M. I. KHURRAM had never set out to be a businessman. As a student, his ultimate goal in life was to get admitted to an engineering university or college, a wish that he could not fulfil because of low scores in the intermediate examination.
But as luck would have it, a new textile college was being set up in Faisalabad to bridge the gap for mid-level, professional management in the country’s rapidly growing textile industry. “When the college invited applications for the first batch of textile technologists in 1962, I also applied,” recalls Khurram, chairman of the Comfort Group of Companies, in an interview with Dawn.
That was beginning of his long association with the textile industry, first as a professional manager and later as a manufacturer and exporter. “I had to borrow to pay the admission fee as my father, a small holder, refused to sponsor my ‘dream of becoming a jolaha (weaver)’,” he smiles.
Today, he is one of the top 10 exporters of knitwear in the country with top American and European brands as his customers. His textile business consists of four state-of-the-art knitwear units, two spinning mills and a yarn dying and surgical cotton factory.
Comfort Group of Companies Chairman M. I. Khurram says he reinvested all his earnings in business expansion. His group, with a total capital investment of over Rs6bn, had a combined sales turnover of over Rs9bn in the last financial year
And he hasn’t restricted himself to textiles alone. In 2008, he acquired Frontier Dextorse — the largest sterile I.V. fluids company in Pakistan — which is setting up another facility overseas that will become operational next year. Recently, he bought a pharmaceutical firm to expand his presence in this business segment.
With a total capital investment of more than Rs6bn and combined group sales turnover of over Rs9bn in the last financial year, Khurram says he has reinvested all his earnings in expansion. “I have never scooped out money from my companies; whatever I earn is invested back in my business. I had never thought of owning a business when I graduated from the textile college. All I wanted to do was to excel in my profession,” he says, attributing his success to hard work and dedication to every job he took.
His first job at Kohinoor Textile Mills in Rawalpindi earned him a salary of Rs380 a month in the late 1960s, and he was content. His father’s death forced him to quit and return to Faisalabad to take care of his younger brothers. “I was fortunate to immediately get a teaching job at the textile college, which at that time was reserved for foreign teachers,” Khurram says.
The three-year teaching stint afforded him the opportunity to improve his understanding of textile technology and hone in his skills as he went on to receive an Associateship of Textile Institute Manchester. “Everyone wants to progress in life. I was no exception. When I saw my friends rising to managerial levels at textile mills and drawing salaries three times mine, I also decided to take the plunge and took the job of spinning master at Zeenat Textiles.”
However, Khurram got the chance to fully employ his managerial skills and his knowledge of textile manufacturing only when he got a job at the state-owned, loss-making Cooperative Textile Mills in Khanewal. “I applied for the post of general manager, which was advertised. But after the interview, I was given the top job of managing director, with a salary of Rs2,200, a chauffeur-driven car and a house to live in,” he laughs.
It was a major leap in his career and a big challenge as well. In one year, he successfully turned around the company, covered its losses, plugged leakages in purchases, paid back staff salary arrears, and earned a huge profit. “I gave the workers hope of a good future on my first day on the job, and they cooperated with me and worked hard to revive the mill,” he says.
The success story made him popular with the textile industry and he was given a job by Gen Habibullah Khan in his mill — Janana De Mucho — in Kohat in 1972. “The general did not so much as ask me if I wanted that job; he just told me that I had been selected as general manager of his mill.” The next 20 years of Khurram’s association with the general saw him turn around the latter’s textile operations and expand them to Sudan.
While working in Sudan, he got a contract from the International Finance Corporation on its project of setting up industry in three African countries, including Kenya and Tanzania. “That was a great experience and I learned a lot of new things from my work with the IFC.”
It was in 1987 when he bought a small knitwear unit at Kotlakhpat in Lahore, as his family shifted here from Kohat. “I didn’t have the wherewithal to start production and no bank was willing to lend me working capital of Rs2m, as I didn’t have the collateral to mortgage against the loan,” Khurram says. At that time Gen Habibullah gifted him a million rupees. The rest was lent by the collapsed BCCI.
“When the BCCI team told me that they had transferred a million rupees to my account and the rest of the formalities will be completed later, I didn’t believe it. I went to my bank, withdrew the entire amount and redeposited it just to make sure that the loan had actually been transferred to the account,” Khurram laughs.
When he decided to return home from Khartoum to take care of his own business, his employer wouldn’t let go of him. “He insisted that I should continue to look after his factories as well, even if on alternate weeks. I couldn’t say no to him.” The arrangement lasted until 1992, when Khurram returned to his own business full time. “I believe hard work and dedication to whatever you’re doing ultimately pays off,” he concludes.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, September 1st, 2014