An Inspiring Business Story
Safety & Security Today recently had a conversation with Azeem Iftikhar, CEO RL Hummate & Sundar Green, to better understand the fundamentals of Pakistan’s business ecosystem, how it works and the way forward.
Safety and Security Today (S&ST): Can you tell us about your educational background and how you started your career in business?
With a chemical engineering degree obtained from UET Lahore, I ventured into the corporate realm, accumulating 11 years of experience, including employment with a Japanese firm. Motivated by a desire to cultivate entrepreneurial skills, I chose to pursue a business degree. In 2010-2011, I took the plunge into entrepreneurship, embarking on my own business venture. By integrating my technical understanding, business education, and fervor for entrepreneurship, I have effectively established and expanded my enterprise, capitalizing on the expertise and abilities gained throughout my endeavors in engineering and business arenas.
Q: You are a Chemical Engineer and have an MBA from I.B.A. How has this combination of degrees contributed to your success as an entrepreneur?
The amalgamation of my Chemical Engineering degree and MBA has been instrumental in my accomplishments as an entrepreneur. My engineering education has furnished me with a robust groundwork in technical knowledge and analytical prowess. It has enabled me to assess and comprehend the technical aspects inherent in my business, particularly a critical facet in industries where technical expertise holds paramount importance.
On the other hand, my business degree has equipped me with a comprehensive understanding of diverse business facets. It has empowered me to delve into financial models, devise customer-handling strategies, acquire market insights and conduct effective evaluations.
The fusion of my engineering and business degrees has proven to be a potent tool, encompassing both the technical and managerial requisites for entrepreneurial accomplishment. While I acknowledge that not every business necessitates a formal degree, I firmly believe that possessing a robust educational background has afforded me a competitive advantage. These degrees have broadened my knowledge base, sharpened my critical thinking abilities and bestowed upon me a well-rounded skill set to navigate the challenges inherent in running a business.
That being said, I also recognize that the art of learning and the capacity to adapt and acquire new skills are indispensable in the realm of entrepreneurship. While degrees provide a sturdy foundation, practical experience and perpetual learning hold equal significance in the entrepreneurial journey. In hindsight, given the chance, I would have initiated my business at an earlier stage in life, understanding that entrepreneurship is not solely contingent upon degrees but rather a blend of passion, perseverance and a willing- ness to learn and adapt.
Q: Your company is into the mining sector, including coal mining leases and rock salt exploration licenses. What brought you into this business and how is the experience?
My venture into the mining sector, encompassing coal mining leases and rock salt exploration licenses, unfolded through a combination of fortuitous events and revelations. It all commenced with my initial foray into entrepreneurship, where I delved into the production of soil conditioner derived from low calorific value coal. This endeavor provided me with firsthand exposure to the mining industry and shed light on its disorganized nature.
As I explored deeper, I became cognizant of the untapped possibilities and significant void within the mining industry. Approximately 15 years ago, I realized that despite Pakistan’s abundant mineral resources, there was a dearth of companies harnessing the latest technologies and adhering to best practices. This realization served as a catalyst, igniting a desire within me to make a meaningful impact. I saw an opportunity to contribute locally and potentially seize export prospects.
In order to develop expertise in the mining realm, I sought guidance from a friend who possessed in-depth understanding and experience in the industry. Additionally, I embarked on a global expedition, immersing myself in diverse locations to observe and absorb the latest mining technologies employed worldwide. These encounters deepened my conviction that the mining sector held immense potential for enhancement and expansion. Although I never initially envisioned myself venturing into mining, these accidental encounters and realizations steered me toward this path.
Q: It appears that you believe in diversifying your business. How do you comment on this business model and what are the incentives?
My drive to diversify my business stems from two key factors. Firstly, it allows me to reduce reliance on a single cash flow or business venture. While this is a common motivation for diversification, I personally find it challenging to maintain interest and motivation when engaged in the same activity for an extended period.
I thrive on the thrill of new challenges and ventures. Consequently, diversifying my business enables me to continuously pursue fresh opportunities and avoid falling into a monotonous routine. Typically, I allocate around 3-5 years to a specific endeavor before embarking on something new. The second rationale behind diversification is my aspiration to cultivate export channels for Pakistan and introduce unconventional exports. By exploring diverse industries and sectors, my aim is to identify unique products or services that possess the potential for international trade. This not only benefits my own business but also contributes to the overall economic advancement of Pakistan. Through diversification into new markets or the introduction of unorthodox exports, I can help showcase the potential of Pakistani products and tap into untapped global markets.
Q: You have ventured into the real estate sector as well. What brought you towards this field and what are your big plans?
Motivated by the need to address a significant market gap, I embarked on a journey into the real estate sector. Numerous medium and small-sized businesses were grappling with the challenge of finding suitable industrial areas tailored to their specific requirements. Identifying this pressing need, our objective was to create spaces and plots explicitly catered to these businesses, with the aim of revolutionizing the market and empowering entrepreneurs.
A noteworthy accomplishment among our endeavors is the Sundar Business Park, a pioneering initiative in Lahore that holds the potential to extend its influence throughout Pakistan. This cutting-edge business park provides an environment conducive to innovation, productivity, and growth. Our utmost dedication has been channeled into ensuring that it encompasses the essential infrastructure and facilities necessary to support the ecosystem.
With ongoing projects in Lahore, we anticipate a significant influx of foreign direct investment (FDI) amounting to over $100 million in the forthcoming months. This investment will serve as a catalyst for the further development of our projects and make a substantial contribution to the growth of the local economy.
Q: As a successful entrepreneur, what advice would you give to startups?
Drawing upon my experience as a thriving entrepreneur, my advice to startups revolves around three fundamental principles: clarity, team selection and grit.
First and foremost, startups must possess a clear understanding of their value proposition and a comprehensive grasp of their target market. Steer clear of confusion and ambiguity by formulating a well-defined business plan and fostering a clear vision for your startup’s growth and success. This clarity will serve as a guiding light for your decision-making processes and ensure that you remain focused on your goals.
Secondly, the selection of a strong team is paramount for the effective execution and viability of your business. Surround yourself with talented individuals who align with your core values and possess the requisite skills and expertise to contribute to the growth of your startup. Additionally, having a mentor or advisor who can offer guidance and support based on their own experiences can prove highly advantageous.
Lastly, resilience holds the key to success. The journey towards triumph is seldom without obstacles, and start- ups are likely to encounter failures and setbacks along the way. It is crucial to develop the tenacity and persistence to confront these challenges head-on and extract valuable lessons from them. Embrace failures as opportunities for learning and utilize them to adapt, enhance and emerge even stronger.
In the context of the Pakistani market, the significance of grit and persistence can’t be stressed enough. The business landscape may present unique challenges, but with the right mindset and unwavering determination, startups can navigate through these obstacles and emerge triumphant.
Q: How is your experience of serving as a director on multiple boards of public and private sector organizations and as a member of the scientific board at the Punjab Food Authority?
My involvement as a director on various public and private sector boards has been an enriching experience. It has afforded me invaluable insights into governance, policy formulation and the opportunity to contribute to the public sector. One notable observation is the substantial scope for making positive contributions to the public sector. Through my role in the Punjab Food Authority, for instance, we successfully implemented significant changes aimed at safeguarding public health and well-being.
Initiatives such as prohibiting the availability of soda drinks and sugar candies to school children, as well as cracking down on and banning styrofoam disposable food containers known to be harmful to health and linked to cancer, were executed in Punjab, prioritizing the welfare of the community. I firmly believe that remarkable contributions can be made through public offices and board positions, provided there is a steadfast commitment to serving the public interest and up- holding the common good. It is crucial for individuals serving on boards to have no personal benefits or vested interests that could impede their ability to make decisions in the best interest of the public. Individuals driven by personal agendas can inad- vertently cause more harm than good.
Q: Any message for the youth of Pakistan amid economic slump and social problems in the country?
I urge the young generation of Pa- kistan, grappling with economic chal- lenges and social issues, to consciously immerse themselves in positivity while consciously distancing themselves from negativity. Direct your attention towards what you can control and avoid dwelling on circumstances beyond your sphere of influence. Embrace integrity and diligence as guiding values.
Become builders who actively contribute to the advancement of your country. Recall the profound quote, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit,” and strive to leave a lasting impact for future generations.