The refrain that Pakistan has few success stories in the fields of business, finance and entrepreneurship is questionable. What remains beyond doubt, however, is the fact that we seldom document and highlight such success stories. Just go to any Liberty Books outlet and you’ll find its business and finance section crammed with books on tycoons like Warren Buffet, George Soros and Richard Branson. But missing will be the titles on Pakistani companies and entrepreneurs.
There is a dearth of books on Pakistani entrepreneurs and companies. The only book I know of, written on the making of a Pakistani company, is The EFU Saga by a German national, Wolfram W Karnowski. Roshen Ali Bhimjee — a visionary whose stunning achievements are the stuff that dreams are made of — is the central character of the book. According to Karnowski, Bhimjee was brought into the company in the late 1950s when it seemed that EFU would collapse because of the disastrous business with the company’s London-based agents. Bhimjee convinced the board of directors to change the company’s shareholding structure, negotiated a deal with a Munich-based reinsurer, secured a loan, and got rid of the London business. As a result, EFU rose from a state of near-collapse to become the largest life insurance company in Afro-Asia, excluding Japan, in just 10 years.
Afterwards, Bhimjee set up successful insurance companies in the UK, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in collaboration with renowned banker Agha Hasan Abedi. With the unfortunate demise of their parent company, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), Bhimjee’s insurance companies lost a substantial amount of money. The consecutive setbacks did not prevent him from launching yet another life insurance company in 1992, when the government rolled back the anti-free market policies of the past. Known as EFU Life Assurance today, it is the largest private sector life insurance company in Pakistan, with over Rs37.8 billion of assets, as of December 2012.
People know about Bhimjee’s remarkable business acumen today, only because somebody decided to write a 500-page book on the company he built over several decades. Surely, there are other Bhimjees around us, but their ingenuity is unknown to the public at large. It’s about time our writers documented the financial history of the country by writing books on great Pakistani companies and conglomerates. We have Warren Buffets of our own — all we need to do is document and highlight their successes.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2013.