Achieving the American Dream
By Imran H. Khan
Pervaiz and Almas Lodhie: Embodiment of the American dream
Have you ever been captivated by the occasion or seen someone who has? For if you have then you will know that the mind can take you into a realm and reveal a reality that is beyond comprehension and logic. When we are witnesses to such instances it is as if the person being observed is frozen in motion and held in a graceful poise in the midst of their actions as the calmness of their demeanor and the complete absorption of their thoughts and emotions encapsulate the moment into a single unified whole. This is the point at which the definitive junctures of truth and the synopses of one’s life marry in harmonious union and immortalize names into the books of history and implant memories into the generations that have yet to come. The strength of that union and hence the immortality of one’s essence is proportionally dependent on the truth of one’s life and the depth of the synopsis.
Standing ready before an expectant audience Pervaiz Lodhie knew that he was at that very conjuncture. It was the 25th year celebration of the firm (LEDtronics) he co-founded with his wife, Almas. However, in amongst the celebration, the speeches, the laughter, the food and the drink it was the time to finally consecrate the two aspects of Mr. Lodhie’s life in an emotional biographical oration. Pervaiz Lodhie held the hands of his guests and walked them through the journey of his life. He began with his role as the son of not only his parents, nation and culture but the adopted nation he has called home for 40 plus years. He played the role of a brother to his siblings but learnt in his newfound home to become a brother to all of mankind. He married a devoted woman and thus found himself not only a wife but a partner, friend and confidant that he could depend on with his life. He eventually became a father both to his family and the firm that he founded. He could then nurture his business and build his family all under God’s grace. A truly wonderful approach, balanced in proportion, yet rich in substance.
It was at this precise time in the evening’s event that one could clearly identify in Mr. Lodhie the countenance of realization that the virtues of success and accomplishment had manifested their value and worth in the disguise of distinguished guests, noble personalities and his employees, all paying homage to the feats of the man himself.
The list of dignitaries was impressive as a few of the household names in attendance will testify such as Dr. Naseem Ashraf, a former Pakistani minister, chair of the PCB and NCHD had flown in just for the occasion, the impervious nonchalant Najeeb Ghauri, CEO and founder of NetSol, the Pakistani Consulate and government was represented by the very congenial yet sagacious Syed Ibne Abbas, the local congress people could not attend in person but sent substitutes that communicated their commendations and presented awards. Even the FBI recognized Pervaiz’s contributions to their respective advisory boards, the local community, and the nations that he held so dear to his heart.
However, the most important and veracious comments were made in private by the LEDtronics staff and representatives who had traveled as far afield as the UK to be in attendance. Pervaiz Lodhie played the gracious host till the end and declared rightly that he felt the evening belonged not just to the Lodhies but also to all his staff and representatives.
So after a hard emotional night of recollection, celebration and tears, Pervaiz Lodhie managed to find time and invite me to sit down with him and explore the journey and the path that he took to get him to this point.
I began by engaging him on the phenomenal success that he had enjoyed with LEDtronics, what the underlying reasons were for the success it has experienced.
“Well the business of LEDtronics came about 25 years ago in our kitchen when my wife and I decided to establish a business around an industry and product I knew well and had worked with before. I knew how LED’s worked and I had worked previously with my brother in another firm that I had co-founded with him and his wife. So I knew that what we had would almost revolutionize the world of lightening and although it was a tough start we created the firm LEDtronics in our kitchen and specialized in the design, manufacture and packaging of LED products. I am a packaging engineer; I put things together so I could really have made any type of business succeed because I followed the proper rules for business and planned well.”
I wanted to know if this process of establishing his own firm was the culmination of experience and insight that he had gained when working with his brother.
“In 1972 my elder brother who was an electronics genius started a company. I was the expert of all things mechanical and his wife was responsible for administration. We created display products and indicators. Also we had an automotive facility in Karachi and I actually went back to Karachi to run the facility in 1976 to around 1980. It was a highly volatile era so I sold the business and went back to the US to rejoin my brother. On my return to the US I unfortunately found a much politicized atmosphere at the company and decided to leave. After leaving I asked myself what I wanted to do next and I instantly knew it had to be something I was good at. I had made lights with my brother and so I started to make low energy light sources with my wife and we started this in our kitchen. You know on starting this business I wanted to be the GE of the light bulb industry and now GE is one of our largest buyers. Obviously this success has not come overnight. We have systematically created a foundation upon which we have continuously built. But the foundation has been strong and that’s important.”
It seemed as if there was quite clearly a very strong moral philosophy that was the driving force behind this success. So I wanted to know if the desired goals at inception had been achieved and what was the next area of focus.
“We spent some ten years to get the company to where it is now. Initially we set our sights on becoming global and huge. You know nature does miracles for you when you are set on doing something. However, in the last 25 years my company has remained fairly small but is doing business with some of the biggest companies in the world. We have helped create wealth which can amount to billions of dollars for my customers and that in turn has created jobs. So in reality we managed to achieve much more than I could have initially planned or set as an objective. I would like to think that I am a process pioneer; an innovator who has and will continue to create jobs and opportunities for people globally.”
What project or service has he been involved in that really stood out?
“Twenty-five years is a long time and every single order and transaction is as important as another. From making small LED components for fighter planes to JFK airport testing our street lighting system, these are examples of a very successful and obviously very good product that has developed good credibility and demand. I would also like to mention that one of the things that I am also very proud of is that I played a small yet significant role in the Energy Bill that President Bush signed in 2007. Congresswoman Jane Harman consulted me on this issue and I gave my input and changes were made. The Bill will in effect enforce by 2015 that no filament bulbs are to be used. Filament bulbs currently waste around 95% of the energy they consume and only utilize around 5% for the light you see. The conversion to fluorescent or CFL lightening will give you 60% more light using the same energy. However, the eventual conversion to LED lights will see the biggest changes as LEDs use 1/3 of the power of fluorescents whilst providing as much if not more light. This decreases light pollution and the amount of energy that is ultimately wasted.”
Pervaiz was extremely animated and consumed by his passion for all things LED and their effect on the environment, health and cost. I know that passion is definitely a base ingredient for any entrepreneur and when that is compiled with a healthy concern for the world it can only lead to greater innovations and discoveries. Thus I wanted to explore the character and the history of the man to identify where and when these qualities were imbued into his personality and essence. I asked him to reflect upon his upbringing and his younger years and what he experienced.
“My family like many of millions of families at the time of partition migrated to Pakistan in 1947 from Delhi and settled predominantly in the Punjab and Karachi regions. I was only three years old at that time so I don’t remember too much but I know that my four elder siblings and I by all accounts were very fortunate to have made it out alive and all together. I remember my brother recalling an incident where prior to our departure from Delhi I was standing on our garden or house wall and shouting as loud as my little lungs would allow me that ‘we are going to Pakistan… we are going to Pakistan’ over and over again until my elders grabbed hold of me and gave me a right telling off. I suppose looking back in hindsight it was not the best of times or ways to be advertising such news.
”However, once in Karachi we settled in well I received a predominantly technical education at one of the best schools in Asia - the Bai Virbaiji Soparivala Parsi High School. The school was very heavy on practicality as a teaching method and thus I gained some valuable experience before going to study at the DJ Science College.
”So it was kind of inevitable that I would end up as a 3rd generation engineer. My grandfather was a civil railroad engineer and my father was an automotive engineer. So I grew up in a very technical orientated environment. It was a natural line of interest for me. However, the real lessons that I learnt were more to do with moral and ethical values that both my father and grandfather really showed me as opposed to just preaching them. They both worked hard and never sought any handouts. We moved to Pakistan with nothing so we had to really work hard to build everything backup. I remember my grandfather was offered the equivalent positions and even wealth as he had in India but he refused and worked his way back up the ladder. So I learnt by example and although we had pretty much everything required I always had to find ways to generate my own pocket money, which really taught me how to be an entrepreneur and become self-sufficient. So I worked and made entrepreneurship a way of life. I remember making spinning tops, toys, aquariums and even fixing broken bikes. These are the experiences that taught me how to be practical, innovative and productive. From these skills I learnt to become a problem solver and so learnt to love fixing and making things. Applying innovation and seeing it work provided further inspiration for more work. So I think my future was taking shape at an early age and I was probably learning the necessary skills without realizing it at that time. Also a very strange yet fortunate turn of events really changed the course of my life. I was transferring to NED in 1963 but was by incidental chance introduced to one of the real tycoons of the wool and yarn industry in Pakistan and they were selling to an international market so they produced the best of the best material available. I was around 23 years of age and asked to set up and manage a whole woolen yarn production unit. This was responsibility beyond my expectation and hope at that time. However, looking back it turned out to be a great experience and really enhanced my own talent for production and innovation.”
Reflecting upon Pervaiz Lodhie’s earlier life one could clearly decipher that fate had prepared him for his destiny and that Pakistan had been a good breeding ground. So I wanted to know how prepared he was for the next and most crucial stage of his life, the move to the US and how he found the whole experience, now that he could with some nostalgia look back upon that period.
“Well it was my elder brother Qamar (an electronics engineer) who was already in the United States who asked me to move over to the US and complete my education. So without much persuasion due to the lore of the US I set off in1967 and arrived directly in LA. Initially I enrolled at the Pasadena City College but soon after transferred to California State University to study for a BS in mechanical engineering. I can recall that even then I studied very hard during the day and then worked nights to pay my way in the stock room of Burroughs Corp. preparing kits, accounts and inventory. This was an excellent experience as it initiated me into a hard work ethic mentality for which the US was renowned. Looking back I can say quite clearly that the American dream is essentially all about hard work and effort, which will eventually translate into the material success that most people are seeking. I think I found these principles to be very true here. When I now reflect back upon the era I can describe a time of great innovation and entrepreneurship that really inspired me. I think I was very fortunate to be in California as Northern California was and still is the pioneering hub of technology and that effect trickled down to southern California before dispersing to the rest of the US society and then onto the world. California had and still has some of the best academic institutes, companies and people from all over the world. A large number of those people happen to be from the subcontinent and they have a great rolein building places such as the Silicon Valley and thus creating and living their own American dreams. People are now beginning to worry about the downturn in the economic cycle and the stagnancy of the high-tech industry in the US, but one thing I can see is that this is a cyclical boom and bust trend which is going through a low period but the next one we have to be prepared for is going to be the growth of ‘nano-technology’ which will reinvigorate not only California but the entire US and thus the world.”
Pervaiz Lodhie had it seems timed his immigration to the US impeccably and thus had been witness to an era of real economic growth, technological progress and human development. So I wanted to know what had changed since the time he arrived till now.
“A lot has changed there is no doubt. Even though I saw the cracks and weaknesses of American society beginning to appear when I first arrived, I was shocked to see the amount of disrespect teachers suffered at the hands of their students and society, which refused to acknowledge the value and importance of their role. Other issues that really alarmed me as I was coming from Pakistan was the treatment of the elderly. We would never even dream of neglecting our elders in the way it has become common and now socially accepted to almost abandon them in the twilight years of their lives. People have begun to neglect the values of hard work, commitment, faith and family for a very care free, irresponsible and easy life. The people who made this nation great did not imbue these values and therefore, their hard work and sacrifice for the nation is being washed away slowly by a generation that is becoming socially reclusive and less responsible for their actions. It’s not their fault entirely either because I think it’s tougher today to achieve the American dream than before. This has been due to the legislators and bureaucrats failing to understand the onset of globalization and information age. In many ways capitalism has gone too far, too quickly. The concept of ‘my brother’s keeper’ is, it seems, no longer viable anymore. So a certain segment of society, especially the middle class, younger generations, immigrants and minorities has become disillusioned. The nation’s responsibility to its society has failed because corporate greed has in fact hijacked the nation. If you jut look at the phenomenal rate at which off-shoring and the transfer of manufacturing jobs has increased in proportion to the number of those jobs being created in the US we can see that the quality of living is beginning to fall and the average American is left to suffer and so his American dream is becoming a nightmare. Doing business with China, for example, is actually costing business more than what it would do if they stayed in the US. Intellectual Property Rights are being violated, cheaper, and in some cases, inferior competitors are beginning to emerge that can undercut US firms and thus impact the US economy directly. So things have changed in the last 30 years but it’s only because of corporate greed and the lack of foresight by our governmental administrators.”
It was interesting to note that for somebody who had emigrated from Asia he felt so strongly about the perceived zero sum economics of China’s growth at the expense of the American economy. I thought there may have been a slight irony in Mr. Lodhie’s statement. So I wanted to clarify my comprehension of his views and thus sought to clarify his position further and ask him if he resented the growth that China was experiencing and if he felt any pride or loyalty in witnessing the emergence of the Asian bloc as a viable alternative power in global economics.
“What I am essentially stating is not that the emergence of China is a harmful or bad thing. In fact a counter weight to the US economy is required to create competition and stimulate the global economy. So in no way am I against the Chinese or their development. As someone with Asian heritage I am proud to see the emergence of an Asian nation, it can only help the growth and development of the region. I am just stating some very obvious blunders by the US governments and corporations that have affected the standards of living and the economy here in the US. This is an observation not really an opinion or belief. If you look at the facts then you will see quite clearly that the Chinese and the Indians have experienced sizeable growth and progress in proportion to the success enjoyed by their respective expatriate communities, who have done very well whilst residing and working abroad predominantly in Western countries. These communities have directly influenced the growth of their nations through their intellectual and economic contributions. They have a certain degree of nationalism which is a real driving factor behind their phenomenal development. These communities have and are giving back through a sense of ‘duty of care’ and their home nations are accepting their contributions with great gratitude and thus a whole culture of mutual respect and dependency has stimulated change and progress. When we compare this to the Pakistani community this level of cooperation and desire is not so obvious. We are not as patriotic or desperate to contribute from here, and they over in Pakistan are equally not so approachable or receptive to our ideas and expertise. So we need to slowly but surely rectify this situation and build the bridges and understanding that countries like China and India have done between their expatriate communities.
”Personally speaking I always wanted to give back to Pakistan! I have done whatever has been in my power to help and I have personally been a part of a number of initiatives just as the NCHD and other projects that have sought to provide education, health care and alleviate poverty.”
With regards to the NCHD project, I had become aware of the Pakistan government’s intention to shut the project down and thus waste a lot of time, effort and money of the people and the previous government involved. This was a move that would hardly endear expatriate Pakistanis to support any further projects in Pakistan. So what was going on and what did Mr. Lodhie feel about this.
“Well the facts are clear and they justify the position of the people involved including myself. I along with a number of very highly talented, motivated and successful people like Najeeb Ghauri decided to invest a great deal of our own personal time, effort and capital into an initiative called the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) under the direction and leadership of a very successful doctor who had established himself in this country and was a recognized personality at all levels, Dr Naseem Ashraf. The NCHD was established to fight poverty, establish a platform from which basic education would be made available to all and provide health care for the millions who live in abject poverty in Pakistan. All the facts are available for viewing, including our accomplishments, programs and even our accounts, donations and spending records at: http://www.nchd.org.pk/ws/. So for those who want the facts please visit the website. Anyhow the initiative has done so well that in 2006 UNESCO awarded NCHD the UNESCO ‘International Reading Association Literacy Prize for its National Literacy Program’. NCHD has gone on to partner with such organizations as UNICEF, UNDP, Bill &Melinda Gates foundations etc… the list goes on. So the NCHD has been recognized at the highest levels of global governance and therefore audited, monitored and is accountable to not just the national government of Pakistan but global bodies that monitor its progress and operations. However, this has not proven to be enough for some politically motivated operators in Pakistan who have obviously used their irrevocable differences and political wrangling with the previous Musharaff regime to attack this great program and invent ludicrous charges of corruption and malpractice against my partners and myself. They have out of their own greed and jealousy sought to destroy a great program that has received a great deal of funding and support and has achieved real tangible results. So all I can say is that at present a number of programs are being shut down, a certain amount of funding has been withheld but we are in negotiations with the incumbent regime to resolve this abysmal situation and continue this great work. Once we have our day in front of the concerned parties and the public the pathetic nature of the charges and the baseless arguments of the accusers will be challenged and proven scandalous and even slanderous. I am in no doubt as to this fact! It is precisely such vindictive and envious behavior which is responsible for our woes. The Indians and Chinese are doing well because they support such initiatives and then create ten more to build upon and consolidate what they have achieved thus far. However, we here in the US are taking all the measures to make sure this situation is resolved. We have contacted around 20 Congress members who are supporting our position and have penned a letter to the Pakistani government to make their stance known. The rights and opportunities that we were fortunate enough to create and become a part of will continue to be provided and given to the Pakistani population who are again the victims of a select few whose interests are selfish and extremely short-sighted.”
Obviously this is a high profile case that has the possibility of rendering the already conducted work of NCHD as null and void. However, a greater concern that I foresaw was the tarnishing of reputations and credibility of characters and personalities in their native nations. So in light of what Pervaiz Lodhie had experienced would he continue to invest his time and effort in a nation which was proving slightly ungrateful to his efforts.
“I am an engineer by trade and I want to build and make things work. One faces many challenges in life and you don’t get to where I have by giving up so easily. I see a problem and then I find solutions. I am in the lighting business to provide light. So I know I have a lot to offer Pakistan and I will be doing that off my own back. I want to bring solar powered lighting to villages in Pakistan. I am very positive that this is a great opportunity to help the Pakistani infrastructure develop ahead of its time in terms of economic and environmental implications. I am partnering with a number of key personal and have identified a number of villages in southern Pakistan where we will be providing LED lighting and solar powered capabilities to help the villagers garner their own source of power. We want to encourage people and especially those residing here to invest in their villages. We will provide the capabilities to make it happen. This is a partnership program that will benefit the nation village by village and the investors who will see growth and development of their nation.”
As the interview drew to a close I wanted Pervaiz Lodhie to sum up the lessons he had learnt over his life and what could he parlay to budding entrepreneurs, leaders or people looking for change in their own fortunes.
“I have learnt in the 25 years of my business that miracles happen when you take the first step. When we started our business in our home I promised my wife that our business was for family and the family would never be sacrificed for the business. I made this vow 25 years ago and I have yet to break it. I still go home 4.30pm every day! I have three grownup children and I wanted to instill a sense of family and priority in their psychological and social makeup that you must always know what is important and what should and what cannot be sacrificed. Family is a central institute that must be protected and nurtured. Then the virtues of hard work, honesty and perseverance will always pull you through. Always remember that most people give up when it gets tough. The lesson really is that this is the moment of opportunity and if you can see that through then you will find that miracles begin to happen and the success you crave comes running to you. Many people forget that these are the very lessons of Islam that we have forgotten. We have turned this great Islam into a ritualized set of actions and forgotten its moral, ethical and philosophical teachings. We have no real role models that we can follow as a society and are proud of. So I would just say that we need to practice Islam for success and implement the essential teachings of honesty and humanity. You need to realize and understand that only hard work will pay and that an unselfish attitude with no animosity or negativity towards anyone will make you a better person and that is the real success that anyone can truly hope to achieve.”
The interview was over and I was left in a very humbled state of mind. Pervaiz Lodhie had in effect not said anything that I had not heard before. These are the very lessons preached to me by my parents and I am in no doubt by every other parent from all walks of life. However, Pervaiz Lodhie’s life taught me something that I would definitely aspire to and would recommend to my children. The twin set values of keeping perspective and balance when striving to achieve excellence and rising to the top of any ladder. In the world today we are often negligent of the most important things and they are usually the dearest and closest assets we possess. These can be summarized as our families, our values and our faith. One should exceed expectations and always aim for perfection but remain within the limits and values that ordain humanitarian concerns, ethical behavior and moral considerations for all. Pervaiz Lodhie has certainly succeeded in achieving a balance that has worked for him.