After consulting, a hesitant Ansari takes helm at Engro

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: Only a man in a million would have the audacity to turn down the best job there ever was in the corporate sector of Pakistan. After all, who would say no to the repeated requests of the chairman of Engro Corporation – Pakistan’s largest private-sector conglomerate, with interests ranging from fertiliser and energy to foods and chemicals – to become its president and CEO?

A reluctant CEO

Ali Ansari replaced Asad Umar at the helm of Engro Corporation after the latter took early retirement in April to join politics. While there must have been many contenders for the most prestigious position in Pakistan’s corporate sector, Ansari was not one of them.

In fact, he had declined to be considered for the job when Engro Chairman Hussain Dawood first floated the idea. “I was running my own business and enjoying it. Moreover, I’d made a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t go back to the job market,” Ansari said while talking to The Express Tribune.

Some days later, Dawood called him again and told him the board of directors had unanimously recommended that he become president and CEO of Engro Corporation. “I’ve always taken my decisions myself and stuck by them,” says Ansari while describing his “dilemma.” So after consulting one of his old friends who now leads a major bank of the country, Ansari decided to accept the job.

The odd Grammarian

“I wasn’t particularly a good student at Karachi Grammar School. It worried my father. So he decided to send me to a boarding school,” says Ansari, who followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by pursuing a highly successful career in finance. His grandfather served as finance minister of Hyderabad Deccan. Ansari’s father worked for the National Bank of Pakistan and also played a key role in establishing Bank AlJazira in Saudi Arabia.

Ansari arrived in England as a 14-year-old in 1977. “Three years at the boarding school were the toughest in my life,” he said. His next destination was Richmond, an American college in London, where he studied business administration and finance.

My word is my bond

Ansari says he developed a life-long fascination with the city of London early on. He received multiple job offers after graduation from college. Yet he could not accept one, because he did not have a work permit. So he applied for the legal document and, in the meantime, worked for the Bank of America as an analyst for no pay for as long as six months.

Ansari’s career took a sharp upturn with the management buyout of the investment wing of the Bank of America. The name of his company changed from Bank of America to WorldInvest, he became a shareholder, the company grew five times in five years, and Ansari got promoted to the position of fund manager within a year. By all means, his career progression was tremendous so far.

But success doesn’t feel like success when one is just 28. “I wasn’t doing any value addition, I thought. Buying and selling shares didn’t seem exciting anymore. Also, my father was ill in Pakistan.”

So Ansari moved back to Karachi in 1992 and set up a textile business with his uncle. He did away with the business just after two years after using all his savings to pay his employees and vendors.

His next stop was in Hong Kong where he joined CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, a financial services group, as head of Pakistan operations.

A multinational babu

Ansari was contacted by AKD Group Chairman Aqeel Karim Dhedhi in 1999. AKD wanted to expand his business by setting up state-of-the-art online trading, fund management and corporate finance operations. “You’re a seth, and I’m a multinational babu, I told AKD. We can’t work together,” Ansari said about his first reaction to AKD’s offer.

To understand each other better, Ansari and AKD decided to do a project together. “Dhan Fibres was a sick unit, and we got its owner a good price together,” Ansari said. The Dewan Group came along and AKD helped raise the money. With the finalisation of the deal, Ansari and AKD formally joined hands and the former became CEO of AKD Securities. “From acquisition finance and private equity to venture capital, at AKD I did everything that I loved.”

To his credit, AKD kept his initial promise of not interfering in the affairs of AKD Securities throughout Ansari’s stay at the company. “He had promised me that he wouldn’t call me or come to the office unless he’s asked to. He kept his word.”

Before joining Engro, he was running his own business, which is Pakistan’s first independent oil and gas drilling company. He says he accepted the Engro job because one should embrace challenges bravely. “It’s truly an honour to lead the most prestigious company in Pakistan’s corporate sector.”

Published In The Express Tribune, June 23, 2012.

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