INTERVIEW: SALIM GHAURI, CHAIRMAN & CEO NETSOL TECHNOLOGIES LTD.

From working class to a world class IT solution provider.
The success story of Salim Ghauri.

SADAF AURANGZAIB,
 Senior Correspondent

July 02 - July 08, 2007

Salim Ghauri considers himself as an entrepreneur with a knack to take risks and is least bothered about failures. He has proved himself by creating 'NetSol' a world class IT solution provider from Pakistan and which is taking strides towards his vision to be another Bill Gates with his utmost perseverance and courage.

Salim Ghauri (born on April 12, 1955 in Pakistan) is a true entrepreneur and the Chairman and CEO of NetSol Technologies Limited. Ghauri was the original founder of Network Solutions, Pvt. Ltd in Pakistan in 1996, which was later named NetSol Technologies Limited. Built under Mr. Ghauri's leadership, NetSol gradually built a strong team of IT professionals and infrastructure in Pakistan and became the first software house in Pakistan certified as ISO 9001 and CMMI Level 5 assessed. Today, under Salim's leadership, NetSol stands as Pakistan's leading IT Company, serving to clients all over the world.

EARLY LIFE

Born in a working class of Pakistan, Salim aimed for challenging the mediocrity of life through his vision and dreams since his early age. Salim graduated with a degree in Petroleum and Gas from Romania. During the four years degree program, the only course offered in Computers was "Fortran". This one course really changed his perspective about life to a greater extent. It was during those days when Salim realized the efficacy and clout of computers and defined a path for his life. Having bought his first Apple Computer in 1979, Salim realized the significance of computers beyond what was being taught in literature. Always having been a risk taker and a man driven by a desire to learn through experiences, Salim began his career from the IT division of Citibank, Saudi Arabia. Salim also took a leap in his career by launching his first entrepreneurial venture, which was the establishment of Gulf Computer Systems in 1983. This IT venture was undoubtedly bundled with the whole new world of experiences that led him initiating a software house that became the backbone of Pakistan's IT industry in the years to come.

Talking to PAGE, Salim shared one of the most interesting stories of his life when he developed the first software with the help of his four colleagues in Saudi Arabia. The project was approved and he received a cheque of 10,000 Riyals with his shivering hands, that unbelieveable success stunned him and his colleague but encouraged him to conquer the limitless world of Information technology.

Having worked in Saudi Arabia for almost seven years, Mr. Ghauri moved to Australia in 1987 and was employed with BHP in Sydney, Australia from 1987-1995 as a consultant. He introduced PC based networking in BHP Steel. Salim also got opportunity of consulting State Rail Authority of NSW Australia on its MIS reporting in 1988-89. After eight years of outstanding performance, Ghauri returned to Pakistan in 1995.

Salim Ghauri is one of the best known entrepreneurs who has helped reshaping the IT industry of Pakistan. Since 2003, NetSol has been pocketing the Highest IT Exporter Award from the Government of Pakistan which is truly a testament of NetSol's contribution to the current IT world. Mr. Ghauri has been heading the NetSol Technologies for the last eleven years. During this tenure, NetSol has experienced world class recognition and a sustainable growth.

NETSOL

Tracking NetSol's journey reads like a true life success story. It has come a long way since its modest beginning with a limited capital of Rs. 2 million (apprx. $30,000 at current exchange rate) in December 1995. Early months were really frustrating since there was not much awareness about IT in Pakistan, due to which, there were very few opportunities. But Salim took all that with courage, and continued its efforts towards developing NetSol as a world class provider of IT solutions and services. Due to his continued efforts and perseverance, NetSol became the first and is the only Pakistani origin company, software or otherwise, to get listed on the NASDAQ, the first and the only company in Pakistan to achieve CMMI level 5 certification, and is the biggest Pakistani IT company in terms of revenues and infrastructure.

FIRST BREAKTHROUGH

NetSol got its first breakthrough in the form of Mercedes Benz Thailand. It was Salim's long term thinking and ability to convert small leads into real opportunities that transformed a small services contract with Mercedes Benz into developing a product for them, which later was named "LeaseSoft". Salim and his team worked with this customer in such a way that now, Mercedes Benz is NetSol's customer in eight countries.

PASSION TO ACHIEVE

Salim is a dreamer and at the same time, is an achiever as well. He converts his dreams into reality. One of his major strengths is his "go getter" approach. Whenever he wants something, he goes for it with utmost perseverance, and gets it. He has the courage the think high and pursues it at the highest pace. Salim thinks loudly and invites people to share his thinking. He failed many times, but never gave up. His optimism really helped him in succeeding.

TRUE ENTREPRENEUR

Salim took the courage of setting up an IT training institute, his first-ever business venture, and a software house in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. He ran the show there up to 1987. Moreover, when he started NetSol, it was just a vision. He took the risk of coming back to Pakistan and setting up a new venture. He entered into a market which did not seem to have a very promising future at that time. But as we say "high risk high return", this move paid off.

TEAM PLAYER

Salim believes in team work. He feels that his major strength is his "'team" of highly professional people. He believes in investing in human capital. Salim has a team of over 600 professionals working for NetSol.

PROUD PAKISTANI

While Salim was working with BHP Australia, he saw many Indian IT companies coming to Australia and working for Australian companies. This was very frustrating for him since there was not a single Pakistani organization, which could cross the border and provide services to organizations in other countries. This frustration brought him back to Pakistan, in 1995. He then had a vision of developing a world class IT company in Pakistan; a dream that has turned into reality today, and NetSol, today stands as the leading IT company in Pakistan providing services to clients all over the world.

OBSERVATION AND EXPERIMENTATION

Salim believes in collaborative learning, and feels that all people learn from each other. He feels that two most important sources of learning are observation and experimentation. Being an entrepreneur, he has never been afraid of experimenting, and that's one way he has become a quick learner.

DEDICATED IT PERSONNEL

Salim has, no doubt, written his luck with the sole factor of hard work. Salim did not have an IT degree, but his hard work, motivation, and dedication helped him all the way. He took a number of courses that helped him understand Computers and IT.

COMMITMENT TOWARDS QUALITY

Under Salim's strong patronage, NetSol became the Pakistan's first and only IT Company to achieve CMMI Level 5, which is the highest level of quality standard for a software company. It was Salim's vision right from the beginning to be the first in achieving this quality standard. Salim started this journey in 2002 when he prepared a team for CMMI certification. He continued to persist on providing high quality products and services to NetSol's clients. His belief in retaining customers through providing high quality offerings helped him in achieving this certification.

At Maturity Level 5, organization improves its processes through incremental and innovative process and technological improvements. CMMI has been developed by Software Engineering Institute (SEI), Carnegie Mellon University, USA. Over the period of 25 years, CMMI has become a de facto standard for IT industry around the globe. At the moment, there are less than 100 companies in the world that have achieved CMMI level 5. NetSol feels proud to be part of the elite group of companies that have achieved this level.

It is Salim's dream that other Pakistani organizations should also work towards achieving quality certifications to compete internationally. With this in mind, NetSol developed a Quality Engineering Department that is helping other companies achieve CMMI certification.

NEWSMAKER

The News, a publication of Jang Group of Newspapers, has chosen Salim Ghauri among 58 Newsmakers of the Year 2006. Salim spares time out of his busy schedules for writing on IT industry in leading newspapers of the country. (A few links given below) Besides, Salim is regularly invited by TV channels (including GEO, ARY, CNBC and Business Plus) to speak on issues confronting IT industry.

FAMILY MAN

Salim is a real family man and rates family values very high. Salim got married with Ms. Nasreen Ghauri since 1979 and is loving father of two daughters, Hamna Ghauri recent mother of a young baby boy and Faiqa Ghauri, the youngest daughter enrolled in Bachelors Degree Program at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

HONORS AND AWARDS

Under the aspiring leadership of Salim Ghauri, NetSol has won many awards and recognitions including:

•First Pakistani IT company to achieve ISO 9001 certification
•First Pakistani IT company to achieve CMMI level 5 certification; hence joining the elite IT companies of the world
•NCR IT Excellence Award
•PASHA ICT Award for Best of Financial Applications for LeaseSoft
•PSEB Highest IT Exporter Award 2003-2006
•FPCCI Highest IT Exports Award
•First Pakistani company listed on NASDAQ
•NetSol's listing on Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE)
•NetSol IT Village, inaugurated by H/E, Mr. Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Salim is very fond of reading, mainly the biographies and manuscripts containing tips on success. Apart from that, he is very friendly with his team members at NetSol, and prefers spending time with them and listening to their views and ideas. He considers this as one of his biggest source of learning. Moreover, he is a sport lover, and loves to play and watch various games including cricket, chess, and table tennis.

PAKISTAN'S IT REPRESENTATIVE

The untiring and unstinting of Mr. Salim Ghauri for promotion of positive aspects of Pakistan's IT and bringing Pakistan on world IT map has suggested his buddies to call him Bill Gates of Pakistan. Not only the industry but the government circles also recognize his relentless endeavor to promote Pakistan as Next IT Hub of South Asia.

OPTIMISTIC

Salim never loses heart and prefers to be optimistic and positive, even in the worst of situations. That is why, his company survived the unimaginable shock of 9/11 when the western world was not ready to travel to Pakistan and make any deal on any front including the IT. Infact, he took that as an opportunity, and instead of relying on IT services, worked on improving "'LeaseSoft"', NetSol's flagship product, and on Quality Certifications including ISO and CMMI.

SOME MORE FEATHERS IN SALIM'S CAP

Salim is also chosen the first Chairperson of Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) of NUST Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) in June 2006. He is also on Advisory Board of Hamilton Bradshaw AKD (on equity fund).

Because of his visionary approach on IT industry of Pakistan, Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shaukat Aziz desired his company during his visit to the USA (January 19-23, 2006). President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf has also graced fifth anniversary of NetSol Technologies Ltd in recognition of Salim Ghauri's contribution in making IT popular in Pakistan. Salim also receives a red carpet welcome at all important government ministries as well as foreign embassies due to his untiring and unstinting role in promotion of IT sector in Pakistan.

In his role as the CEO, Salim has built and maintained strong international relations with NetSol's foreign counterparts that include a blue chip client base of Mercedes Benz, Yamaha, The Innovation Group (TIG) UK, Toyota etc. to name a few. During the initial formative years of NetSol, he has been actively involved in New Business Development, Strategic Planning, Financial Management, Team Building, Relationship Management as well as Sales Promotions and Marketing.

Salim is IT pioneer in Pakistan. He has always focused on quality at NetSol which has been proven to be the most comprehensive and successful quality program and CMM implementation in Pakistan IT industry. Today, NetSol has the privilege to trade on NASDAQ & Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE), which is a clear manifestation of the credibility that NetSol enjoys in the IT world. LeaseSoft, a NetSol product targeting leasing and finance vertical, is a widely used solution all across Asia Pacific.


IT IS WELL POISED TO BE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR TO GDP GROWTH IN PAKISTAN — SALIM GHAURI

Netsol has a target of $1 billion export

AMANULLAH BASHAR

Salim Ghauri, Chairman and CEO NetSol, Pakistan's first globally recognized Software House, has said that Information Technology in Pakistan has finally arrived at a take off point. The days are not too distant when IT would be conspicuous as a contributor to the GDP of Pakistan.

Currently, NetSol has achieved a level of $10million export, however the target before us is to attain the level of one billion dollars within next 10 years. He said that we have asked out boys that they are well equipped whatever is required in meet the market requirement. Hence we have a target of $one billion and once we achieved the target we would start multiplying it InshAllah, he said in a firm tone.

Speaking on the current level of exports, he said according to his own estimates it is around $300 million in Pakistan, however, the official figures of the State Bank of Pakistan is around $70 million.

There are around 900 companies in Pakistan and they doing business of their own level, however, he agreed that the actual export is not reported due to various reasons.

He stressed that the government as well as the society should spend more and more on education to build up a strong human resource base to cater to the need of the IT industry which is taking a shape in Pakistan.

As far as the quality of faculties was concerned it has improved a lot because universities and other institutes are offering extremely good wages to the teachers, which is a source of attraction for the teachers even from abroad. Many people have come to Pakistan because of lucrative offers by the educational institutes and universities.

Salim Ghauri was confident that our IT industry is moving on the right track and reiterated that it would become a major contributor to the economic growth of this country.

NetSol too on its part has decided to devote its resources for development of an educational institute especially designed to produce quality graduates fully capable to respond to the market needs in the IT industry. Another initiative being taken by NetSol, Salim said is a specially designed IT course which would be offered to professionals in various fields like doctors, engineers, financial managers to exploit their professional capacity in the field of Information Technology. After imparting training and completion of different IT courses these professional would be offered job within NetSol as the first choice to their professional career.

Outlining the background of NetSol, Salim Ghauri said it was founded in 1995 with the vision of becoming a global information technology solution provider. Today, with a global resource base of more than 800 diversely qualified and experienced resources across software development, project management, operations & multiple products or services offerings, Netsol now stands as one of the prominent software houses of South Asia.

NetSol is the only company in Pakistan, which has been certified with CMMi level 5 by Software Engineering institute (SEI) rating for quality engineering in software processes.

Truly, an entity with a focus on global IT services Offerings, it has a functional and active presence in USA, UK, Australia, China and Pakistan through its subsidiaries and sister concerns. NetSol's IT offerings include software products, bespoke development and consulting services, thereby complementing both the Products and Services streams within IT. In addition to these NetSol is already undertaking extensive Technology & Business process outsourcing, activities an d is currently collaborating with its partners and clients across the globe to utilize its capabilities for managing outsourced operations.

The NetSol team has the capability and the skill set to undertake different projects on various technologies an d platform which ranges from using open source technologies, proprietary, J2EE/, Net, and proprietary off- the shelf solutions. While conforming to the rigorous quality engineering measures using CMMi standards, NetSol provides best of the breed IT solutions to its international and local clients.

Replying to a question regarding Pakistan's share in the world market as compared to Indian IT industry has got a standing of 20 years. Salim said actually India has carved a place for itself in the world market as compared to that Pakistan not many people knew that there is an IT industry in Pakistan. You know Pakistan was not being mentioned in any research paper produced by IT companies globally. Interestingly, for the last two years Pakistan's name is now being mentioned however today Pakistan is visible on the world IT. It was not happened overnight it took years to reach at the present status. It was the work we have done for years which paved the way for Pakistan's IT industry to be recognized. Very quietly for 20 years we have been working to develop our products, our resources, our process, our standards, our customers base. Suddenly people have realized that there is an industry in Pakistan, which has the potential to take away, some of the industry's work coming in the international market. As far as India was concerned the number of people they are producing is not catching up the size of the work they are getting. In fact, it is the quality that counts in this field. As far as quality of Pakistan IT industry was concerned, we are competing in the world and by the grace of god we are grabbing our share even in some cases from India as well, he cited the recent example of his own company, which successfully won a contract while competing India. Today, India has 30 companies certified with CMMi level 5 while Pakistan has only one. We competing in the world market, yet there is no rivalry like situation with India. If we get a project say worth $10 million in a bid, Indian companies do not mind because they are doing at a much larger scale however when we start snatching business of bigger size for example of $100 million than Indian companies might feel a pinch but not at this stage, however we are competing at our own level. Today we have the capacity to stand in front of any company of the world, he said with a sense of great confidence.

Salim Ghauri, said with a sense of achievement that NetSol has got a leading position by offering software services to prestigious clients of world repute like Mercedes Benz, BMW, TOYOTA and FIAT in 8 Asian countries for their financial services especially in the leasing sector.

When asked to comment on the attitude of the private sector which is acquiring IT services from outside Pakistan instead of local IT companies, Salim said actually it's a sort of complex in our private sector, otherwise the government is lending a strong support to IT companies in Pakistan. He said that a huge untapped market is still available within Pakistan and the business opportunities for IT companies are beyond comprehension.