July Issue 2010
Profile: Bilal Lakhani
“I’m either all work, all play, or as lazy as sin”
– Bilal Lakhani
In the past few months, Bilal Lakhani has become somewhat of a household name — at least in the elite households of Pakistan. No, he doesn’t strut down ramps, he doesn’t sing for Coke Studio, and he certainly doesn’t host a talk show. But he did something that no other person previously ventured to do in Pakistan. In April 2010, Bilal launched the first local edition of the International Herald Tribune (IHT), for which he earned rave reviews and positive feedback.
Bilal hails from the well-known Lakhani family — the previous owners of Lakson Group and currently the big guns behind Century Publications Pvt. Ltd. (CPPL), a firm that publishes the Daily Express, which is distributed in 11 cities in Pakistan, broadcasts the 24-hour English-language news channel Express 24/7 and a 24-hour Urdu-language news channel. A family already entrenched in the media business, it only made sense that Bilal join the family concern. “It was expected of me,” he says, not revealing any further details about his career choice. “I worked for a year at Aahung, a non-profit organisation, during the gap year between my undergraduate and graduate programmes. I also interned at the United Nations and Salomon Smith Barney, an investment bank, while I was in college. But since getting my MBA (from Yale School of Management) I’ve been with the family concern.” Family expectations may have catapulted the young entrepreneur into the exciting world of “intellectual glamour,” but now that he is in it, Bilal seems to be enjoying every moment.
As opposed to slipping into his designated seat and running a pre-established business, the enterprising young man decided to expand the scope of his family business. “In 2007, I read an interesting piece about the IHT and the New York Times printing in a bunch of countries in Asia, bucking worldwide downward circulation trends. So I got in touch with them,” says Bilal. “My parents have spent a considerable amount on my education and if I didn’t work hard, then I would end up feeling pretty useless!”
Although it’s a tad too soon to measure the financial success of Bilal’s media-child, his hard work is striking a chord with readers. In the month of its launch, people from the upper-end social circles were incessantly talking about it, and the hordes of people that visit the online website and leave comments ostensibly speak for its popularity. Instead of bouncing off his success to launch the next best thing, Bilal plans to “toil at the existing ones, and not start anything [else] for a while.”
Bilal isn’t your typical newspaper publisher — brassy and intimidating. His staff describes him as energetic, accessible, easy to talk to, opinionated and very involved with the paper. His hands-on approach is probably his secret to success, as his employees seem to have only good things to say about their interaction with him.
But Bilal isn’t a workaholic either. When asked about how he balances his work and personal life, he says, “I’m either all work, all play, or as lazy as sin. The hardest part is trying to do a combination of this to achieve a balance. A never-ending problem, if you know how to, do tell me.” And he’s not perfect either. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, who hasn’t? I hope I’ve learned from some, but I have a tendency to keep making the same mistakes, so perhaps not,” he says.
When asked about his success, he describes his experience as “surreal. I felt overwhelmed at first, but that’s the only way to grow as a person, I guess.”
See more young entrepreneur profiles here.