Imtiaz Rafi’s top business principles are to honor commitments, treat employees like family, create relationships not just transactions
Interview with Mr Imtiaz Rafi Butt – Chairman, Rafi Group
PAGE: MR IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT, IT IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU, YOU COME FROM AN ESTEEMED FAMILY BACKGROUND, YOUR FATHER WAS A CLOSE ASSOCIATE OF THE QUAID-E-AZAM AND A FINANCIER OF THE PAKISTAN MOVEMENT. YOU YOURSELF HAVE BEEN A PIONEER IN THE FIELD OF REAL ESTATE, A SOCIAL PHILANTHROPIST, A POLITICAL AND HISTORICAL AUTHORITY THROUGH THE JINNAH RAFI FOUNDATION AND HAVE EVEN BEEN LINKED TO MANY POLITICAL FIGURES. HOW WOULD YOU IN YOUR OWN WORDS DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT: Thank you for such a highly flattering description, Allah has been very kind to me and granted a life rich with diverse experiences.
PAGE: TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR FATHER RAFI BUTT?
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT: Rafi Butt died in an airplane crash in 1948, I was two months old at the time. I had never known the man and in fact I discovered him much later in life when I was a young man at the age of 40. After achieving business success I yearned to know who my father was as a person, what he believed in and what he stood for. In my research I came across some letters from Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Rafi Butt buried in the archives. A rich correspondence which eschewed a sense of intimacy between them, which to me was unbelievable. This fortuitous discovery led me on a quest to discover my father and through which I developed a love for Pakistan, A nation he and his colleagues sacrificed so much for. I set up the Jinnah Rafi Foundation in his honor and would frequently gather the still living workers and leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League of that era.
I learned as much about my father as I did about my country. In essence he was a boy who lost his father in 1928 at age 16, went on to form a business empire by the time he was 24. In 1936 by the age of 27 he opened the Central Exchange Bank, which by the way was the first bank owned by a Muslim in undivided India. He answered the Quaid-e-Azam’s call for Muslims to fight the hegemony of the British Raj and the Hindu Economic Domination of India and make our beloved nation a reality. He travelled frequently to Europe and the USA, I might add here that today travelling to the west is commonplace but for an Indian Muslim in the 20’s 30’s and 40’s it was unheard off. His mission from Jinnah required him gathering support for the idea of Pakistan in the political elites of the USA and organizing the import of essential industrial equipment, which would make Pakistan a viable, modern and functioning state. Most people forget that when Pakistan came into existence, everyone else doubted we would survive independently for a year never mind 70. Anyway I could write a book on Rafi and some esteemed scholars have in fact written several books about him.
PAGE: AS I WALK INTO YOUR OFFICE I SEE PHOTOGRAPHS IN THE HALLS OF YOU WITH BOTH NAWAZ SHARIF AND BENAZIR BHUTTO, TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH THESE GIANTS OF PAKISTANI POLITICS AND POLITICS IN GENERAL.
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT: Benazir was a determined and progressive personality. Never wavering, never surrendering. An eloquent speaker and an intellectual beyond reproach. When I met her I become enchanted by the capabilities of Mohtarma. I miss her greatly, Pakistan still has not come to terms with the magnitude of the loss suffered on 27th December 2007. Mohtarma ‘s over all stature at national and international level was a great asset for Pakistan.
I’ve known Nawaz Sharif since 1960, we were in St. Anthony’s school together, we were both young boys less than 10 years old back then and were class mates and good friends for many years. Nawaz always displayed an acumen for politics over business and as you can see Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chose his path well. I vividly remember how we campaigned together for his election to Chief Minister of Punjab in 1985. Nawaz has grown over the years in both stature and acumen. Allah has been very kind to Nawaz and he is a lucky man. Those who don’t know him, whatever his naysayers say about the man, there is no doubt Nawaz Sharif is a patriot and loves his country.
As for the future of politics and Pakistan, I think the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is an opportunity that can yield unbelievable results. It is to the credit of the Pakistani state that CPEC has brought the strategic environment in Pakistan to a stable enough state that China can take this massive venture on Pakistan. The gigantic size of investments and projects will advance Pakistan’s infrastructure and economy by decades. Our strategic location in the world has always been a curse and now it has turned into a blessing. China has chosen Gwadar as the nexus point of its $700 billion New Silk Road. Gwadar will be the focus of the largest infrastructure project in history.
PAGE: WHAT ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY?
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT: I’ve held certain business principles dear to me throughout my life, pay those you owe before they even ask for it, honor your commitments, treat your employees like family, create relationships not just transactions.
PAGE: WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE ECONOMY AND OF RAFI GROUP IN PARTICULAR?
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT: If you look at the world today we are standing at an inflection point in history. The rise of class warfare and racism in the United States. Economic stagnancy and the rise of ultra right wing, anti-immigrant views in Europe, as can be seen by the recent Brexit vote in which the UK decided to commit political suicide rather than continue with to the free movement of immigrants. The development of China, the dipping price of oil, the pivot of the USA towards India. The imminent conflict in the South China Sea and China’s New Silk Road initiative along with the formation of the Chinese led Shanghai Cooperation Organization defense bloc. All these things portend that the old world order is no more and Pakistan is definitely looking like a safe place to invest and a phenomenal place to grow your business.
If you look at the data, demographics, income, growth and CPEC you’ve got a Pakistan that is ready to take off. I already see vibrant economic activity across the whole country and the projects have just begun. According to government statistics 2 million new jobs will be created in the next years. That is a number that even the Americans would be envious off.
I am embracing this opportunity wholly, Rafi Group has launched Green Palms Gwadar, located on the Main Coastal Highway in Gwadar. Green Palms is planned as a world class housing project, which will cater to the millions of people that are and will be moving to Gwadar to take part in Pakistan’s future and the jewel in the crown of China’s $700 billion New Silk Road also known as the One Belt One Road Initiative.
As soon as August 2018 there are major project inaugurations and ground breakings, including the Gwadar International Airport, which by the way is going to be Pakistan’s largest airport. The Chinese officials that I’ve met on my visits to Gwadar are excited to develop this future major city as an international port city, which not only means Pakistan becomes a developed country and a major player in the region but also China will become a two-ocean power, leading to superpower status.
PAGE: GWADAR IS AN EXCITING OPPORTUNITY FOR PAKISTAN, AND I’M GLAD TO SEE EXPERIENCED PEOPLE LIKE YOURSELF AVAIL IT, HOW ARE THE DEVELOPMENTS THERE AND WHAT OTHER PROJECTS YOU HAVE IN THE PIPELINE?
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT: I’m a Lahore and my heart has always been with this city. Rafi Group has always been a pioneering company and we see that Lahore’s growth has been horizontal meaning housing units, this has caused all sorts of administrative and urbanization issues, along with unreasonably expensive housing for an individual of normal means. The time is now for this city with a population of 12 million people to take the path of mega cities around the world and start developing vertically.
However I am very focused on Gwadar right now because the opportunities there are unlike anything I’ve seen in Pakistan’s history. Gwadar today is by far the best investment one can make. The price of entry today is low and given the billions of dollars in projects that CPEC has started, land prices will sky-rocket. We have only recently launched Green Palms Housing Project in Gwadar at special discounted rates utilizing our extensive network of sales partnerships. The response from the market has been phenomenal.
Rafi Group plans to be at the forefront of Pakistan’s development, to provide a modern living and aspirational lifestyle along with phenomenal investment in Gwadar avenues, delivered with the quality and value for money that our clients have come to expect from us over the decades.