By Syed M. Aslam
Nov 20 - 26, 2000
Salim Ghauri received his elementary and college
education in Lahore. After completing his high school education from
F.C. College he proceeded to Romania and successfully finished basic
training in Petroleum and Gas Engineering. Since 1978 he has done
various courses in computer science and still remains his avocation as
well as vocation till today. He joined Citibank Riyadh in 1979 in the
computer department as a young intern. In 1986 he joined an Australian
company, BHP, as an IT consultant and worked there for the next nine
years. In 1995, he established Network Solutions in Lahore with an
investment of Rs 2 million. The rest, as they say, is history. He has
never looked back since. Today he is the chief executive of Netsol
International, a software house with a strong development base in
Pakistan, and the only Pakistani-origin IT company listed on the
NASDAQ. He attributes the phenomenal growth of Netsol on acquisitions
in USA, UK, Australia, Germany, etc.
PAGE: How did it all begin?
Salim: I feel that it has a lot to do with
being at the right place at the right time. I felt that Pakistan's IT
industry could be used in the same manner like that of India which was
exporting a much larger volume of software. Call it, if you may, this
sense of mission which made me return to Pakistan after a long absence
in 1995. I felt that if India could do it so could we in Pakistan as
both the countries share many similarities be it the environment,
culture, economic scenario or the fact that English, the language of
computer, is the second language of both the countries.
PAGE: What do you have to say about the IT
Policy announced by the present government?
Salim: It's certainly look promising to
encourage the development and growth of IT culture in the country and
the priority accorded to it for the first time will provide direction
to the local IT industry. Most importantly, its not static but is
dynamic to change with the needs of the time.
PAGE: Hi-tech companies are taking immense
beating on the NASDAQ. How do you see the situation?
Salim: Much has changed in terms of attitude
of investors towards the growth and profitability. They are not ready
to wait for profits for too long now. This is the changing face of the
NASDAQ. The investors are only interested in listed companies which
show growth and profitability at the same time instead of previous
tendency of growth first and profitability later. However, it must
also be added that there are also signs that investors are still
willing to forgive companies if they have no profit for next few
years. This changing attitude should be taken seriously by the
companies to better their growth and improve the profitability
PAGE: Are you satisfied with the growth of
local IT market?
Salim: No. Pakistani software exporters,
including Netsol, are 100 per cent dependent on foreign market.
Recently me and representatives of two other Pakistani-origin software
companies — Techlogix and CresSoft — visited Japan. We were asked
about our respective share of the domestic IT market. Guess what? All
three of us had to say that we have zero per cent share of the local
market. You may understand the kind of negative impression it may have
left. The growth of domestic market is the must for expanding the base
of software exports. India is earning an annual revenue of $ 5.7
billion worth from IT products of which $ 1.7 billion comes from its
PAGE: How do you feel about the quality of
IT education in the country?
Salim: Much remains to be desired. The
existing training system is flawed and fails to produce quality
professionals. This poses a serious detriment to expand the base of
our software exports by limiting them as we can't export because we do
not have the expertise to export.
PAGE: So what are the remedies?
Salim: We should start by taking measures
which help enhance the local market of the IT and related products.
Taxation has to be made pro-business. The Software Export Board should
work in liaison with Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) so
that the government can better understand the problems of the
industry. The narrow base of software exports should be enhanced from
$ 30 million at present to absorb more IT professionals than some
4000-5000 employed by the PASHA members collectively. The tremendous
reduction in Bandwidth rates by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company
Limited, the expansion of universal internet access to some 300 cities
at present, the Qarz-Hasana scheme for talented students are the signs
that the present government is serious to develop the much needed IT
culture in the country. I feel a great sense of optimism.