WITH A MISSION OF ENHANCING PAKISTAN ECONOMIC GROWTH ON NEW PACE
AND HOW HE CONQUERED THE TOUGH ROAD FROM BUSINESS TO POLITICS WITH THE ART OF RELATIONAL CREATIVITY AND GENIUS ACUMEN….
Luminary: Please share something about your professional journey so far how you started your professional career? How was your experience while leaving a global IT Giant like IBM and ultimately joining politics?
Muhammad Zubair: I have spent almost 26 years with IBM; you can say an entire career, as it was my first and the last job in the corporate sector. After leaving IBM as CFO Middle East & Africa in 2007 there was a four-year period where I was doing my own business running a media & marketing company in Karachi. So I have done business as well and worked in the corporate sector.
Politics look very challenging at that time, once you have worked with IBM, one of the best companies in the world. While working with a company like IBM one gets the best resources and learning environment as IBM has a rich history of almost 105 years with such a diversified range of business services i.e. hardware, software, maintenance, business computing and complete solutions. Furthermore, you get paid so well that travelling is no problem to get the best training and infrastructure whereas here in government sector this is almost reverse. I have been mostly working in finance for IBM but for a short number of years, I was also in marketing and sales. Whereas in my last job as Minister Privation Commission it required a lot of global marketing reaching out to equity bond markets around the financial markets. If you ask me to compare the experience, I would say selling IBM almost the best product and services and selling Pakistan almost the worst case scenario. The best part of working in Privatization Commission is that unlike other jobs where the more you work the more you get appreciated here the more one works the tough it becomes. As soon as you are coming to a situation where things are heating up towards the solution of restructuring or privatization that’s where the reactions start coming.
Luminary: Congratulations on your new role. Please share your future plans to ensure peace and development in Sindh?
Muhammad Zubair: Thank you so much for your kind words. Coming to your question let me tell you some factual things about the province and city of Karachi in specific.
This City has been the centre of attention since the inception of Pakistan, Karachi contributes a major share of Pakistan’s GDP through the provision of jobs. Enhancement in economic activity and being the cultural hub of the region, it has been pivotal in housing communities and presence of culture in itself. We will create harmony by working on sensitivities of ethnic divide system.This composition has seen growth rates more than major cities of the world. Neighbouring Dubai development was the destiny of this city but unfortunately, many groups were fleecing this city and the lawlessness became prevalent. Pushing business community in other directions.Law and order have been improved we need to launch a strong economic initiative because Karachi is a financial hub and its economic growth contributes a major share to Pakistan’s economic growth.
As a representative of central government there is a limited expectation from the Governor but nonetheless, the role is powerful, influential and challenging.There is no constitutional limitation for improving economic growth. So my major objective is to fasten Sindh economic growth. We will focus on improving domestic and foreign investments as well as encouraging business community and industrial zones and by improving infrastructure.
For development, I have a keen interest in paving way for the conducive atmosphere of business in Sindh and Karachi, making peace in the city and providing clean facilities of infrastructure. We are working on green bus project to provide better transportation to residents of Karachi Inshallah this project will be completed very soon by December 2017. Karachi circular railway is another project which we are interested in bringing in as part of CPEC. There are many major projects of CPEC which are based in Karachi which will not only stimulate economic growth of the city and province but as well as Pakistan. I would also like to engage more frequently with the youth of Sindh and playing my supportive role for their educational activities.
Luminary: Working with Privatization Commission would have been a very challenging and frustrating task? How do you use to manage it?
Muhammad Zubair: Yes indeed it was at times very challenging and frustrating but to be honest it’s one of the best things that I have done in my life. And I have no regrets for joining politics because in order for me to become what I am today that always requires learning business dynamics. So working with IBM was a big learning experience in terms of gaining values like discipline etc. and that gives you an edge over your other colleagues as well. Some of the very simple things we take as normal in the corporate world are unique in politics.
Luminary: How was your experience working as Minister of State/Chairman Privatization Commission?
Muhammad Zubair: It was a fascinating experience, very challenging and demanding as well. Since you are also part of the government so there is a political work you have to perform as well that is also very interesting and totally different. A lot of people use to see me in the evening at the talk shows saying “yes, you are working hard” although that was the only one hour they look at but I worked very hard in remaining fifteen hours as well.
The name is privatization of course but the major challenge and goal were to fix the public sector entities through a process of restructuring or privatizations. And because of many cases, you may not reach the privatization goal facing political sensitivities.
Therefore you cannot leave the organisation as it has to be turned around and fixed to cut down the losses which are really huge. Pakistan is experiencing almost 600 Billion rupees losses on annual basis from its state entities and that’s almost one 1/5th of the total federal tax revenues. So one can imagine 1/5th of the revenues are going just to keep them afloat. So basically I had two objectives first to cut down the losses and second to improve the quality of services of these state institutions. Because mostly the people of Pakistan may don’t have an understanding or either they are not interested whether the company is going in losses or profitability, and how does the balance sheet works, they only access through the service experience they are having while visiting a bank, travelling PIA or going to a post office.
One of the critical and primary phases is to decide whether we want to reach the final phase of privatization or to stop at restructuring. And the 80% of the work involve in making all these decisions is the same when you start with the hiring of financial advisors which is basically led by the investment bank and also includes HR and Law firms. And we have been working with top-notch world-class companies. So after this consortium, we start the due diligence process which covers all aspects of financial, HR, marketing of the public sector companies. In some cases, companies are so rotten that they haven’t even done closing from two or three years which makes the process lengthier. Usually, it takes around eighteen months to two years it’s a very cumbersome process. So after concluding from all aspects once we have the institutional memory then we decide either to go for privatization or restructuring.
LUMINARY: What’s your opinion about taking a public entity directly going to privatization? What is the best solution in interests of our country is it restructuring or directly going to privatization?
Muhammad Zubair: Since each case is different and the solution has to be designed accordingly for example when a public sector entity comes to a stage where if we don’t do restructuring we would not get the value and no one will buy. So in many of cases, we have to fix the basic issues and go for restructuring.
I mean one can also go directly to privatization and its all about the matter of opinion. Like someone else in my position would have sold off PIA right away but I thought it needs to be restructured dramatically only then you will create a value. And restructuring is all about improving efficiencies cutting down the losses in case of distribution companies improving collection etc.
Moreover, once you have the institution memory for all those public sector entities you know exactly where they are what need to be done. We also use to prepare the investment plan while restructuring because what kind of investment is required is also a question that does we really have the equity because the government of Pakistan does not have any money. I mean it’s was a very professional work and my experience in corporate sector really benefited me a lot in doing it. That is why Privatization Commissions the only ministry where 80% of the employees are from the private sector and the bureaucracy is only for the administrative work. The employees who work with these financial advisors need to have that professional background. So they get a special salary package, not the standard government salary as we have to design it like that in order to attract the best talent from around the globe. So we have the best people, charted accountants & employees etc.
It’s our stakeholders that define the job. We have stakeholders like chambers, stock exchanges, top executives of the public sector companies, charted accountancy firms, from around the world investment banks and Equity markets and bond markets, law firms so that kind of stakeholders we need to have educated people to deal with them.
Luminary: How do you look at the current situation and role of media in Pakistan? As this is also a dilemma that most of the evening talk shows are portraying the negativity focusing unproductive issues instead of enhancing the positive image of Pakistan in International markets? How important is this agenda for addressing the reluctance issues which Pakistan business fraternity usually faces in the western world? How can this contribute to the economic growth of Pakistan?
Muhammad Zubair: Yes you are right our media is lacking in quality. The people who are managing these show most of them are not competent. We should be more focused on bringing out the positivity.
The role of media is very is very crucial now as there are also big players and a quality, independent media has a positive impact on society and should be viewed as a critical development outcome in itself. Yes, it has a great role and Impact on economic growth. Economic actors need accurate and timely information to allocate resources efficiently. Investors and other groups increasing value and demand a governance-monitoring role from the media. A free and independent press can provide information and monitoring to the economic policy development process leading to more effective economic policies. It can also reduce political risk and increase good governance—conditions that are important for robust economic development.
Media in Pakistan emerged as a big player. Since the era of 1947 to 1987 Pakistan’s narrative was defined by the military and the executives being the only two players, now new players have emerged and as big players as the military or the executives. In some cases, these big players like media and judiciary institutions have more power and this is a good sign for becoming a mature country.
I mean talking about media role and impact on Governance. Numerous studies show a robust link between a free, strong, and independent press and reduced corruption. A free press exposes private and public sector corruption. One of the chronic problems that Pakistan had like corruption the way anyone could get away with big money is not possible now because there is a sword hanging on you from media and that’s good I think this is a result of maturity. Because it means more institutions are stakeholders and there for there are a check and balance system.
Even the way the government works now the kind of checks and balances that there are and the more educated people you bring in government the more controls will be exercised. Even in privatization commission which was known for tons of corruption a long time back we introduced layers for transparency we established evaluation committee, transaction committee and the boards of directors (expect two rest are executives from corporate world) then there is a cabinet committee on privatization which is led by the finance minister includes all the economy related federal ministers also include the governor state bank the chairman security and exchange commission of Pakistan and the chairman board of investment and then all of this is done like I said earlier through world-class companies financial advisors so after all these three there is a zero chance of corruption.
Luminary: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
Muhammad Zubair: I never stop learning.I had several mentors or influences throughout my life, each being involved at a different stage, and having a different impact.
First of all was my dad, he showed me that we are not tied to a destiny based on our history, but that we can take control of our own futures and shape it the way we want.
I think we all should recognise that there is so much room for improvement and there is so much of learning from other countries.
Because my previous job involved a lot International travelling for certain management events etc. so I always used to keenly observe different economies and then one keep reading as well. For example in one of my visit to India, I spend extra two days to understand how they improved their power sector and central bank. And definitely it’s not necessary what India do would be good in Pakistan but it’s good in increasing the knowledge and learning. What china or Malaysia did in certain sectors so learning in terms of understanding is good.
Remember Pakistan is a very difficult country probably one of the difficult countries in the world and there are very good reasons for that. When we talk about governing Pakistan no country in the world has religion as such a sensitive issue like the dispute is even seventy years old. Whether this country was created to have an Islamic system or for the Muslims of the subcontinent and there is a very thin line in between your constitutions says one thing and the pattern is very different.
Pakistan is the only country in the world which has a permanent sort of enemy on its border. And most of the countries around the globe have grown economically by doing trade with their neighbours. Even talking about China which does not recognise Taiwan but does billions dollars business with them. Although economic growth in the region is based on trade but this is the only region which has the lowest amount of trade within the region which makes it difficult in terms of economic prosperity. I mean we have four neighbours and with two (Afghanistan and India) mostly under stress and the third (Iran) we recently having issues so the only country left is china.
Luminary: How do you see the benefits and risks of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan? Pakistan is facing terrorism, affecting its security and stability. Secondly, Pakistan’s domestic politics is also important to the CPEC’s success. Moreover what security measures are we taking in terms of making China’s penetration safe in Pakistan’s market?
Muhammad Zubair: CPEC is a great story that has come to Pakistan in terms of economic prosperity. As I mentioned earlier economic agenda is always based on regional trade. And it’s not only an economic initiative it’s also a security initiative. So when china invests 55 billion dollars in Pakistan they have to ensure the security in Pakistan. They have to ensure that Balochistan remains safe and peace zone not that we are not obligatory for our responsibilities but it’s a joint responsibility. Another great example of regional business is TAPI gas pipeline project. Leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India joint venture for around $10 billion gas pipeline expected to help ease energy deficits in South Asia and stem tensions in the divided region. So what it means in order to pass benefit we have to ensure the peace in Afghanistan because if there is disruption we won’t get that gas and this is the benefit of regional trade.
Luminary: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? What message would you give to the younger generation of CEOs, managers, startups, entrepreneurs and business leaders?
Muhammad Zubair: One should remain optimistic no matter in whatever position or capacity they are working. As we discussed earlier that media is spreading a lot of pessimistic approach through these evening talk shows. And that is very wrong, Pakistan is a great land of opportunity.
Pakistan has been undone by two major events Soviet Union and 9/11 which devastated Pakistan and now we are coming out of that situation the security condition was just messed up. But now the security situation has improved dramatically over the last two-three years.
Pakistan is 200 million population country with the below 30 age youth bulge of 60% and expanding English-speaking Middle class. I mean with this statics there is no European American or Japanese Company can ignore such a market. We have the fastest urbanisation. As soon as the benefit of difficult actions and decisions like Zarb-e-Azab and Karachi situation achieved the international business communities will start looking at Pakistan more frequently.
We are also showcasing Pakistan around the business world along with the private sector and government sector. We are going to all the major financial hubs and showcasing Pakistan potential that it’s a great opportunity country; look at its stock exchange how well it has done it’s a fastest growing market this year and has been the best in the last years. And also new business opportunities are just opening up CPEC is not just about 55 billion dollars of Chines investment it opens up opportunities for several other businesses going into billions of dollar. For example, whatever projects and industrial zones coming would need IT. So IT companies from around the globe are coming to Pakistan like this several other sectors will benefit and so on so forth. So Pakistan youth should look toward its future and all these opportunities we are inshallah going to be far better than what we have been in the past and it’s entirely up to us how well we manage.