From Engro to PTI: A look back and forward at Asad Umar’s life

Published: April 29, 2012
Former CEO left a handsome salary at Exxon to join local giant.

Former CEO left a handsome salary at Exxon to join local giant.


Few people look forward to their post-retirement lives as enthusiastically as Asad Umar. Arguably the most celebrated CEO in the corporate history of Pakistan, Umar, 50, took early retirement from the largest local conglomerate Engro Corporation on April 16 to join political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

“The greatest men are those who walk away at the top,” says Umar, while talking to The Express Tribune about the key ‘decision points’ in his corporate life that spanned over two and a half decades.

CEO at 42

“You never set a field for bad bowling,” says Umer, drawing on his vast cache of cricket quotations. After 17 days of becoming CEO of Engro Corporation in 2004, Umar laid out his long-term vision for the company in a presentation to its employees.

Engro Foods, which was set up during Umar’s tenure at the helm, suffered losses for four consecutive years. “Yet, our shareholders didn’t panic. We had shared our long-term projections with them, and that’s why they had full confidence in our management.” Engro Foods is now the highest revenue-making subsidiary of the corporation with net revenue of Rs9.67 billion in the quarter ended March 31, more than double of fertiliser subsidiary’s Rs3.20 billion.

In addition to establishing many successful subsidiaries and building the world’s largest single-train urea manufacturing plant, Umar says he has made many mistakes in his long career. The biggest of them all, he thinks, was the imperfect feasibility report he came up for Engro Polymer. “We lost Rs300 million because of that. I was also its first CEO, and the loss had not been planned as in the case of Engro Foods.”

Departure from Engro

For someone who became CEO at 42 and increased the company’s revenues from Rs13 billion to Rs114 billion in about seven years, the decision to retire at 50 did not take many people by surprise.

“I always had this number in my mind. I knew I’d retire around 48, 50 or 52,” Umar says. The decision to join politics, however, resulted from his consistent engagement with the federal bureaucracy which, he believes, is responsible for many a bottleneck holding back the economy of Pakistan.

Referring to his two-year stint at Exxon in North America, Umar says he came in contact with the Canadian government only once a year. “But here we don’t operate in a market-based economy. It’s practically an Islamabad-controlled, rent-seeking economy,” he says, adding that any fundamental reform in Pakistan can only be achieved by taking part in the political process.

However fit he may appear to hold public office, Umar says he is least interested in having a portfolio. Referring to the Pakistan People’s Party of the 1970s, he says J A Rahim was one of the most influential central leaders of the party, yet he held no public office. “I’d be far more interested in being part of the policy formulation team.”

The PTI central leadership has asked Umar to formulate the party’s energy policy, industrial policy and skill development policy. In addition, it has asked him to jointly lead the macro-economic and poverty alleviation teams with Jahangir Khan Tarin.

Coming back home

A major ‘decision for Umar came when the employees’ buyout of Exxon was announced in 1991. “I was the only employee of Exxon Pakistan who was working in Canada at the time. I drove a 3,500cc car and my salary was 100,000 Canadian dollars. But I chose to come back and happily accepted a monthly salary of about Rs20,000.”

The day he was leaving for Pakistan, Umar says his plant manager told him to just make a phone call if he ever regretted his decision to go back to Pakistan. “I told him, you’re never going to get that call.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (65)

  • ishtiaer hussain
    Apr 29, 2012 - 2:48AM

    We need people like Umer at the top level who can steer the country out of its mess with their energy, dedication and experience. We need leaders like Nitish Kumar and Modi who have put their states in India on the road to progress. Obviously, Shaukat Aziz was one of such leaders but he was not allowed by our political elite and bureaucracy to put in place deep reforms in Pakistan.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Apr 29, 2012 - 3:06AM

    Now it looks fishy. Why this gentleman is given so much publicity? Has he invented a time machine. There are hundreds of such excutives in our country and millions in the world. The business models he practiced are known to mankind since centuries and whole western economic and industrial strategies are based upon it. More important are those industrialists and businessmen who started from scratch and employed people like these gentlemen. They are our real Heroes.


  • Usman
    Apr 29, 2012 - 3:21AM

    Great Man! and he’s much needed considering the current political landscape! Imran Khan building the much promised team!


  • Falcon
    Apr 29, 2012 - 3:21AM

    The guy never ceases to inspire me. He being part of PTI can be ascribed as much to his noble ambitions as to IK’s persistence. He mentioned in the interview other day that IK had been inviting him to join PTI for years.


  • Asad
    Apr 29, 2012 - 3:26AM

    Last 2 paragraphs sums it all up.


  • AS
    Apr 29, 2012 - 3:28AM

    Thanks for highlighting the real culprits behind detour of our country – the bureaucrats.
    Good luck to you – hope you FIX them.

  • Pungi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 4:05AM

    From 100,000 Canadian dollars to 20,000 PKR…That is the spirit of Pakistanis & this is the promised team of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf..!!
    I request all Pakistanis to plzz support PTI for our own better future..!


  • Ammar
    Apr 29, 2012 - 4:21AM

    ET, he may be a wonderful man but the why are you projecting this man so much that it creates doubts in people’s minds.Your enthusiasm in publishing his biography makes me even more curious.I ask you, who actually he is? Some super duper corporate bureaucrat who has joined PTI, is this the real reason? Recommend

  • Ammar
    Apr 29, 2012 - 4:27AM


    One line under his photo should have been enough, though this whole exercise seems a paid advertisement :)


  • Falcon
    Apr 29, 2012 - 6:41AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    First of all, I haven’t seen many Pakistanis leaving 6 figures jobs in North America and returning to Pakistan to accept low-paying jobs. Secondly, please feel free to highlight corporate giants in Pakistan that have produced more than 35% growth rate consistently for more than 5 years despite such dismal economic conditions. Thirdly, please name few executives who were one of the highest paid in the country and left the job for betterment of the country. Lastly, if we can’t ourselves make a difference, at least appreciate the ones who are trying to do something worthwhile! On a side note, Mr. Asad was close to Shahbaz Sharif while heading Engro. Had he chosen to side with PMLN rather than PTI, the same guy would have been the wisest guy on earth in your opinion.


  • T
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:17AM

    Happily accepted a monthly salary of 20k a month in 1991. Cmon ET, stop playing this greater-then-thou card…… It was more then the level of sustenance back then……. Still appreciate what this guy has achieved though…..


  • Blithe
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:47AM

    I know a lot of folks like him.

    I don’t know what the fuss is all about.


  • Arshad
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:20AM

    Very very inspiring. Pakistan needs such an injection badly, lest we all give up without trying… Kudos to you Umar. May you succeed !


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:09AM

    At the age of 50, Asad Umar looks like a red rose in the green garden.

    Though the taste of politics in Pakistan is bitter than being CEO of a multinational company nonetheless I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.


  • Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:20AM

    So he will work with Jehangir Khan Tarin, retiring from PML Q after successfully making “profits” from sugar industry during Musharraf’s days


  • hawk
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:45AM

    Asad Umar seems a good entry for PTI. People like him are true patriot. we should proud this brain. keep it up


  • Aayan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:58AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad. Well for your information, the guy is considered a living legend in corporate world and besides being the highest paid CEO of the country, he is an active social activist too. Although the things that he practiced were already tried and tested and he should surely not be given the credit for it but then those practices are known to others too, there is sumthing in him that led him to be unique among others and become so successful. He actually revolutionized the company when he became its CEO in 2004. Not everything is always fishy. What if you didnt know him before he joined the party. He always had been vocal on many of the country related issues in numerous local and international forums. He won that Dawn News reality show ‘Enters the prime minister ‘. He is given space in news articles because people like me want to read about him. accept it or not, he is a highly demanded personality. There are many others like me who follow and admire this person. So when you say there seems sumthing fishy.. well you better think about people like me who wait for every bit of his TV appearance and text pieces to come. He is a self made man, he used to be one amongst us, ‘the common Pakistani’. He is the only admirable personality in corporate world who traveled in buses like us, studied in Government institutions for the whole life and then achieved sumthing. To know about his background, I would recommend you some of his casual interviews.


  • Imran Ahmed
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:59PM

    Wish we had more people like him.


  • Haris
    Apr 29, 2012 - 1:34PM

    “I told him, you’re never going to get that call.”


  • Lobster
    Apr 29, 2012 - 4:23PM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    Not your fault, your “heroes” are only those who are not in PTI.

    Great guy, full of energy and definitely has the capability to turn things around, no matter which party uses his talent. Good luck!


  • Stewie Griffin
    Apr 29, 2012 - 5:03PM

    He made $100,000 per year whereas he made Rs.20,000 per month in Pakistan, nonetheless it was selfless of him to return to Pakistan.

    He made about $63,000 a month in Pakistan as the CEO of Engro, which is a lot more than his monthly salary in Canada.


  • roadkashehzada
    Apr 29, 2012 - 6:51PM

    thats where u start thinking about agencies role in PTI. there are so many examples of more accomplished people in Pakistan, so many entrepreneur starting from zero and becoming billionaires but went unsung.
    if its about education of asad umar, other parties have more qualified people who have gone to bigger schools and came back to pakistan without an offer of 20k. remember 20k in 80s was not a bad offer. i remember gold was around4k in 90s, that means at that scale he was offered 250k in today’s term. not bad offer, i ll move back any day. i ve felt that PTI needs to grasp concept of time value of money before making monetary statements.


  • Ch Allah Daad
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:01PM

    @ Falcon and other friends, You have mentioned this gentleman’s two great services or sacrifices. First of all he left Canada for a meagre amount. His rise in corporate world proves that he did not act blind and decision was very well calculated. Success has many fathers and adding sacrifice makes it more rosy. You will find thousands of Pakistanis returning home after attaining Canadian Citizenship, especially those who already had good jobs or got great offers. Canada can give you good life and dollars but it doesn’t give you power to control your subordinates, servants and perks which come with high positions in Pakistan. Calling it a sacrifice is not acceptable to me atleast.
    Now few words regarding his companies growth under his supervision. Figures are that in seven years revenue rose from 13 billions to 115 billions. If anyone knows the actual rate of inflation, depreciation in Pak rupee and tenfold demand in consumable items, he would never mention these figures. This growth is not in real terms and thus cannot be debated. My home income rose from Rs.40,000 per month to Rs. 150000 in seven years. Does it mean I am smart too? His growth figures looks astonishing to many people, but these are not real. Please don’t impress us with unreal figures.


  • Apr 29, 2012 - 7:19PM

    @Ch Allah Daad:

    Jehangir Tareen & many other PTI leaders are far more rich & influential than Asad Umer but they seldom get such media focus. One has to admit that Asad Umer has some extra-ordinary guts & charisma.Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:26PM

    why is this person being romanticized? He may have left behind a huge salary but what did he get as spearation pay? IIt must be enough to serve family generations to come! How many millions did he get as bonus during his days at Engro?


  • Tch tch
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:48PM

    @Ch Allah Daad: Jalnay ki Badbo arahi hai. No one can be corporate geniuses like the Sharif brothers. Who raid Public bank to set up industries, change custom regulation, default on electricity since 9 years, refuse to pay taxes. Who only manage a profit while in government , siphon off all there wealth to offshore accounts. Privatise state assets to their buddies. Make money off no bid government contracts. Gut Public industries. Should I go on?


  • Apr 29, 2012 - 8:14PM

    Let Umar not forget that CEOs performance is heavily impacted by decisions made in Islamabad. And it was economic decisions made by Musharraf-Aziz administration that created robust economic growth and a large consumer class that boosted Engro’s performance for which Umar is now getting credit.


  • Abdullah Noorani
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:10PM

    man with clear vision


  • Voice of reason
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:29PM

    Wait. Where is thar coal? This guy used to yada yada about it all over tv two years ago. Engro has the largest block in thar. And he delayed the coal project so that engro oil fired plants keep earning money. Recommend

  • ady
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:26PM

    @voice of reason: engro oil fired plant!!!……lolzzzzzz………….you make us all laugh!!!…pls do some homework before making such funny comments!!…..


  • Akbar Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:06PM

    This Guy gives me goose bumps… he is the biggest thing to have happened to PTI. With him on board, I now think that all in-the-clouds promises of PTI have a chance to materialize.
    He is going to galvanize so much practical support for the party that it may actually have a chance to win and implement its policies.

    I am getting on the bus…


  • Falcon
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:12PM

    @Ch Allah Daad:
    Good points on the issue of inflation. However, a quick number run shows that if we were to assume average inflation rate of 11% for the past 7 years (based on published inflation data), Engro’s revenues of 13 Bn in 2004 would equal about 27 Bn in 2011 terms. So the net value addition Umer made to the company was about whopping 87 Billion! Lastly, looking at the economic issue from inflation perspective alone distorts analysis, you also have to look at overall contraction in the local and global economy that has occurred in the last 5 years to understand that growth rates of Engro are still pretty impressive. As per your note on rupee depreciation, the phenomenon of currency depreciation already adjusts for inflation in a country’s economy over a long term such as this, so it is not an independent variable affecting revenues.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:13PM

    If anyone need to learn lesson from this Engro man, he should be Imran Khan. Mr. Umar joined an organization which had already established its roots in corporate world. Now he has joined PTI, which has been promised an important role by stakeholders of the country. If Imran, instead of going solo, had joined an established political party, things would have been different. Not only he wasted his precious years in loneliness, Nation too, was deprived of his services. He won world cup as Captain, because he lead one of the best three teams of the world. His talent would not have been known to the world, if he had captained U.A.E. or Barbados. Still there is a time for Imran to make amends. He should stop playing in the hands of esablishment, merge his party with one of two top contenders, take some responsibililty, prove himself and move forward to a higher position.


  • Pakistani
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:14AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    Brother you have nothing else in your life except for criticizing IK and PTI. They arent even in the parliament, they hold no ministerial positions and have no record of corruption against them. It might be helpful if you do proper opposition and start criticizing your ‘allies’ from PPP. Oh I forgot doing that would harm democracy. May I ask a personal question, how much does PML-(Laptop) pay you per comment, because I think it might be a lucrative job to take up. Doesn’t hurt to make some extra bucks in your free time, right?


  • Adeel Syed
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:18AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    Why are you so scared of IK? Possibly because come next elections the ‘two top contenders’ would be left licking their wounds.


  • Super pak
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:36AM

    Youre just mad you couldnt be like him.


  • Israr Ahmed
    Apr 30, 2012 - 6:40AM

    I think the story has a great message which is not about just one person. The basic point of the article is all about sacrifice and patriotism. Everything else is irrelevant , That is why I commend Mr, Umer. Having said that, I am unable to know if living abroad is not in itself a service to Pakistan, because the ex pats are doing a great service always to Pak and that is they send foreign exchange to Pak.Also they are contributing to Pakistan by establishing good ties to the world. The ex patriots are the ambassadors to the world which is currently seeing Pakistan as not a very friendly nation. Anyways, salute too Mr Umer for doing something what he considered a patriotic act.


  • Salman Jaffery
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:22PM

    Asad Umer’s entry into politics should be welcomed by all patriotic pakistanis irrespective of which political party they belong to. I hope and pray that more people like him would step forward and play their part in getting Pakistan out of all kinds of crisis the country is presently facing,courtesy the present lot of politicians.


  • Ammar
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:48PM

    @Tehreek-e-Insaf FATA:

    Ask Mian Ahmed Mehmood, he will tell you the story of Jahangir Tareen :D


  • syed Imran
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:04PM

    May Allah Almighty bless this country with leadership of the likes of Asad Umar.
    It all depends if the people of Pakistan utilize their vote for the right people as our choices in the past have been simply suicidal.The present so called gang of corrupts is also our own making.
    This time any such irresponsible casting of votes and the country will be in for its final nail in the cofin


  • Abid
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:33PM

    I am proud of Pakistanis like Mr Asad Umar. His corporate career shows that he is not a materialistic person. Such people have expertise to serve the country as a politician. His admission to PTI has increased my confidence in PTI.


  • kanwal
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:36PM

    No one in their right mind would beleive that this guy could become CEO of Exxon. Besides, the deal was not so bad afterall. Its not like he is an executive whose policies’ positive effects reached the labor of his organisation. They just must have “trickled down”. So its clear that PTI is bringing in this new breed of corporate feudals, on the shoulders of known terrorists. Is’nt it the same combination that USA helped creating through dollar jihad? Now the remaining resourses of Pakistan will be annhilated by another handful of families. So sad.


  • SS
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:46PM

    Key thing to keep in mind… we need professional people like ex-corporate executives, educationists, doctors, lawyers etc in our political parties so that policy-making shifts away from traditional feudalistic/industrialist politicians, army generals and bureaucrats into the hands of enlightened and competent people from middle class. This is the only way for the country to progress. Now the issue with Pak politics is that the political atmosphere is so dirty and violent that except for lawyers (because legal community is itself already very politicized), all such professionals opt to stay out of politics. They only get involved when they have the cover of military protection available (e.g. Shaukat Aziz in Mush govt). The good thing about PTI is that it is able to attract such clean and professional people in its party. Other parties should do the same instead of criticizing PTI. I was happy to see Shaukat Tarin joining PPP govt but sadly that didn’t last.


  • Zaara Ali
    Apr 30, 2012 - 4:10PM

    According to this article,

    It looks like that Asad Umar was an opportunist who took benefit of the situation and get away easily.

    Even Media is divided into opinions


  • Muhammad Kashif
    Apr 30, 2012 - 4:29PM

    Where height of intelligence meets honesty and ethics meet professionalim with a salute to integrity we have to name one man Asad Umar in next 100 years to come. He could have easily moved to Arcelor Mittal or Kingdom Holdings , he did not – I respect his dedication.

    Hussain Dawood said “We will get his replacement” , not possible sir money cannot buy another visionary person for Engro Corporation.Recommend

  • Apr 30, 2012 - 6:07PM

    hope umar come out to be successful in biggest gamble he played – one thing he must know days of politics of j.a.rahim had gone by……….!


  • Mudassar
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:30PM

    my dear what is fisy in it @Ch. Allah Daad:


  • Osama
    Apr 30, 2012 - 11:40PM

    @Voice of reason:

    Where is Engro’s oil fired plant??

    I was one of Engro Fertilizer’s consultants and I always felt proud to serve an organization with such enthusiasm and their love to make Engro the largest organization in Pakistan. Their aim is wipe off P&G and Uni Lever from Pakistan by year 2015 which I foresee they will….

    Good work Asad Umar…


  • khurram kaleem
    May 1, 2012 - 12:47AM

    Good to see a professional in politics.

    But why he joined PTI???? why not the mainstream party like the PPP or PMLN.Most justifiably because the Ex CEO want a quasi CEO status in PTI and the establishment will support a fertilizer genie like asad umer in a pseudo party suppported by ISI.

    Anyways all the best for this man.although i think imran khan personality will be a disapointment for us all…


  • May 1, 2012 - 10:42AM

    Asad Umar, Pakistan is proud of its talented son. I always believed that like Abdus Sattar Edhi Sahib and Imran Khan Sahib, you don’t need a post or position to serve the humanity.


  • MubbashirAbbs
    May 1, 2012 - 2:33PM

    A total inspiration.


  • k. Salim Jahangir
    May 1, 2012 - 8:11PM

    What a man!! Whaaaaat a man!!! O’God Almighty! please give us some more Umar Asads!!


  • k. Salim Jahangir
    May 1, 2012 - 8:18PM

    Correction…….please read above in my comments “Asad Umars & not Umar Asads”.Thanks!


  • farhan zaheer
    May 2, 2012 - 12:33AM

    For those who say why media is giving so much coverage to Asad Umer

    1) He was leading Engro, one of the most discussed conglomerates of country in recent years.
    2) Asad was also representing Pakistan Business Council (PBC), a leading business advocacy group of leading national and multinationals. PBC gave him enough chance to come on media and represent business community of Pakistan and discuss economic issues with top five political parties.
    3) During the last few years, Asad repeatedly came on television and discussed various economic issues. All that media coverage gave him enough recognition that a lot of people know him who he is.


  • Hasan
    May 2, 2012 - 12:44AM

    He is the tax payer of Pakistan and has worked for Pakistan…even if his motive is wrong, but atleast he is tax payer fellow of this country and he deserve to be the contestant of MNA or MPA ship…rather than those MNAs who don’t even pay tax and show themselves a poor fellow of Pakistan…And YES we need such people who quit their chance of US/Canada citizenship for the sake of Pakistan…i know one or two of them personally who are working in this country and in one of government’s progressive organization which is at the verge of downfall because that organization is working on principles and exposing MNAs/MPAs……


  • Shoaib Shamsi
    May 2, 2012 - 1:18AM

    Congratulations Mr Asad Umar…great career…and a great decision to make a difference at a larger scale by being part of the policy making team. I salute your spirit and pray to Allah for your success!!


  • Saad Saud
    May 2, 2012 - 1:24AM

    A Brilliant Son of the Soil.
    Engro track record of success is visible to all.

    Many new intiatives like Nobel Awards each year for Pakistanis.
    Good luck Asad and IK.
    May Allah helps u and ordinary Pakistanis.


  • Muzammil
    May 5, 2012 - 5:21PM

    More reasons to believe in PTI than ever.


  • May 6, 2012 - 6:02PM

    Three cheers for Umar.


  • Ali Akber Jamal
    May 7, 2012 - 9:45PM

    I wish God Almighty give every Pakistani the chance to ‘afford’ such a decision, AND a heart big-enough to take one…

    Mr. Umer has fitted both merits, may God be with him.


  • Ibrahim Ahmed
    May 9, 2012 - 11:13PM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    But a few people think like this Man. So, I wish him good luck & hope to see my country out of the current political people who are destroying the country.


  • Muhammad talib
    May 13, 2012 - 12:19AM

    We really need these type of leaders to lead Pakistan and as well as PTI.Recommend

  • asif nasim
    May 15, 2012 - 10:59AM

    Great leadership skills and inspiring.


  • Rizwan siddique
    Jun 3, 2012 - 6:23PM

    Asad umar was brought to politics by establishment but he may change his decision after quitting of General Pasha. but once he left engro no chance to re join. anyhow in the presence of Jahnagir tareen , Qasuri , Hashmi , Qureshi and other big …….. asad umar dreams would not be acceptable , first IK should show all above named assets and own their honesty or dis honesty then go ahead otherwise what the different between PML N,Q , PPP and newly born baby named PTI? Did PTI show its annual audit report , accounts in its website ever ? No , will Asad Umar accept this irregularity? I did not find even a single distinction among industrialist owned parites PML Q,N and PTI. If Allah Dad sb you see , please let me know. Rizwan


  • maham
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:04PM

    all i know is tht the policy makers of pakistan shud be ppl like asad umar ……..


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