July Issue 2010

By | People | Profile | Published 14 years ago

“There is a merit-based system in the family”
– Ali Siddiqui

Ali Siddiqui takes us back to his first business venture over 15 years ago, when he was a “scrawny” computer junkie with “thick glasses.” Sounds like your typical class nerd, except in this case he wasn’t. He had entrepreneurship in his DNA and using his savings, he started his own technology business with the help of an older cousin at the age of 15 — coincidentally the same age as when his father, Jahangir Siddiqui, started his own business. Ali laughingly describes how his clients would ask him how old he was, so he grew some facial hair. And that’s not all. He knew the importance of networking, a sales pitch and competition. And his business flourished while he juggled schoolwork, football practice and work. Three years later, before leaving for college he was able to sell it.

After graduating from Cornell University in 1998, joining the family business was not even considered an option. Ali says, “There is a merit-based system in the family.” In other words, Ali had to prove himself before getting access to the family’s business empire. As a result, the opportunity to learn in a small company, his admiration for its management, which consisted of people he had already worked with during summer internships while he was in college, and his “love for Chinese food” took him to Hong Kong, where he worked for a private equity firm. He was quickly promoted and by the end of his four-year tenure, the business had grown seven-fold.

In May 2002, Ali got down to serious thinking and realised that family topped his list of priorities. It was time to go back home. He could now join the family business, but it was up to him to work his way to the top. One after the other, Ali expanded the scope of his family concern’s investments. It was his idea to invest in American Express Bank (now JS Bank), Airblue Airlines, Pakistan International Container Terminal and Bank Islami. All this led Ali to where he is now — the managing partner of JS Private Equity Fund. His groundwork in Hong Kong paid off. He runs JS Private Equity Fund independently.

Ali’s employees also admire him for the philanthropic work he does alongside expanding his business. In 2003, Ali founded The Mahvish and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation just like his dad had done for Ali’s grandparents in the past. The conversation becomes more animated as he describes projects undertaken by the foundation. He draws a map to show me where the Karighar Institution — which provides vocational training to carpenters, electricians, etc. — is. Ali has a penchant for visuals and numbers, which he furnishes for every business venture. Now, in a collaborative effort with seven other companies, he is opening up the Karachi School of Business and Leadership affiliated with Cambridge University by 2012.

Ali’s narrative of his journey to success is fluid. He never seems flummoxed or unprepared when asked a question and his answers aren’t measured or calculated, just honest.

At 15, he was balancing schoolwork, football practice and a fledgling business. Now, many years later, his wife, Saira helps him balance his work and personal life. “It’s hard and I’m not great at it,” he says. “But Saira helps me and all the credit goes to her.” A family man, Ali and his wife live next to his parents.

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