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Market-driven modern business practices

March 03, 2013

BUSINESSES have multiplied their fortunes many times over in the past two decades. They attribute their huge gains to their investment in technology, modernisation and higher productivity.

If their enviable success failed to lift the dismal GDP growth rate, it was not their fault, they said.

"We are doing well, posting growth, declaring dividends and branching out to explore new business possibilities in domestic and regional markets.

"All this materialised because we embraced the required change. In the last 20 years local firms invested substantially more in modernisation than they ever did before", a business leader boasted.

Most of the media houses, banks, health facilities, fertiliser, drug, auto, cement, surgical, sports, food, electrical, engineering and textile companies have transformed completely.

"The communication technology, in particular, has touched the remotest corners of the country’s business landscape. Yes, there are a number of factors such as size, geographical location, access to credit, etc., that influence the decision about application of technology, but the value of modernisation is universally recognised ", a textile tycoon from Lahore told Dawn.

"Technological advancement did not get the attention it deserved from the policymakers but the private sector was forced to transform their businesses to handle the market calls", said a cement maker.

The dividends of technological applications were also reflected in the trade data. Except for a few odd years, it rose on an average by over 15 per cent in the first 10 years from 1993 to 2003, gained momentum in the next ten years from 2003 to 2013 to grow on an average by over 20 per cent annually. For the last two years, exports have been growing by over 25 per cent. This is despite slow GDP expansion.

Shafqat Hussain Naghmi, the federal industries secretary, acknowledged the progress made but did not find it satisfactory. "Yes, the industry has covered some distance but we have a long way to go".

Referring to auto sector, he blamed the government policy that shielded auto makers from competition for too long. "It is competition that drives businesses to invest in technology and intangibles such as good management practices and research to improve the quality of the product.

"Look at the locally produced cars. I believe local customers deserve better. They are not getting value for their money. Some redundant models are produced and sold by major auto brands", he made his point over telephone from Islamabad.

Khalid A. Mirza, member Competition Appellate Tribunal, believed that businesses did invest in modernisation and reaped its benefits. He believed the trend of modernisation in businesses got a boost from young professionals educated abroad "I know for a fact that a whole new crop of businessmen have entered the arena over the past two decades. They are engaged in all kinds of businesses ready to test innovative techniques and ideas in the market", he said.

"For, business problems are also opportunities. High risk promises higher returns. It is not an accident that countries like Indonesia and Nigeria attract world investors more than Finland and Denmark", he made his point.

Because of bureaucratic hassles, another expert felt that the rate of success and growth in the parallel economy was higher. "Instead of facilitating, the government obstructs businesses at every step. Many young professionals are opening their shops in Dubai to serve Pakistani market. They find dealing with ignorant babus and greedy politicians too taxing", he said.

CEO of Engineering Board, Ibadullah Qazi, was critical of foreign companies in joint ventures with Pakistani partners who fail to deliver on their promise of the technology transfer. "We want to make Pakistan a workshop of the region", he told Dawn from Islamabad.

He informed that the board is negotiating with a number of companies to attract high value investment in the country. "We are hopeful that some groups already in Pakistan will increase their stakes substantially. There is a group that is contemplating to invest $650 million in the chemical sector. There are many more evaluating options".

Chairman of Atlas Group of Industries, Yousuf Shirazi, lamented the tendency to underrate every aspect of Pakistan's economy. "In the last 20 years, the auto sector grew as we invested in plant expansion and modernisation. All three big companies — Honda, Toyota and Suzuki — shared the bliss. Today we are producing not just for domestic market, my two wheelers are exported to Singapore, Nepal and some African countries", he said.

"Huge investments were made in balancing, modernisation and replacement in the textile sector. We have some of the most modern textile plants in the country. There are certain categories where our textiles products give competitors a run for their money", a textile tycoon in Karachi commented.