INTERVIEW
 
 
INTERVIEW WITH KALPOINT.COM
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Mr. Ebrahim Qasim, Chairman, Premier Group

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Jan 03 - 09, 2005
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KALPOINT.COM (KPDC): Please tell us briefly about yourself, your education and brought up?

EBRAHIM QASIM (EQ): It goes without saying that I belong to Memon Family and was born in Kathiawar. When I was 3 years old, Pakistan came into being and I migrated with my parents. We were into business before partition but on account of migration we had to start from a scratch in Pakistan. Fortunately, I got into the company of very noble people. My peers were 4 or 5 years older than me and I got useful guidance from them. When I was 8 years old, my father died. My elder brother was 18 years old so all responsibilities were on his shoulders. In the beginning, I had aimed to go for medical education when I was in school but later it changed due to different circumstances and I opted for commerce. Alhamdulillah I pursued Chartered Accountancy single-mindedly. My brother had started a small business of clothes with a very little amount by then on the suggestion of a very kind person. As soon as I completed my CA, my brother kept on insisting to join the business. I consulted to a very respected person and he suggested me, "If you join your family business your education will have no use so exploit your education while working in different enterprises". After 4 years when I had the opportunity to start a business; I started distribution business and that advice proved to be very useful for me. My family experienced two kinds of businesses and it gave me a sense of great satisfaction. After that there was no looking back and Alhamdulillah Allah has blessed me a lot.

KPDC: Please tell us about the working of Premier Group?

EQ: The parent company is Premier Distributors, which we started in 1971. The first job we started was with Peak Freans Biscuits. We started this business in a different way. Earlier distribution business was considered as the agency. We took it differently by taking it as responsibility not the privilege. We wanted to set the trend. Our first objective was, "it is the right of every retail & wholesale outlet that we reach to them in the manner, which is suitable to them".

After 20 years of focusing solely on this business, we went into marketing, the marketing of products on our own. The first product we marketed was the imported disposable syringes.

Before that glass syringes were used but after the advent of HIV these glass syringes were abandoned. The syringes were not considered as brand but as a commodity. We set our target that we would franchise this product and would sell out these syringes with brand name. We went to different hospitals and informed the nurses and paramedics that our syringes were better than the others. They didn't know that there could be a difference.

There were different impediments in distribution business and we planned to branch out in to some other businesses as well. So the first branching out we did, was, in textile. Very recently we have bought Zaman Textile Mills. In 1998 we setup a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, Pharmivo of which we did corporate profiling. Then we bought another company 'Shield' from Daud Group. This company was comparatively small by its size and now we are developing it.

So right now we have a FMCG on a smaller scale, which is called Shield Corporation Ltd. where we manufacture personal hygiene products, a pharmaceutical company Pharmivo, a textile-spinning mill and the premier distributors is the mother company.

KPDC: If we compare the chemical products of Pakistan with the products of our neighboring countries especially India, where will we find ourselves standing?

EQ: We stand nowhere. I don't think we have got any mentionable chemical industry except Sitara Chemicals and ICI. India, for its first 2 decades, shut its doors and developed from within. India is the leading pharmaceutical raw material manufacturer and they export to Europe and USA. Some of their companies are also listed in New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). There's a company in South India named Dr. Redi who sold research patterns to Europe and USA. CIPLA is the No. 1 pharmaceutical company in India, which is selling more than Glaxo, a Muslim of Aligarh or Hyderabad owns this company. Another largest exporting pharmaceutical company of India is called Renbexy owned by Sardarji family. Their total business is more than 1 billion dollar. In Software and IT business Mr. Azeem Premji is the 2nd richest person of India.

KPDC: How do you differentiate between the situation of business in previous years and in the present era?

EQ: If you compare the current circumstances with what used to be in early 50's then the situation is much better. I remember when LC was to open it took so many days. There were plenty of exchange restrictions. I must give credit to Mr. Nawaz Sharif's government when many exchange restrictions were removed. There were telephone line and communication problems but now there's fiber optics and satellite facility of communication. In terms of facilities and parameters starting of business is so much easy but in terms of competition the situation is different. There are more people now so the competition is very tough.

KPDC: Please shed some light on the health situation in Pakistan. Are private hospitals and companies providing sufficient services and medication to deprived nation?

EQ: The effective manpower in Pakistan is a blessing of Allah. If intentions of our people are clean then the sky is the limit of our abilities. The health system of UK is dependent on Indian and Pakistani doctors. In Pakistan as far as technical doctors are concerned we have best doctors. Latest medical gadgets and facilities are also available in different private hospitals but in government hospitals the situation is very gloomy. They don't have enough budget and almost 90% of their budget goes in salaries of doctors and staff. The fact is that 50% of Karachi's poor health care is done by welfare hospitals setup by Memons.

Our friend Mr. Aijaz, is the Managing Trustee of Memon Hospital Burns Road. Marvelous facilities are being provided there for poor people. Government has to do something about health conditions and especially about the government hospitals. The Memon community is going to establish a Memon Medical institute with the huge amount of 1000 Millions rupees. The planning of this project is under way. This Medical institute will have world-class facilities with latest medical equipments. There are many world-class hospitals under Apolo Group in India where lots of people from Pakistan also go and get cured in much cheaper rates as compared to hospitals in Europe, UK or US.

I am very optimistic about the future of medical facilities in Pakistan but how far is the future that we have to decide. We must try to bring that future closer.

 

 

KPDC: How do you see implementation of WTO in 2005?

EQ: This is now a reality and we have to accept it. I must confess I don't have much information about what WTO is but in principle it is going to liberalize the trade internationally. The whole philosophy is that the world has now reduced to a very small global satellite driven village. It will have diverse effect on different industries in Pakistan. There will be more competition and only those will survive who come up with best services and products. So we have to be ready for that.

KPDC: Some times it happens so that highly qualified professionals are unemployed and less qualified people are on top positions and some times the situation is opposite. How do you see such scenario in context to your experience in business?

EQ: The degree is only a certificate to enter. It certifies that this person has the knowledge to apply for the certain position. It doesn't certify that he can get the best. Allah has created humans with same body parts but by attitude there's a huge difference. It is Allah's will whom to bless with whatever He wants. It is also mentioned in Holy Quran "A person won't be made accountable more than his capacity". So Allah has blessed people with different qualities. If Allah hadn't bestowed people with different qualities and capabilities, how would the system of the world run?

Certainly some examples exist of the less educated who ruled the world and the highly qualified people who are nowhere. But what is required from Allah is to work hard and keep struggling for the best. Try your best and leave the result on Allah; He will bless you according to your potential.

If one thinks that after acquiring the degree he can do anything then this is the biggest mistake. He has to struggle hard in life as it is said "Realm of knowledge knows no bounds and you should keep on learning from cradle to the grave".

KPDC: What are the key factors to be successful in business? And what do you think is more important to be a successful businessman, education or experience?

EQ: In the last 20 years educated businessmen have done wonders but before that people like Henry ford, Seth Ahmed Daud and such people were not highly educated but in the manner they did business is very admirable. Also the environment of doing business was different in that era. There was no professionalism, media wasn't so developed and the means of communication were meager. Lets take the example of Bill Gates who was amongst the drop out students of the school but now he's the richest person.

The question is what is the criterion of being successful, is it only earning money or becoming a good social human? I think the successful businessman is the one who is a good human being and who helps the needy wherever and whenever. When you grow in to corporate situation you owe to the people who are working for you, you owe to the shareholders if you are a corporate body and then you owe to the society as such. It is not what I eat and enjoy physically, it is actually what I achieve in terms of giving to the society and the country.

KPDC: What would you like to say about your visit to Kalia Group?

EQ: After my first visit at the inauguration ceremony of KalSoft, this is my second visit to this Software House. It has grown more rapidly than I could have perceived. Great work and performance by young Khurram! May Allah keep him always KHUSH U KHURRAM.

I had heard about KalPoint.com but it is so rightly said, "Seeing is believing". I am more impressed to see the portal and its offerings. Please keep up this great work. Aiming for serving the country and society will automatically help you achieve your business objectives also. May Allah bless you with great success!

KPDC: Any message for the Youth of Pakistan.

EQ: Youth must focus on the real objective of life. They have every right to get best in life in terms of dresses, transport and living etc but I think that should be the lower priority. The main objective should be giving to the society and the country. As Iqbal says "Mohabbat mujhay un Jawanon say hai Jo Sitaroon pay daltay hain kumand"

Q1: What is the current economic situation of Business or industries in Pakistan? Is it equal to India? Or are we very far away from India? (Mairaj Ul Huda Lahore)

EQ: I recently have had the opportunity to visit India. We must admit the fact that India has progressed enormously and the primary reason of its growth is their achievements in Information Technology. IT sector has provided tremendous job opportunities as well as helped in improving their exchange reserves. Their economic planning has been better in the sense that since many decades it has been close to China's shut door policies. That is as far as general economic condition of India is concerned but if you look at the poverty level then probably it is worse than Pakistan. The general prosperity of India that you feel is better than Pakistan. Pakistan had different opportunity on account of 9/11 incident when the capital started coming back to Pakistan. As far as the Pakistan's economy is concerned we have the parameters and fundamentals but in my views the real takeoff opportunity is still to come.

Q2: Could you please inform us about the investment opportunities in Pakistan particularly in Karachi? And what is the scope of FMCGs in Pakistan? (Sameul Dubai)

EQ: All sort of investments premises required for foreign investment are here now. As far as theoretical prospects are concerned there are tremendous opportunities. Karachi has very well set industrial areas like Port Qasim Industrial area, SITE and Korangi. There's a very large industrial zone at Port Qasim where new industries especially the ones that require huge land space can set up their plants. FMCGs have always been successful here in Pakistan because of the increasing upper middle & middle class. Lots of international food franchises have been opened here and are doing terrific business. These international franchises have challenged Pakistani enterprises to come up with best products and survive in the market offering international standard products. Brand franchising is a very difficult task and it's a long process. If we look at Pakistan there are many homegrown brands in food line especially. For instance Tapal Tea is doing excellent business and is a tough challenge to the giant Lipton. Habib Ghee and Hamdard products are also the example of great runner. Peak Freans Biscuits is a small player internationally but is a leading brand in Pakistan even against other international brands like LU and Nabisco.

Pakistani entrepreneurs have now realized that the quality and consistency is essential in order to survive in the market. So the investment opportunities are various here in Pakistan equipped with supportive environment and possibilities.

Q3: As a president of Memon Professional Forum, What achievements are on your credit? (Umair Baig Hyderabad)

EQ: It is for people and observers to evaluate. However, if I look back I do got some satisfaction that professional culture was brought in all programmes more particularly in CPE.

Q4: What qualities should a person possess to be called leader? And can any person be a leader or they are leaders by birth? (Shumaila Quetta)

EQ: There are some people born leaders whereas others can improve themselves to become leaders in their fields. Indeed at this time, there are leadership schools as well but it depends upon individual's own efforts and training.

Q5: How do you envision Iqbal's poetry for the wakefulness of youth and especially in the context of current circumstances? (Abdul Hadi Islamabad)

EQ: Allama Iqbal's work has inspiration not for youth but for all ages. However, as youth possess physical energy more than others and also longer span of life they can benefit the most. In fact, Allama Iqbal's work must be sufficiently taught to boys and girls from primary level to build foundation. In the present age, when generally Muslim Ummah is under huge pressure, it is true that awakening is necessary and Iqbal who took inspiration and lead from Al Quran and life of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a true leader of the mankind, his works will awaken the sleeping Ummah.

Q6: Are you satisfied with performance of the WORLD MEMON ORGANIZATION (WMO), so far? How much are you hopeful regarding its future? (Rehan Karachi)

EQ: WMO is doing great work in Pakistan; major focus at this time is rehabilitation project for which target funding of more than Rs. 100 million is pursued. Indeed more details can be obtained from WMO official in Pakistan, Dubai and USA.

Q7: I want to ask a question to Mr. Ebrahim Qasim that what views do you keep regarding the uniform of President Pervez Musharraf.? Many people are saying it is against the constitution and many are in favor. What's right and what's wrong? What do you have so say sir? (Shayan Karachi)

EQ: From business point of view, the businessman believes in continuity but unfortunately in Pakistan the longest eras of continuity after celebrating the decades of development and everything, it all crumbled down like house of cards. I strongly believe that the democracy is the key word and if you look at the developed countries of Europe and USA, they keep the democracy value absolutely sure and on the top of the priority list in their countries but when it comes to other countries where they want to battle around, then their principles are not different. Their principles are like what Churchill once said, "we've got no permanent friends; we've got permanent interests".

The secret of their development is democracy and it is the hard way and trial in error process. Failure of pure democratically elected government can't be construed to the failure of democracy. The present Government must lay strong political foundation for future political institutions.

KPDC: Thank you very much for sparing your time here and giving us this very informative and interesting interview. C U On Net.

 

 

EQ: Thanks and C U On Net 2.

Interview Panel: Mr. Yasir Zaheer, Mrs. Fatima Ali, Mr. Shakeel Mansuri, Mr. Hassan Tahir, Dr. Saira Bano, Mr. Hammad Karim, Ms. Uzma Aziz, Ms. Alifiah Mushtaq.