Chief Executive, LEDtronics,
When did you arrive in the United States and why did you come?
I was born in Delhi, India, and migrated to Pakistan. I left my homeland for further education in March 1967. I wanted to be an engineer. There were maximum educational and business opportunities in the United States to further my education as an engineer that were not available in Pakistan. First, I attended Pasadena City College and then Cal State University, Los Angeles. I completed my bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and worked in partnership with my brother designing electronic indicators.
Did you intend to return to your native country at the time?
At that time, I was focused on creating a light emitting diode company to help support my wife and children in California. However, I always had plans to give back to my homeland what I took out as a brain drain to help the people there. I knew I could do a lot more for my homeland from my newly adopted home.
Do you return to Pakistan now?
Yes. I lead several, philanthropic programs. One is Pehli Kiran, which translates as First Ray of Light. It funds programs that provide educational and health care opportunities to women, men and children of poverty in Pakistan. Another is the Barefoot Basketball Program, a nation-building initiative through team sports. I am also one of the founding directors of the National Commission for Human Development Fund. In addition, starting in 1998, my Karachi Pakistan assembly facility has provided training and jobs to young men and women in labor-intensive skills.
Why did you start your business in the United States instead of your native country?
I am a third-generation engineer. For professionals like myself, there cannot be a better place than the United States. Starting in 1983 as a small two-person manufacturing organization working out of my garage and kitchen with my wife, Almas, I was able to fulfill my vision of creating an LED lighting company in Torrance. It has grown, with sales approaching $20 million, with manufacturing facilities in Torrance and Karachi. If I had not moved to the United States, I would not have had the opportunity to create LEDtronics.
What was the biggest surprise about starting a business in the United States?
There were many people and established organizations ready to help me obtain the education and information I needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Although I was starting a two-person business, I had a large support network in the local community.
Would you tell someone from your native land to start a business there or here?
I would tell them to start a business anywhere they had the opportunity to do so.
What advice would you give someone from there about starting a business here?
America has many opportunities, but know that it always takes time, education and a lot of work to create a successful business anywhere.
Do you go back often?
I do go back at least once a year, but thanks to the digital and cyber age, I stay much more connected and productive in my work here and Pakistan through the Internet.
What was your view of the United States growing up?
It was a place of opportunity and freedom. Sadly, I also saw decay of the family unit, which is extremely important for a healthy society. It is too much a me-first culture.
Did reality match your expectations?
Yes, I was able to far exceed my entrepreneurial and innovation dreams in America.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?
An overseas competitor made a website that was a duplicate of our website, except they inserted their company name wherever ours was. It’s quite funny now, because as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
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