. .








Politics & Policy

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 simultaneously.

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 local market.

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.