Meet SG

Meet SG

He was told, it’s risky. He told himself, you can. Now he tells everyone, he did.

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Salim Ghauri sharing memories of his mother

My story is not very complicated. It’s a very simple story of an ordinary child who nobody believed would ever make it big in life.

I was born in 1955 in Bahawalpur. I left my birthplace at an early age of three when my father brought our family to Lahore. Yet I still remember with fondness the Shahi Bazar of Bahawalpur, its balmy evenings, pleasant nights and scorching afternoons. It can be said that Lahore taught me how to walk on my two feet, but it was Bahwalpur that taught me to walk on my knees first.

I was a restless and curious child and till today I remain so. I believe that a person who does not have a sense of wonder or a desire to excel, cannot achieve anything in life. I consider myself fortunate that though I was a naughty child, God blessed me to become an exceptional entrepreneur, turned my failures into success, and showed me a way whenever I was at a dead end. Nature has always been kind to me, and the hand of God has guided my efforts and hard work. My restlessness has always made me do things in a hurry, be it walking, eating or making money.

In Lahore I went to the school situated right across the road from our house near Nursery Ground, Main Market Gulberg. From the first day, I enjoyed going to school and never had to be forced. For me going to school was an interesting way to keep myself busy. Each day I got up early, had my breakfast and went to school. To this day I follow the same routine and even on Sundays I do not sleep till late. I get up early and dress up before going for breakfast. Discipline comes naturally to me. I am fond of doing things on time, keeping focus on the outcomes, and making life easy for others. This is the reason why I make friends very quickly, and people enjoy working with me.

After pre-school I joined Linzer Day high school, a co-ed institution which was run by a German lady who was also the principal of the school. I still remember her to be a strict disciplinarian; and the entire school, including the teachers, was scared of her. I stayed in Linzer Day High School till eighth grade, but was never attentive towards my studies. 

I was so bad at my studies that when time came for me to take my matriculation exam at the end of high school, my mother refused to enroll me. She was sure that I would fail, and cause embarrassment for her in the family. I was so heartbroken by my mother’s opinion of my abilities, that my heartbreak became my motivation. For the first time in my life I became very serious about my studies and I promised my mother that I will pass the exam with the highest possible grades. When the result was finally announced, it turned out that my grades were higher than anybody else’s in my entire family.

I started college in 1971 at FC College, Lahore. My college days were carefree and careless. It was an emotionally liberating experience, without strict rules, corporal punishment, restrictions or uniform. We dressed, ate and socialized as we pleased. I am proud to be a Formanite. I was a pre-engineering student and although I did get decent grades, my academic activities were limited.

When I was in college my father was running a vast business, and he had strong business ties with Romania. He imported machinery from Romania and supplied in Pakistan. Because of his deep business ties the Romanian government had made him a person of significance in Pakistan. This was just like my current position as Honorary Consulate General of Australia for the province of Punjab.

The Romanian government had offered my father scholarship for his children if they ever wanted to pursue a science degree. When I passed my intermediate exams I had the chance to avail this scholarship. After two months of receiving marching orders from my father, I packed my bags and went to the Institute of Petroleum and Gas in Romania (now a university) for higher education.

I was introduced to computers in Romania. This chance encounter changed my life and later it became my introduction in Pakistan. My friends observe that I might not have benefited from my degree in oil and gas but I have dug up the potential of information technology in Pakistan in the form of NETSOL.

I have complete faith that the moment I raised my hands in front of Allah standing in the shadow of Khana Kaba, He deemed through his unique blessings for my life to change. I was selected in Saudi Arabia for a job which later sowed the seed for NETSOL. 

After graduating from college in Romania, it never occurred to me to try my luck in the field of petroleum and gas. It was either because my grades were not very good or because I had little interest in the field. Hence it was decided that I would go to my brother Fasih Ghauri. My father got me a visit visa to Saudi Arabia with the help of a barrister friend, and I boarded a flight to Saudi Arabia.

My brother Fasih Ghauri played a very important role in my life. I got my first job because of him. In those days Fasih Bhai used to work for a Swedish company called Philips Ericson. He took me there where I submitted a hand written resume to the HR department and sat down to have some tea. I hadn’t even finished my tea when the company’s boss called me in. He was a Swedish man and was very impressed with my qualification. But he could not decide where he could accommodate me. The only unique thing about my resume was that I was highly qualified. There were no qualified people in Saudi Arabia in those days. At last he decided to give me the job of a transport officer. And that’s how the first job of my life started.

After working 6-7 months in Phillip Ericson I got a call from Citibank where I had applied for a computer related job some time ago. It was because I really wanted a career in computers. The next day I went to Citibank for the interview. The person interviewing me was an American whose name was James. When he saw the name of FC College on my resume, he told me that he had also taught there once. This calmed my nerves because he talked to me about my city in a very friendly atmosphere. 

James told me that the job at Citibank was of night shift, at a lower salary and required a move to Damam. I agreed to all this and told him that making a career in computers was my dream. This immediately got me the job. When I look back I understand that the decision to leave my job and join Citibank was one of the best decisions of my life. That one decision also made NetSol what it is today.

In Saudi Arabia IBM products were distributed by Jufali Brothers & Co. My cousin, Jamal Ghauri was employed with Jufali Brothers. Allah destined me to success when in 1981 IBM launched personal computers and Jufali Brothers were sent a PC in a box with the directions that it had to be assembled for sale. No one at Jufali Brothers had the know how to assemble a PC. Everyone was at loss for ideas when Jamal recommended my name to his boss and told him that I could assemble and operate that PC.  Hence I was specially invited by Jamal’s boss and I was excited by the opportunity. I went there, assembled the computer which had a memory of 64k, and turned it on. This resulted in a series of consultations with customers of Jufali brothers. 

One such customer, Sameere Benali, later became interested in my idea for setting up a computer centre. Sameer Benali introduced me to his cousin Essa Aldossari, who had returned from the United States after completing his MBA. Essa wished to start a business and on Sameer’s suggestion, I formed a partnership with him. According to the agreement Essa held fifty one percent shares and I had forty nine percent shares in our new company Gulf Computer Systems (GCS). My first business trip was to Pakistan where I hired IT professionals. Later, on the same trip I went to Philippines to hire software developers. And hence I opened a computer training center and a software development house.

Two three years went by in a blink and then I was sent to Greece by Citibank for training. It was a good period in my life. I had a great job at Citibank and my business was doing well. I used to work 18 hours a day and slept for only four hours.However, after a few years I left Citibank to focus solely on my business.

I returned to Pakistan with my family in 1987. I had left a running business in Saudi Arabia for reasons which have been explain in my book. I told my brothers that I wanted to establish a computer center in Karachi and further my business in the field I was experienced in. I found out that a gentleman was selling his computer center in Rizvia Market in Nazimabad.  I partnered with my friend Sultan and became the co-owner of that computer center. We stayed in Karachi for seven or eight months but the computer center did not take off. Eventually I had to shut down the center.

The next step of my career took me to Australia where I was hired by MC Computers to develop a software. It was a memorable time in my life. I spent my days and nights in developing the software. After that I was called to the New South Wales Railways. I told them that I was busy during the day but I could give them my services in the evenings. They readily agreed and I started working two jobs.

One day I received a call from BHP Steel which was a large industrial group. They wanted to convert their data from large computer machines to PCs. They offered me a six month contract. That was my first regular assignment in Australia. It was an interesting and technical task. I had to replace the old machines with three hundred PCs.

In 1992 some Indians came to our company. I remember my boss asking me to increase the computer network in the conference room by fifteen. I complied not knowing who was going to visit. After some time I saw a group of Indians sitting there installing the software. Sitting in that conference room, watching the Indians at work, I thought that there must be a Pakistani organization which could provide the same services. I was convinced that Pakistanis were second-rate to none. With this very thought in mind I came back to Pakistan and discussed the matter with my brother Shahab. He agreed with my idea and proposed that I should come back to Pakistan.

Thus began the journey of NETSOL. 

My dreams became a reality when NetSol signed a $100 million contract in December 2015.

NETSOL like Rome was not built in a day. It is the result of 40 years of imagining and reimagining, toil and hardships faced by myself and my family, and the singular resolve not to give up. The strength of my character pegged me to my self-belief and did not allow me to step astray.

My journey to NetSol is filled with adventurism and it started in 1995. It took me a year to get the company registered and find a suitable office. I wanted to rent an office which would not be a financial burden on me.I  soon found suitable premises in Phase II, G-Block. I was very excited when I opened my office. I designed the layout and purchased all the office equipment myself. By 1996 the office was ready and I had started work with a small team. I was the company’s C.E.O, office boy as well as coffee maker. Those early days were filled with enthusiasm.

I named my company as Networks Solutions and we offered networking and software development services. Although the Salim Ghauri of today has an identity and worth but at that time I only had an idea. After months of waiting, in 1996, I finally received the call I was waiting for. It was my first business call in the new office and with it NetSol broke ground of its IT endeavor in Pakistan. It was my brother Naeem Ghauri from London who was working in the IT department of Mercedes Benz at that time. He wanted me to find people who could operate AS400 computers.

It was difficult for me to find and recruit IT professionals in Pakistan who could operate AS400 machines. Nonetheless, I started searching for suitable candidates. I wasted no time and flew to Karachi. I met a few people and started collecting their CVs. I flew to Bangkok on 24th May, 1996.  One of the people at the meeting was Eugen Beckert who later became a friend and partner. The meeting was successful and I signed a one year contract with them. 

Eugen proved to be very lucky for me and NetSol. He had certainly identified the astute business manager in me and with me he formed the basis of something new. That “something new” is NetSol Financial Suite which has established its repute all over the world.

All through 1996 I was providing services to Mercedes Benz and planning to somehow get a software development contract from them. On 21st January, 1997, Eugen called me out of the blue. I thought he just wanted to catch up with me but instead he asked if I could develop software for Mercedes Taiwan. I eagerly accepted and he shared the details about the project with me. A contract was signed when Eugen later visited Lahore. 

Upon completion of the software we were ecstatic. I wanted to shout it out from the roof tops that I had developed the software for a prestigious company like Mercedes Benz. It was an auspicious occasion for Pakistan’s IT industry because a local company had developed a software for Mercedes Benz. The timely completion of the project solidified the reputation of NetSol and the relationship with Mercedes Benz.

In 1997 we signed another contract with Mercedes Benz in Thailand and with it not only we got more business but our understanding and knowledge of leasing finance increased. Accordingly the company was growing in size as well.

Destiny works in mysterious ways. Najeeb was visiting Pakistan after three or four years. At the time of his return to United Sates, he was emotional and wished not to leave Pakistan. He prayed to Allah for such circumstances to arise in which he could visit Pakistan more often. Allah listened to his prayers and Netsol emerged with a global outlook in 1998. We formed a parent company and floated its shares in United States.

Mirage Holdings signed a contract with NetSol Pakistan in 1998. The plan was to invest in Pakistan and to provide IT services by hiring graduates of IT universities. The American market had many opportunities for NetSol Pakistan and through Mirage Holdings we were attempting to access this fascinating possibility. On 24th December NetSol started trading on NASDAQ and the trading symbol assigned to us was NTWK. The news made headlines.

1998 was a good year for us, and we had customers in UK and Asia. Everything was in place but I was considering introducing quality standards. ISO 9001 was the most prevalent certification, hence we decided to adopt that in NetSol. In 1998, after introducing quality standards, we had an audit and NetSol became the first Pakistani company to get ISO 9001 certification.

In those days customers would inquire if the office premises were rented or owned by the company. For some reason they trusted the service provider who owned their own building. It might be due to a general belief that a permanent place of business reflects in the nature of the company. Keeping this in mind we started looking for a suitable plot of land in 1999. We discovered a piece of land in Cantt close to DHA, a little away from the main road. In 2004 the construction was completed and we shifted in the new building with two hundred employees. With this, the company experienced a growth spurt and we hired more people for the new projects.

In 2002, I had the company audited for CMMI certification. We had to allocate considerable funds for it and despite our financial constraints we did not spare any expense. I was expecting to be certified at level 3, but when Ranay’s report came I was disappointed to find that NetSol had qualified for level 2. But still it was a big feat as no other Pakistani company had this qualification. I was pleased and had my eyes fixed on level 5.

2004 was an excellent year and proved to be the turning point for NetSol. We had faced a long lean patch and finally the outlook changed. The highlight of the year’s events was NetSol’s entry in the Chinese market. We eventually signed a contract with Mercedes China and we made inroads into a vast market which was a big achievement.

At that time two hundred people worked for NetSol. Before that in 1999 the news of NetSol’s listing on NASDAQ had made headlines. Later, we made history after achieving CMMI level 4.

In January 2005 we shifted our offices in the new building. It was a new beginning for NetSol. We were getting contracts from all over the world. Many dignitaries visited NetSol including the American ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker who later gained fame as the ambassador to Afghanistan. We also hired new resources. We also had a contract with Mercedes Japan and with it we made a breakthrough in a new and important market. We also set up a small office in China following our contract with Toyota China, which was a major player in the Chinese market.

NetSol  became the first company in Pakistan to achieve CMMI level 5 certification in 2006. It was the culmination of a long struggle to achieve professional excellence. This was the biggest achievement of my professional career. We spent the entire 2007 working on China and developing our business there. It was a good decision and we were making good progress. Since then, NetSol has steadily grown and has not faced a crisis like the dot-com crash or 9/11. After 2007 we have not looked back and continued on the path of success.

I believe that our health is a gift of God and it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. 

We should make the best use of our days so that it has a positive impact on our health. I am very particular about my health. I get up early in the morning and exercise for two hours. This has been my routine for a very long time.

I always made an effort to eat well in order to remain physically fit. I have one motto when it comes to maintaining good eating habits. Eat to live and don’t live to eat. It is very essential that the nutritional requirements of our bodies are met. I eat a hearty breakfast. We should have a decent breakfast and eat well throughout the day. Dinner should be kept light.

In reading I prefer reading from the hard copy of a book. But because I can’t read books in my normal routine, and mostly do my reading while travelling, hence I use hand held devices such as an iPad or a tablet to read books. I like reading books about leadership.

 I drive very slowly. I am often teased by whoever is sitting next to me in the car because sometimes even bicycle riders overtake me. I don’t pay much attention to this criticism because no matter how many risks I have taken in business, I don’t believe in taking risks with my life.