INTERVIEW WITH WARID CFO

TARIQ GULZAR BELIEVES TELECOM SECTOR IS A MAGNET FOR FDI

KANWAL SALEEM
Oct 05 - 11, 2009

Mr. Tariq Gulzar is Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Warid Telecom. He gained professional experience of over 19 years primarily in Europe & North America in finance, enterprise-wide risk management, corporate governance, control assurance, and general consulting in telecommunication, media & technology industries.

Mr. Tariq Gulzar is a Fellow Chartered Accountant (Pakistan), a Certified Public Accountant (Colorado, USA) and a Certified Internal Auditor (New York, USA). Prior to joining Warid, Gulzar was working as the Assistant Vice President in Risk & Regulatory Advisory practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Canada., where he was responsible for delivering internal audit, sustainable process improvement and risk management services to organizations in terms of increased revenues, decreased costs, improved efficiency, control and organizational and process agility in a range of industries.

He has also worked with Mobilink (Pakistan), Millicom International Cellular S A Luxembourg and Modern Times Group AB (Sweden) before joining PwC in Canada.

In an exclusive interview with Pakistan and Gulf Economist in Lahore, Mr. Tariq Gulzar shared his views on telecom sector-related issues. He also spoke at length on the opportunities in this sector and issues confronted to service providers. He said country's telecom sector has remarkable potential to attract huge Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), as the sector witnessed growth even when world was facing one of its worst recession. If the government continues to facilitate the service providers, the fast and feasible means of communication can be provided to every member of the society at very low costs, he believes.

A quite cool and calm Tariq Gulzar was very candid when he said that in 21st century, cheap sources of communication were the basic need of masses and telecom sector was as important as textile was. "At Warid, leading telecom company, we are catering all segments of the society including masses, youth, corporate through very affordable packages," Gulzar said.

He said that Warid's best in class and state of art GSM network, with a comprehensive portfolio of innovative value added services, is empowering its customers to create their own life style networks. He said that Warid had always kept 'the customer convenience factor' as its top priority. Warid Telecom is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Group and Singapore's premier telecom group SingTel. Ever since Warid launched it commercial service in May 2005 in Pakistan, it has invested more than $1.4 billion and has expanded its network to more than 483 cities. Gulzar added that Warid had set a target to extend its existing coverage to far flung and remaining rural areas in the shortest possible period.

To facilitate and provide maximum choice to mobile subscribers, PTA has introduced Mobile Number Portability (MNP) regime in Pakistan. MNP gives freedom to subscribers to move to any network in the country whilst retaining their original mobile number along with the prefix. Warid has lately been a major beneficiary of MNP regime and has ported-in large number of subscribers from other mobile companies on its Best Quality Network in Pakistan, the CFO said.

Well-informed Gulzar said that the telecom landscape in Pakistan was evolving quickly in the backdrop of lower tariffs and stiffening competition. The country's industrial and population growth rates have led to forecasts that the sector over the next 10 years may grow at a double-digit rate, offering significant opportunities for both local and foreign investment. FDI of $400 Million per quarter was made in the telecom sector in the year 2008 alone.

To a query, the Warid CFO responded that Abu Dhabi Group was a leading business group of Middle East and the single largest foreign investor in Pakistan. Abu Dhabi Group has diversified business interests, offering strong financial resources and extensive management expertise that result in commercial success for several institutions, he maintained. Sharing his views about law & order and economic slowdown in the country, the energetic and outspoken Gulzar said that creating jobs and economic opportunities were effective to combat militancy. "Creating and providing employment will prevent alienation and give people a reason to ensure that the system runs smoothly," said Gulzar.

"Pakistan has the potential to attract mega investment in telecom which could also revive economy, but this requires focusing on out-of-box solutions and facilitating local and foreign investors by providing more incentives," he said. Gulzar said that part of the answer lay in facilitation of existing service providers to motivate others, he replied to question about solutions. He said country's telecom sector had the potential to improve it services and introduce innovations to compete with any developed country.

The Warid CFO said that Pakistan offered high returns on investment and this was the reason that foreign companies were investing their capital and resources in the country, particularly in the telecom sector. "The fact that the economy is largely impervious to the social turmoil of the last few years is a manifestation that our economy is far more resilient than we would like to think," said Tariq.

"There is nothing worse than Pakistanis belittling their economy and their country, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy." He said there was a mighty disconnect between the perception and reality of Pakistan as a place to do business in. "We have our problems, but we are better off than many countries," he said adding that criticism of Pakistan's economy, society and government should only be done on facts.