A Bank is Born By Nadeem Hussain Liberty, Karachi ISBN: 978-6277626082 138pp.
Upon reading Pakistani banker and entrepreneur Nadeem Hussain’s recently published autobiography A Bank is Born, I was reminded of an interview of renowned American filmmaker Orson Welles by noted British journalist Michael Parkinson.
During their discussion on politics, famous people and that dream factory known as Hollywood, Parkinson asked Welles if being a film star was the apex of fame that any person could ever hope to aspire to. The acclaimed director responded that there could never be a final answer to that question, because each period of history has its own apex of fame.
Welles explained that, at the start of the 20th century, the greatest thing in the world was to be an opera singer — a career that brought endless lines of adoring fans hoping to catch a glimpse of a famous tenor walking down the street. After World War I and right up to the early 1960s, the greatest thing in the world was to be a film star, which symbolised all the glamour that fame and fortune represented. From the 1960s till the early 1990s, the greatest thing in the world was to be a rock star or a pop singer.
Had Welles been alive to see the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism and the triumph of capitalism in the post-Cold War world, he would probably have added that, these days, the greatest thing in the world is to be an entrepreneur, or the chief executive officer of a successful company.
Former banker-turned-entrepreneur Nadeem Hussain’s memoirs illustrate his belief that great achievement comes from bold visions, determination, perseverance and hard work, and in taking risks
Modern CEOs and entrepreneurs carry the batons of fame and fortune that were once wielded by the film stars and rock stars of bygone eras. In our era of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, a successful CEO has that element of wealth, glamour and a rock-star lifestyle which the rest of us can only hope to emulate.
In that vein, entrepreneurs also seek to show their success as a path for others to follow. Memoirs abound, but among the best we can count industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography, business executive Alfred P. Sloan’s My Years with General Motors and Walmart founder Sam Walton’s Made in America.
When reading Hussain’s A Bank is Born, one feels that it is following in the footsteps of those renowned businessmen who hoped that, by emulating their example, others could also learn how to achieve tremendous success in life.
The memoir shares with readers some of Hussain’s major successes in business, including being a globetrotting Citibanker, and the two main outstanding achievements of his entrepreneurial vision: Tameer Microfinance Bank (TMB) and Easypaisa.
TMB helped bring into the economic stream the majority of the populace that had largely been ignored by commercial banks, whereas Easypaisa revolutionised e-commerce and how money could be transferred over distances without the aid of banks, at a time when such things were largely unheard of for most Pakistanis.
In his short but enlightening book, Hussain tells us how these two successful feats of entrepreneurship became a reality through bold vision, determination, perseverance, hard work and that particular element which French military commander Napoleon Bonaparte valued in all his generals: ‘luck’.
However, to bring about that luck, Hussain needed to put in many long hours of toil and overcome numerous difficulties to make microfinance accessible to the largely unbanked segment of Pakistani society.
An entrepreneur is always motivated by profit, but the motive will never deliver results if it doesn’t fulfil the basic purpose of commerce and economics, which is to create opportunities for others and generate wealth in society which, in turn, brings about prosperity, social contentment and stability.
In times such as ours, when Pakistan’s economy is in a severe crisis, books such as Hussain’s can inspire others to realise that difficult times can be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to lead the way through innovation.
Hussain certainly did that with TMB and Easypaisa. When starting each of these ventures, he had been warned that it was too risky to undertake, but Hussain is a subscriber to the well-known belief that if one can dream it, one can do it. Negativity gets a person nowhere; to be a success, one must believe in success.
The author also narrates a great deal about his personal life and how he managed to get through some of his most difficult and stressful periods with the support and encouragement of his family and friends. Particular emphasis is given to his wife, politician and journalist Sherry Rehman, whom he credits as being an important bedrock in his achievements.
Although Hussain doesn’t mix business with politics too much in the book, an entrepreneur’s point of view on political events is always fascinating to read because it shows that, like any other citizen, the business community also has its finger on the pulse of the nation where a volatile environment could become a make-or-break situation for them and their companies.
Thus, some of the most interesting segments in the narrative are Hussain’s considerations of the political situation in Pakistan post 9/11, with the Gen Pervez Musharraf era, the lawyers’ movement, the return from exile of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her subsequent assassination.
The basic takeaway from reading A Bank is Born is the emphasis on not resting on your laurels, but to go out and find the next big thing. It’s always vitally important for entrepreneurs to find the next breakthrough that will be a game-changer. At the moment, Hussain is doing just that with his latest venture, Planet N, which aims to be a catalyst for a new wave in technology entrepreneurship in Pakistan.
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch famously said that if you don’t come to the office every day with a new and innovative idea, you really don’t have a company. Ironically, Polish Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg’s saying that “those who do not move, do not notice their chains” can also be applicable to a free enterprise environment, where innovation is always the key. That’s certainly the message of A Bank is Born, a well-written book which should be read by people who wish to push beyond their boundaries and chase their dreams.
No success story in business has ever come about without taking risks and, as Hussain’s book shows, the greater the risk undertaken, the greater the achievement.
The reviewer is a writer and journalist. His interests include history, politics, music, literature and cinema. He can be contacted at email@example.com and tweets @razmat
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, April 2nd, 2023
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