With a large, youth-based work force, an ever-improving telecommunications infrastructure, and government backing business growth, Pakistan is ripe with opportunity for entrepreneurs, said Shoaib Abbasi, ’85, founder and president of Strategic Systems International, who spoke to the Pakistan Club December 10 at Gleacher Center.
This is due in part to the growth of technology in Pakistan, Abbasi said. Even as recently as 1999, “There wasn’t much of a tech industry,” but in the past two to three years, “there has been lots of progress, especially in Islamabad,” he said.
Demand has increased as the U.S. economy improved, with companies looking to Pakistan for partnership opportunities. “There has been huge growth in business process outsourcing,” Abbasi said, referring to call centers, data consulting, and medical transcription services. Systems Solutions began offering software development in 1999 and has expanded to providing labor management to the health care industry.
“There’s opportunity in doing what others can’t get done,” he explained. For example, “Hospitals don’t have someone to do demand forecasting. We can do that. We aren’t taking jobs; we’re filling a need that hasn’t been met.”
While bureaucratic red tape and corruption have been less trouble than expected, Abbasi said “the image issue” remains a challenge. “We can’t escape it,” he said. But the real challenge is the “availability of trained labor.”
He cautioned against hiring family and friends, recommending Pakistani executives hire professional managers even if it means paying top wages. It’s worth it to “be selective and pay better than most,” he said. In Pakistan, it ranges from paying call center workers $12 per day to paying software engineers about $45,000 per year.
Abbasi said the big firms in Pakistan have 300 to 400 employees, with about $12 million in revenue. “In the grand scheme that’s not so big,” Abbasi said. “That’s big in Pakistan.”