guru

Translating vision into reality

By: Ahmed Chinoy
Published: July 11, 2016
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Pakistan has no dearth of super-rich, influential and powerful business gurus, but only a few have managed to eclipse their products or companies to become a brand in their own right. In that sense, Aqeel Karim Dhedhi — chairman and CEO of the AKD Group — falls in that tiny category of individuals who are larger than their corporate entity.
Opinion may vary whether it’s good or not for a business leader to transcend to the level of becoming a brand in himself. But there are a number of examples in modern business history when, by design or default, entrepreneurs did manage to accomplish this — from John D Rockefeller to Warren Buffett to Steve Jobs to Bill Gates.
Of course, Aqeel Karim Dhedhi or AKD, as he is popularly known, is a top-gun in the universe called Pakistan — if not on the global scale. He is not just a familiar face within the community of business people, industrialists, government officials but also among ordinary Pakistanis. Those Pakistanis who have nothing to do with the share market, trading, real estate and infrastructure development and construction business, oil and gas exploration, venture funds — even they know something about AKD who holds business stakes in a diverse set of businesses, including, those I just mentioned above.
I can say without exaggeration that AKD remains the most recognised and familiar face and name of the business community, not just in Karachi but in all the large urban centres of Pakistan. As his cousin, my association with him starts from childhood.
However, my friendship started with him around 25 years back when I stepped into the practical world. AKD had already become ‘Aqeel Bhai’ – the brand – by that time. He always treated me as a younger brother. We have worked together on many fronts – business and trade, philanthropy and community service — and in every encounter I learnt something from him.

Even today, I can recall his fondness of cricket as a naughty child, teenager and young man. He would spend hours at the Hill Park’s mini-golf course practising his shots when he was in his late teens and early 20s. Most of his acquaintances and friends at that time were much older than him. But he would get along with them with ease. As a young man — tall, lean and well-built — AKD was fun-loving, adventurous and a risk-taker.
Although AKD has gained weight since the days when he used to race around his Vespa scooter on the streets of Karachi, he has retained his sense of fun, adventure and risk-taking (One of the defining traits of his style of business is risk-taking). AKD’s love for speeding motorbike resulted in a serious accident in 1974. However, his sense of adventure and taking risks never diminished over the years. I have seen him jumping the closed gate of the cricket stadium in Lahore during the 1996 World Cup final to watch Sri Lanka’s encounter with Australia.
It was the same match in which Imran Khan’s former wife — Jemima Khan — got surrounded by a mob but AKD made the full use of his height and massive built to keep the crowd away from her.
Born in 1956 in Karachi, AKD is the seventh of nine siblings. His father, Haji Abdul Karim Dhedhi migrated to Karachi in 1947 and was a leading Memon businessman of his time. And AKD took plunged into the world of business as a boy of 16 — just as many scions of the Memon community do. He learnt the initial ropes of the export business from his elder brother Haji Ghaffar Dhedhi. From that point on, the sky was the limit.

Nowhere in the world are people arrested or companies persecuted because of a research report

Born in 1956 in Karachi, AKD is the seventh of nine siblings. His father, Haji Abdul Karim Dhedhi migrated to Karachi in 1947 and was a leading Memon businessman of his time. And AKD took plunged into the world of business as a boy of 16 — just as many scions of the Memon community do. He learnt the initial ropes of the export business from his elder brother Haji Ghaffar Dhedhi. From that point on, the sky was the limit.
Beginners luck did not last forever, though, and AKD sustained some heavy losses on his speculative buying in the cotton exchange market. His father came to the rescue. That episode proved to be a learning experience, and AKD’s older brother and father remain the biggest influences on him. He says he learnt the art of business from them — and then, of course, he took it to the next level.
AKD entered the stock market between 1980 and 1984 after venturing into a host of businesses, including property and real estate. By then he was already being seen as an emerging guru. The share market of the 1980s and 1990s did not have many checks and balances – as we do now — to avoid a crash or prevent kind, but humble and forgiving as well. He doesn’t hold malice against anyone for long — not even his enemies. At the same time, AKD is very competitive.
Earlier this year, he came under a lot of pressure when the FIA arrested Chief Executive of the AKD Securities and two directors. These gentlemen were falsely accused when the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution invested Rs350 million in a textile company in 2010; the FIA falsely contends that AKD Securities abetted crime. Nowhere in the world are people arrested or companies persecuted because of a research report which rivalry. At his end, AKD is bearing all these pressures and at the same time expanding his business empire. Even in this crisis, AKD has never opted for negative tactics or abandoned his positive mindset.
Another quality, which is rare among business people over here, is AKD’s refusal to give bribes for business operations. Bribes, commissions and kickbacks are not his cup of tea. He pays the market price for purchases, including real estate, rather than going for allotments.
His recipe for success is simple — brokers and investors from going bust. During those days, AKD used to be the last point of call for brokers who were in the danger of default. He always extended a helping hand to fellow brokers and bailed them out from tight spots.
This quality of helping other clearly contains a disclaimer note (even if its predictions are off the mark). But this personally-motivated case, which is also damaging for the stock market targeted AKD, brokers played a key role in making him ‘Aqeel Bhai’. I can say this with authority that I haven’t seen a more generous soul than him. He is not just generous and who has been dealing with it in the natural stride of things. Similarly, a media group has made AKD a target of sustained malicious propaganda due to business prolonged commitment, hard work, sweat and determination. While AKD is a risk-taker, he is not rash or irresponsible. His strength lies in his excellent decision-making. He knows when to enter and exit the market and the right moment to make the right investment.

Several years ago, we went to perform umrah together and shared a room. Pakistan is three hours ahead from Saudi Arabia. After praying all night, we usually went to sleep early in the morning. That’s the time the Karachi Stock Market gets rolling. I saw Aqeel Bhai making decisions on the telephone almost half-asleep and with closed eyes. Later, when I asked whether he even remembered what shares were bought and sold and at what rate, he would just smile. We both knew that he has a sharp memory. He will never forget a share deal or the name and face of a person he has met even once. That’s the reason his brokerage house is at the top despite being the target of a vilification campaign by a media group.
Few would believe the amount of work AKD does daily. He is not the kind of boss who just sits in the office. He moves around, visiting every floor of his head offices — almost on a daily basis.
AKD likes to remain surrounded by friends. Seldom would one find him alone; and he meets a diverse set of people – not just stock brokers and businessmen but actors, lawyers, journalists, socialites, politicians, civil society and those in need.
While the stock market is AKD’s forte, he has also made it big in real estate. He wants to provide the best and most modern housing facilities in Pakistan. His presence, vision and innovative ideas for the real-estate market is a boon for this industry.
Philanthropy is yet another side to AKD’s personality. Even his business model has a Corporate Social Responsibility angle to it. One of his venture capital funds gives money to youngsters who come up with innovative ideas. This is his way of contributing to Pakistan — by creating jobs and empowering individuals by providing them resources.
AKD does a lot of charitable work — quietly, and without making a fuss — supporting various organisations. At the Memon community-level, he was the president of the Kutiyana Memon Association, which operates a number of social work projects, including the KMA Schools and Kutiyana Memon Hospital. AKD did not just help set it up but also looks after its operations. He has also built two secondary schools under the banner of this association, providing education to more than 3,000 students.
AKD remains associated with some renowned charitable organisations, including Shaukat Khanam Memorial Hospital, Indus Hospital, Resource Development Committee of Aga Khan University Hospital and the World Memon Organization.

“One of AKD’s venture capital funds gives money to youngsters who come up with innovative ideas. This is his way of contributing to Pakistan”

AKD believes in rule of law and is an active member of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee’s (CPLC) advisory board. His thinking, valuable ideas and concepts helped CPLC fight crime, including kidnapping for ransom — the biggest challenge for Karachi’s business community.
Former president Pervez Musharraf awarded AKD the Sitara-e-Esaar — a prestigious civilian award — for his philanthropic work for victims of the devastating earthquake of October 2005.
Despite all his business and social engagements, in his heart, AKD remains a family man. His four daughters are his life and he makes sure he has time for his family every day.
It is difficult to sum up a man of AKD’s stature in an article. I can offer only a glimpse of this multi-dimensional man whose story is still in the making. I am sure that someone, someday will write an in-depth and much more incisive account of the days and times of AKD — the man, the philanthropist and the businessman.

 

About the Author
Ahmed Chinoy
is a prominent businessman and the former CPLC chief in Pakistan. He is also a member of various educational trusts and societies which strive to impart quality education to the upcoming generations.