JS Group: The empire built by selling the family car

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: Who could have known that the man behind the JS Group, which comprises a range of businesses with over 18,000 employees, laid the foundations of his business empire 45 years ago by secretly selling off the family car for a paltry sum while his father was out of town for two days?

Sharing his experiences as an entrepreneur with the audience at the second convention of the Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) on Saturday during a session titled “Entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and leadership,” Jahangir Siddiqui made a number of observations, which can well be summed up as Entrepreneurship 101.

“Positive thinking distinguishes an entrepreneur from the rest of the crowd. He’s never deterred by difficult circumstances,” Siddiqui said while referring to his father’s initial refusal to lend him Rs6,000 to start a business.

“After selling his car to a kabarya (junk dealer) for Rs1,800 while he was away, I still needed more money. So I sold the two-year stock of 30 wheat bags, which were stored in our house at the time. Next, I sold the coal stock as well,” he said.

Upon his father’s return two days later, Siddiqui demanded that he should pitch in another Rs1,500 so he could finally start the business. He agreed, and within a year, Siddiqui was able to buy a brand new car.

“Don’t be scared. Don’t feel threatened. Come up with a solution. Every problem can be solved,” he said.

Because of his involvement in business from an early age, Siddiqui said, he could not concentrate on his studies initially. “I failed the intermediate exams. My father wanted me to get a proper education. So I sat the supplementary exam and passed.”

After moving to Karachi from Hyderabad in the late 1960s, Siddiqui decided to become a chartered accountant. He said he would go to the stock exchange every day during lunch breaks to understand how things worked at the bourse.

He set up his own company in October 1971. The economy faced serious challenges in coming days: East Pakistan became Bangladesh after two months, a state of emergency was imposed in the country and the stock market closed for months on end.

Meanwhile, Siddiqui had to pay five employees of his company Rs2,000 each while it generated little revenue.

“When you can’t increase profits, you control expenses. So I stopped using my car. My dispatcher would take me to the office in the morning on his motorcycle and drop me back home in the evening. I’d save Rs200 on petrol every month,” he said.

Even though he retired as chairman of the JS Group in 2003, he said he wanted to test whether his entrepreneurial spirit was still alive. So he acquired commercial banking operations of American Express Bank Limited Pakistan and established JS Bank Limited in December 2006.

“Despite problems like law and order and energy shortages, we were able to establish 150 branches in just three years and eight months,” he said.

“An entrepreneur always finds opportunities amid adversities.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15, 2012.

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