Lahore University of Management Sciences

The Success Story of Shahzad Saleem, CEO of Nishat Chunian

May 18, 2012

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Shahzad Saleem graduated on the Dean’s Honour List in 1989 from LUMS and laid the foundation of Nishat Chunian Limited as a spinning factory in 1990. The company has grown from a single spinning factory to a composite textile mill with sales of PKR 20 billion in 2010. It is now the 4th largest textile company in Pakistan.

In 2009 Nishat Chunian ventured into private power generation and set up a new project of 200 megawatt capacity to sell electricity to the national grid. The power company is 51% owned by the textile company and both are listed on the stock exchange. Shahzad and his younger brother, also a LUMS graduate, manage these two companies.

Nishat Chunian is amongst one of the best performing textile companies in Pakistan and has never declared a loss in its 20 year history. Shahzad believes that LUMS has made a huge contribution in whatever he has achieved.  Here is what Shahzad had to say about his journey from LUMS to Nishat Chunian.

You were from the earliest batches at LUMS; what made you choose this new institution?

It's probably fate. I was born in Karachi, did all my schooling in PAF Model School and then I went to D.J. Science College for two years. I wanted to go into engineering but realised in two years that it did not interest me. Hence I joined B.Com in Government Commerce College, Karachi.

While at Government Commerce College, I discovered my passion for accounting. In Karachi we used to have board exams for first and second year. The first year covered the quantitative subjects.  When the results were announced I was shocked to find out that I secured first position in Karachi in the boys group and an overall third position. I found it hard to believe as I never had such an amazing result in my life. I realised that I was a number cruncher. This was proved correct in the second year because I secured thirteenth or fourteenth position in Karachi since all the subjects were qualitative.

As I enjoyed accounting, I decided to go for an MBA and the obvious choice at that time was IBA Karachi. Getting into IBA was very difficult therefore I applied for admission into IBA and LUMS. I did not know much about LUMS but applied as a backup. I cleared the test for IBA and was called for the interview. At the same time I got the interview call from LUMS as well. The interview for admission into LUMS was held at Packages Ltd. office in Karachi by Syed Babar Ali, Abdul Razak Dawood, Javed Hamid, Yusuf Shirazi, Ehsan ulHaq and Waseem Azhar. I got accepted in both LUMS and IBA.

During this time, I visited Lahore for a family wedding and went to see the facilities at LUMS and also met some students from the first batch. The visit proved to be instrumental in my decision to opt for LUMS. The law and order situation in Karachi was quite bad in late 80s and this was also one of the factors which made me choose LUMS. I wrote a regret letter to IBA which created quite a ripple there. People could not believe it as only 29 people were admitted in class of ’89 at IBA and I was one of them and had refused.

It turned out to be a very good decision for me.

Please share with us your experiences as a student at LUMS.

It has been an interesting journey with LUMS. The institution has made a huge contribution in whatever I have achieved. The earlier days in LUMS were very stimulating because we had very close interaction with the professors, the classes were much smaller, and there were lots of debates and discussions which helped develop my thinking process and had a positive impact on my personality.

I believe the Class of ’89 is the best class to graduate from LUMS in many respects. Our class was very instrumental in developing PLUMS, a publication which has now grown to a society. The first drama was also done by the class of ’89. I was the official photographer for DRAMALINE and PLUMS. The Class of ’89 was a unique class in the sense that we had a lot of heated debates on more or less everything but at the end of the day we all were very close friends. I was very lucky because there were a lot of number oriented courses and I felt very comfortable with that. In my opinion the most enjoyable part of my 16 years education was at LUMS. The subjects which I found very difficult were HR & OB, I found it very difficult to read the cases, but somehow I managed to do that. The Finance and Accounting Courses were a treat for me. We had amazing teachers like Salman Shah, Wasif Khan, Waseem Azhar and Zahoor Hasan.

What in your opinion makes the LUMS student different or special?

When I was in LUMS, we were given so much work to do that it seemed impossible to complete at times. It seemed impossible at the start, but we understood later that it was possible. So, the first thing I learned at LUMS was that everything is possible!

I was reading a magazine from the Harvard Business School a few years ago which had interviews from various alumni. One of the alumni said, you have 24 hours in a day, and Harvard teaches you how to use all of them. While reading that comment I thought about LUMS and how it was very similar to Harvard in this respect.
But LUMS today is quite different from the time when I was there. It was very personal in those days; it was a small place. We were setting up new societies, there were lots of debates, discussions, there was exchange of ideas, and people learned to respect other’s point of views.

The LUMS of today is a well-known brand; people think that getting into LUMS is the key to success, not working hard or seeking knowledge. In those days there was a lot of passion and energy in the students and this is what I see lacking today.

You are an alumnus, member and former president of the Alumni Association, and  now in the LUMS Board of Trustees. Please tell us about your journey with LUMS.

I feel very passionate about the idea of setting up a business school which is a non-profit organisation and helping people like me get a world class education. I never applied for a loan or took any grant from LUMS but I still felt that it was a great effort by people like Syed Babar Ali and other members of the Board of Trustees involved in the initial setup of LUMS. It’s important that you pay back to the society otherwise the system cannot function properly.

When I graduated from LUMS I wanted to be part of this setup so we started an Alumni Association, tried to get people together and do some activities. It continued for a few years, then everyone got very busy and unfortunately the idea fizzled out. Then after 15 years, Dr. Shaukat Brah, former Dean SDSB at LUMS, initiated this idea and the association was set up again. In 2001 our class got together and decided to sponsor a student every year in LUMS. For this we needed PKR 4.5 million every year to sponsor a student in perpetuity. We worked together and raised that money, thus setting up the first, Class of ’89 Scholarship Fund in 2001-2002.

When the association was being setup, I was elected as the first vice president of the renewed Alumni Association and the next year I became the president. Mr. RazakDawood helped us in raising almost PKR 60 million through alumni willing to donate generously for naming opportunities. Then on its 20-year reunion, the class of ’89 donated another PKR 7 million.

Now I am on the Board of Trustees of LUMS which is a great honour for me. I hope to continue contributing to LUMS in terms of time, money and any other way possible.

You are a successful businessman. What do you think is the key to being a success in today’s world? What do you attribute your success to?

I think the first thing is that a person has to be very humble because achievements speak for themselves. You also have to be extremely hard working as there is absolutely no shortcut. There is no way that a person can succeed without hard work even if he is very smart. So you have to work hard and you have to be humble and respect people.

At the end of the day there is no secret formula, it’s a combination of many things which helps a person to succeed; his education, the ability to work with and motivate people, learn from other people and constantly change. Improvement is a constant process; change is a constant process and in my view the moment  you start believing it’s not required, everything stops. The world is changing, societies change, people are changing, and if you refuse to accept change than you can’t compete in this world.

What is your opinion on the concept of work life balance? Tell us something about  your family and your interests other than work.

It depends on what perspective you have or what is your expectation of a work-life balance as everyone has their own perspective. For me, it's the quality of time which is important and not the quantity which you spend with your family. I graduated at the age of 22 and got married six months later. Something that you don't realise is that time flies fast. When I was initially setting up my business and working very hard I didn't spend enough time with my family. I didn't realise it then, but now I try to spend more time with them. I have an excellent relationship with my parents, wife and children. They understand that I am an ambitious person and I want to do a lot more than just run a company. It’s a delicate balance and there is no right answer. Everyone has to find their own answers and what works best for them and their families.

What role can our alumni play in the success and development of LUMS and what  message would you like to give to the alumni?

First of all, the alumni need to realise that LUMS has made a tremendous contribution to each graduate. They need to understand that it’s a not-for-profit organisation. Giving back to LUMS, in my opinion, is the duty of all alumni and not something which is optional.

The good news is that the alumni are ready to give back to the institution but it’s the question of how we channelise the whole thing. I think that setting up the association is just one step in that direction; there are many other steps that we need to take to increase the interaction. Once you increase the interaction on different levels, people will come back and contribute.

In future, the role of the Alumni Association and the Board of Trustees will be to enable the alumni and the university to work even more closely together in terms of fundraising or advice or taking on various kinds of roles. We are proud of the success of our alumni. There are so many people who have done so well. We need to talk to these people, and I am positive that they would be happy to contribute in one way or the other.

I am extremely impressed by Syed Babar Ali’s commitment to LUMS. He has not only contributed huge sums of money to LUMS but the time he gives to the institution and his passion is amazing. It’s people like him who make a difference in the destiny of a country. The role he has played in setting up LUMS has made a huge difference to the quality of education available in Pakistan.