London, and Children’s and Teachers’ Literature Festivals. In 1997, we published thirty-seven books in the Jubilee Series to celebrate fifty years of Pakistan’s independence covering every subject of relevance to Pakistan. To quote from a letter to OUP Pakistan by Dr Ralph Braibanti of Duke University, North Carolina, USA, “The contribution made by OUP Pakistan to Pakistan Studies is remarkable. Your steady flow of first-rate, scholarly studies constitutes the major corpus of research on Pakistan, which no scholar can ignore. You have transformed the field from intellectual aridity to one of verdant respectability.” In 2007, a large number of books including children’s books were published to celebrate sixty years of Pakistan’s independence including the largest number of books on Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This year, we have celebrated the 70th year of Pakistan’s independence by publishing 70 books in the Platinum Series. On the 70th anniversary of national Independence, many will be debating Pakistan’s identity and re-examining history in search of answers and clues to the way forward. All aspects of national life, whether politics, history, literature, culture, entertainment, sports will come in for intellectual examination and debate. Considering the imprint Pakistan has made in recent years on the world at large, such examination and debate would be of international as well as local significance. Our Platinum Series will form an integral part of that debate. To provide Pakistani children with role models, we have published a series of books called Azeem Pakistani in Urdu, which includes short biographies of personalities such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Fatima Jinnah, Raana Liaquat Ali Khan, Abdus Sattar Edhi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Akhtar Hamid Khan. Many more are under preparation and it is hoped that, by disseminating such literature widely to the young, we are making a contribution towards nation-building activities.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN FOR THE PROGRESS AND PROSPERITY OF PAKISTAN:
AMEENA SAIYID: I am delighted that women now have a prominent place in the management and boards of many companies and organizations in Pakistan. Those in prominent positions will, I am confident, make it smoother pathway for younger women. Working women are still pioneers in the initial stages of their pilgrimage and they need to take their careers seriously and learn that there are no short cuts. They will need to run faster than men to succeed. Women have an important role to play in the progress and prosperity of Pakistan. Their strengths make them peculiarly suited for managerial positions and theirs should be a major presence in boardrooms.
PAGE: HOW MANY FEMALE EMPLOYEES ARE WORKING IN OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS AND WHAT IS THE MALE-FEMALE RATIO?
AMEENA SAIYID: We have a large number of women in every department and level including at board level. We are an equal opportunities employer.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE A FEMALE EMPLOYEE WITH A MALE EMPLOYEE IN TERMS OF PERFORMANCE AND LEVEL OF RESPONSIBILITY?
AMEENA SAIYID: I do not distinguish between male and female employees as far as performance and responsibility or other competencies are concerned. My experience has been that personalities, performance, intellectual and emotional quotients depend on the individual rather than the gender.
PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ON MISOGYNY IN THE CORPORATE SECTOR IN PAKISTAN IN PARTICULAR AND THE WORLD IN GENERAL?
AMEENA SAIYID: I am, of course, strongly opposed to misogyny in the corporate sector and across Pakistan and the world. We cannot deny its existence and it takes many forms. We must challenge and expose it forcefully. Women’s perceptions, expectations, and priorities are very different today and have evolved greatly from the past. Women are now questioning structures and attitudes both in their homes and workplaces and are challenging their marginalization and oppression. The proverbial glass ceiling and the invisible webs of dependence, control, and compliance are disintegrating.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE INCLUSION OF FEMALES ON THE BOARDS OF THE LISTED COMPANIES?
AMEENA SAIYID: I would strongly favor and recommend it. I think the inclusion of women will add another dimension and diversity to the boards of companies. The irreversible trend now is that there are many more women in the workplace than some years ago. This has been brought about both by the awareness created by the communications revolution and the rising cost of living. Men who earlier opposed their wives working now find they need a second income to make ends meet. Once a woman steps out of her home and has her own income, she is on the road to empowerment and a higher status. That is what is happening today with economic forces adding their weight to rising awareness. Both men and women are driven by the rising cost of living and the desire to give their children high quality education to seek higher incomes.