From the founder of an e-discovery firm to restaurateurs, foreign-born business owners explain how they have made it in America.
Founder, Chief Executive and Chairman
NetSol Technologies Inc., Calabasas
When did you arrive in the United States, and why did you come?
I was born in Lahore, Pakistan. I arrived in January 1977 as a student. I attended Eastern Illinois University to get my bachelor’s degree and then stayed, moving to California to get my master’s in business administration at Claremont Graduate School.
Did you intend to return to your native country at the time?
Yes; originally I intended to return back after getting my master’s and some corporate career experience in the U.S.
Do you now?
No; I became a U.S. citizen in 1990 and am settled here with my family.
Why did you start your business in the United States instead of your native country?
By establishing a business here, I have been able to be closer to my home country, in a way. I realized that it would be good to start here and then expand out, even to Pakistan. With my earlier 15 years of corporate experience, I learned a lot about the U.S. system and used that to get started here first before opening up operations in Pakistan.
What does NetSol do in Pakistan?
NetSol has a major development-programming technology campus in Lahore, my native city, which is state of the art with about 600 programmers and engineers working there. They serve our clients worldwide.
What’s the worst thing about starting and running a business in the United States?
High regulation, high taxation and an extremely competitive environment.
What’s the best thing?
You can be what you want to be. If you play by the rules, follow the system, take risks, work hard, and with a little bit of luck, you are bound to succeed without winning any lottery. New ideas, innovation and imagination are encouraged, and people appreciate, recognize and reward you for doing good works.
What were the biggest surprises?
That America is a true land of opportunity. Someone as a foreigner with a modest background and a humble beginning, with determination and positive attitude, can do just as well as any American. One doesn’t need to have a rich background or huge inheritance to become a successful businessman.
What advice would you give someone from your native country about starting a business here?
First, learn and master your knowledge about the way your industry works and the bureaucracy around it. Second, pursue new ideas and imagination that no one else is doing; do different things and create a niche. Third, if you can dream it, you can do it. But you have to work at it, not just dream. Fourth and finally, there is no substitute for hard work. Don’t look for any shortcuts because there aren’t any.
Do you go back to Pakistan often?
My business takes me back home at least three to four times a year. This allows me to keep close to my family there and forge a connection for me and my children to our cultural roots. I believe we must never, never forget our roots and where we came from. And we have to give back in any way, too, either through philanthropy or creating jobs. Our company, along with the United Nations and Gates Foundation, is working with some nongovernmental organizations to help improve literacy and reduce poverty in rural parts of Pakistan.
What was your view of the United States when you were growing up?
The land of opportunity where dreams come true.
Did reality match your expectations?
Yes, and more than that. What my family and I are today is because of America embracing us and providing us with the opportunity to succeed. In 1997, when my wife, Aiesha, and I decided to become entrepreneurs and leave behind our steady careers, I would have never imagined this kind of success today.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?
There are many but the most funny would be us hosting Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in June 2006 for two days for a taping of their “Simple Life” television show. We taught them how to pray as Muslims, in addition to educating them on many of our Pakistani traditions and cultural values.
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