Shakir Husain: a first-generation IT guru

By Kazim Alam

Shakir Husain, a first-generation entrepreneur, is involved in several national and international ventures. His software company, Creative Chaos, has an extensive local and international clientele, and has been in business for a decade.  Creative Chaos’ customers range from software startups to international banks and global telecom companies. Husain graduated fromWhittier College,US, in 1998 in international economics and political science.

Q: How was the process of launching a new business?
A: Somewhere between easy and difficult.

Q: How did your family react to the idea?
A: I was working in the private equity business in Abu Dhabi. That’s when I decided that I wanted to start my own business in Pakistan. Most family members, except my mother, thought it wasn’t a good idea. They thought I had lost my mind.

Q: Did you get a loan?
A: I didn’t take out a loan. I put in my own money. Young entrepreneurs in this country have no access to any kind of help.

Q: What qualities do you look for in a potential employee?
A: Three things: they should be fast learners and have lateral thinking and good communication skills.

Q: What’s your favourite social networking website?
A: Twitter. I like it because you can control the kind of information that’s coming your way. You can choose to interact with people you want to. At times, it’s better than Google. Rather than algorithms throwing answers at you, real people are pointing you towards information.

Q: Which search software and engine you prefer?
A: Chrome and Google.

Q: Desktop or laptop? Mac or PC?
A: Laptop and Mac.

Q: What’s your homepage?
A: All my Google pages. My news, my calendar, my email, everything!

Q: Do you think the next Mark Zuckerberg can be from Pakistan?
A: Sure. There are brilliant engineers. All we need to do is provide young entrepreneurs with an enabling environment.

Q: Have you ever bribed anyone?
A: Never.

Q: What’s the most frustrating part of doing business in Pakistan?
A: Banking laws are not supportive of 21st century businesses. Say you’re a textile company and you get an order. You can take that contract and get a loan from the bank. But if you’re a software company and you get a large contract, you can’t get a loan against that, even if you have been banking with that bank for 10 years. State Bank laws are structured to be supportive of traditional businesses like textiles, cement, etc.

Q: Is entrepreneurship rewarding?
A: Yes, it’s rewarding. Most entrepreneurs would like to continue their ventures in Pakistan. But businesses need continuity and stability. There are countries which lack political stability, like India, but their economic policies are consistent.

Q: Who has influenced your life and thoughts the most?
A: My maternal grandfather, Brig. Qayum Sher. From the business perspective, Richard Branson. He didn’t come from money. He’s a great success story.

Q: Who are your favourite writers and what do you read?
A: There are many. Iain Banks, P J O’Rourke and Marquez. History, politics and science fiction, I pretty much read everything.

Q: Your biggest achievement?
A: My family is my biggest achievement. I have a lovely wife and two wonderful boys.

Q: What makes your software company different from others?
A: We make an effort to hire the best people in the market and retain them. We have an education programme policy. Anyone who wants to do a master’s in software engineering, we give half of the fee as a grant and the rest as a loan. We also offer them flexible working hours.

Q: Who is the greatest man or woman Pakistanhas ever produced?
A: Dr Abdus Salam.

Q: Who do you look up to in the Pakistani business community?
A: There are so many of them. Babar Ali, Hussain Dawood, etc.

Q: Any advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: I tell all the young kids who come to work here that if they can read only one thing in a week, they should read The Economist.

(Published in The News on July 25, 2011)

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