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Man of the Year – Danial H Schon

Define for us who is Danial Schon? How did you become the success story you hold today?

A simple man.  I am an ordinary being who has always believed in the power of hard work, honesty, sincerity, and humility. I have always been trained to never give up and always stayed humble. Since a young age, I have been of the firm view that life is a gift to you from the Almighty, therefore make the most of it. You have to live every moment of it, make it enjoyable, and make it unique. I have applied this principle when it comes to business.

Any success is all thanks to Allah (SWT).  I don’t know if I am successful. I have a deeply spiritual side so for me, success has a spiritual meaning. Also, success has a fluid definition that changes as you get older in life. If I was to be successful, I think it is due to perseverance and extreme optimism. My mindset is extremely optimistic, and through the Laws of Vibration and Attraction, that mindset attracts positive results in my direction somehow. Life is about energy, and what you think is generally what you get. Be it positive or negative.  And thinking is free, it doesn’t cost any money.

Did you always plan to work with your family business or were you left with no other option?

I started two businesses in college and when I graduated, I started a real estate brokerage company. The company did extremely well, and we made over $25 Million on my first deal which started my career. The family business was originated by my father and uncle, and I try to support them wherever I can. Their key to success for Schon Group was working hard, staying up days in a row non-stop, and being different and ahead of the competition. That hard work made them the largest exporter of Pakistan in textiles. From there, they grew into Airlines, Banking, Modaraba, Fibre Production, Fertilizers, and Property Development. In 1996, they expanded the operation internationally and in 2015, Schon Group restructured and now acts as a Private Family Office globally. The Group is a debt-free entity, which is a huge benefit in cyclical times like the COVID Pandemic which just came.

From a young age, I truly believed I need to work for my own money. That is something I want to teach my kids as well.  Everyone should be self-sufficient and responsible for themselves. What my dad and uncle achieved primarily belongs to them, and I have always tried to achieve things on my own. That is what I have done from the age of 21. I have not kept dependency on anyone but Allah and He has been very kind to me. I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my family but there is a parallel story: I have worked independently of my family in several ventures, I continue to work on my own and quite away from my family’s business interest areas.

I am very thankful for all the support systems that my family has provided me, including my parents, my wife, and siblings. I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my family.

 What vision have you set forth for the youth of Pakistan? Where do you want to see them grow by the next decade?

I want the next Einstein to come from Pakistan, the next Bill Gates, the next Warren Buffet. I would love to see the youth of Pakistan at the next level, at par with the youth of the nations that are modern and forward-looking. I feel the IQ of the Pakistani youth is way higher than others around the world. We just need to give our youth the right direction.  Gen Z and Generation Alpha kids are much smarter, more switched on, more liberal, and are an inclusive generation.  With this generation, social enterprises, health, and connectivity are very important for this generation. Wi-Fi is more important than drinking water and oxygen. These traits, move the world forward in a positive direction.

I advise our Pakistani youth to learn digital skills, coding, blockchain, NFT’s, metaverse; anything to do with the digital world we live in and move further. My aspiration is for our youth to be involved with digital businesses and jobs. Technology and our world as we know it is moving at a very fast pace. 20 years from now, there will be a shortage of traditional jobs available because artificial intelligence, robotics, and technology will replace most traditional jobs.

Our youth needs to be involved with the future from now.  Being an architect or engineer is great, till an AI System starts designing buildings (which is happening in some parts of the world).  The beauty of the Internet is that the biggest schools are all available online to teach skills and traits. 

The state of Pakistan needs to do a lot more to provide equal opportunities to the youth of Pakistan. The youth of Pakistan have made their mark at the international level but I believe that they can do a lot better and a lot more if given equal opportunities. They have the potential to reach the stars.

 Tell us about your contribution towards CSR activities as you are known highly for your philanthropic nature.

It is your responsibility to use your wealth to help others less fortunate.  Giving to the right causes from your earnings brings you satisfaction and peace of soul and mind. There is no greater satisfaction and no greater feeling of contentment and achievement when you give charity to deserving people. There is so much inequality and injustice around us. My late grandfather, Captain S.H. Ather founded Schon Foundation in 1980 to alleviate poverty.  I remember him going in his car at night himself with blankets to give and wrap the homeless with at night.  He was also the Governor of Rotary International in Pakistan and did a lot of great work there as well.  My father, Tahir H Schon, was President of the Lions Club and did a lot of philanthropy.  I have learned the concept of giving from my family. I once asked my father, what is your key to success, and his reply was “ to give in the name of Allah, and Allah will give you ten times more.” 

I am inspired by two role models in this field: Mr. Mohamed Yunus of Grameen Bank whom I am deeply impressed by and Akhuwat in Pakistan who have done a fantastic job and created a wonderful ecosystem in this field.

We have a private system wherein our team gives microloans for small businesses. These loans are repaid without any profit, interest, or management fees over 12-36 months. When the funds are paid back, the money is used to fund a new business.

We have other programs of food ration cards for monthly groceries, wedding grants, grants for debt relief, medical emergency assistance grants, orphan programs, and daily food programs. 

My role model is our Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) who insisted that we should give to others. 

What say do you hold for the current government at reign. Do you see them benefitting entrepreneurs like yourself?

I am a non-political person who just wants to see Pakistan succeed. I am pro-business, pro-growth. I do have political views but these are personal views. I believe in working for any government that works towards generating new opportunities and bringing structural reforms to the system.

My main message is the need of the hour is to support enterprise.  Enterprise creates opportunity and opportunity creates enterprise. It is a beautiful cycle. The United States of America is the World’s superpower because of one field: Entrepreneurship.  All inventions and innovations come from the US.  That is because they have the World’s best system, a system that supports free markets and encourages enterprise.

Pakistan today requires massive de-regulation, we need a Ministry of De-Regulation.  Bureaucracy and over-regulation may have worked from 1950-1990, but the World has moved on significantly from those times.  The Pre-Internet era is long gone, and things are done within seconds around the World, which still takes months with our systems and bureaucracy.  All approvals should be done within days, not years.  That is how you can move the economy easily and quickly.  If the Government can provide the legal framework and deregulate the economy, Foreign Direct Investment will make Pakistan the Asian Tiger it truly is. Our country is a recipe for success.  We have a population mostly under 35, the IQ, the terrain, and the most strategic location in the World.  It is time for us to prosper.

If it is the current government or the previous ones, all govts have their good and bad points. I believe that what Pakistan needs more than anything else is the supremacy of rule of law, applications of the laws, pro-business policies, and promotion of entrepreneurship culture. Under all governments, we have tried to adapt our business models to the latest needs and demands and we have, Alhamdullilah, creating job opportunities for others through our flexible approach and business models.

 What has been the defining point of your life?

The two most important defining points of my life: on death and birth.  On the death of my grandmother(may Allah bless her soul) I started to read the translation and detailed translation (Tafseer) of the Quran.  It made me become a Muslim, not in words, but understanding.  I understood what a beautiful and simple religion Islam is, and that was a major defining moment in my life.

The second moment was on the birth of my first child, my daughter. I learned a new kind of love, and I wanted to make the world a better place. I started charity and other ventures more meaningfully after her birth. Also, it made me start thinking for others more than myself and changed my thinking to Macro as opposed to Micro.  The impact started meaning something.  When you have a child, you want the World to be a better place for your kids.  It changes your thinking and makes you much more responsible. 

The ups and downs of life and business have also been great lessons and teachers.  There have been moments where, like any entrepreneur, you fail.  During those failures and business cycles, relations and friendships changed. Alhamdullilah, that phase didn’t last for long but that taught me many life lessons. I saw how my family members didn’t give up, put up a huge resistance, didn’t lose trust in their abilities and talent and carried on following their business ethos, and placed trust in hard work and honesty as always. I was part of that journey and that helped me learn so much that I am thankful for that opportunity. That also taught me who to trust in life and how to judge people to gauge who is sincere with you or otherwise.

There is another remarkable point in my life when I decided to finally settle down and get married. I have seen the aspects of life, luxury, leisure, ups, and downs like few others. Getting married to my wife has been another great turning point in the sense that it has given me a sense of belonging and the purpose of tomorrow which I didn’t have before. Coming home to two children after spending time at work and outside is the best feeling in this world and irreplaceable.

Local business development in Pakistan is seen to be lower compared to international standards. Would you agree and why do you think it is so?

 It depends on how you see things.  I always try to see the glass half full.  I am an optimist by nature.  I feel business standards are significantly improving in Pakistan very fast.  Our local firms are starting to produce top quality products and the quality aspect is improving. 

Opportunity is an area that requires more effort.  Banks need to lend more to SME’s.  In the Developed world, small and medium enterprises are heavily supported by small business administration loans, grants, and other funding opportunities.  These make most of the employment and contribute heavily to the economy.  We need to support our SME’s heavily, with open funding, deregulation, and heavier incentives.

The focus of businesses in Pakistan is on mega projects. Most businesses and investors want to start with heavy-duty projects and go for that approach. I believe that there should be more encouragement for the local and small businesses.

This needs to change. SME support will ensure that poverty will be reduced, social issues will lessen, economic activity will increase and the country will develop on long-term sustainable terms if there are more local and small businesses.

I have worked internationally and I see it all around me that it’s the local business model that’s encouraged more than the big business models at the small level and local business is less risky with more chances of success. The developed world is dedicated to helping the local business development. This is the kind of model we need to adopt in Pakistan. We need to involve our youth, in both rural and urban areas, in the local business model to create opportunities to meet the new age demands.

How do you perceive life after the pandemic? What change has it brought to you personally and professionally?

Pandemic has changed everything. Einstein once wrote, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”  I believe the Pandemic took us to that calm and modest life.  I stayed 50 days in our apartment with my wife and two kids, a time I will cherish forever.  The sad part is the loved ones we lost in this time. 

The Pandemic has taught us how to appreciate life and opportunities more than we ever did before. It has taught us the value of us, of our existence. I have become more appreciative of the things in life that I took for granted in life before. There are little things that one never cared for that have now become important. Pandemic taught us that it’s important to be stable and sustainable in life and I have seen people becoming more hard-working and purposeful in life after the lessons we have learned.

We had to adjust everything around the pandemic restrictions. Before the Pandemic, I would travel much more regularly. The Pandemic has shown us that in this age and day there are so many things that can be done remotely. You don’t need to be in each other’s company to do business. We now do 50% of our meetings on Zoom, even after the lockdown restrictions eased.  The lessons of pandemics are of far-reaching consequences. A new normal has come, which has made us more closer to being cyborgs and accelerated the digitization curve by a good 5-10 years.

What aspects would you advise new entrepreneurs to keep in mind when venturing out in the post covid world today?

Don’t take anything for granted. Have the contingency plan ready in advance. Be cautious and be ready to deal with the most unusual and difficult situations that you have not thought of before. Adjust your business models as per the risk assessment plans. Always keep in mind there could be a pandemic or something alike that could once again throw up a challenge like nothing before. Have the resources, resolve and plan to counter such challenges. Structure your business in such a way that it could absorb the challenges and be able to bounce and stay on its feet.

 What message do you have for our readers that have lost hope of growth in Pakistan?

It is not what your nation does for you but what you do for your nation. Every Pakistani must put effort to improve the country.  Talk positively about your country. Have a sense of Nationalism and Pride. A nation is the sum of its people. And we have the best people. Never give up.

As a nation, we are only 70+ years old, and we are constantly compared to nations that are 250-1000 years old. They also had their fair share of problems in the beginning, but it takes time for equilibrium to be reached and successful systems to be implemented. This happens through a constant process of trial and error.  Hard work can change a lot.  China next door is the primmest example.  Since the early 1970’s the Communist Party of China, miraculously has achieved complete eradication of extreme poverty. They raised more than 770 million poor people from poverty since its reforms.  The key aspect for the Chinese success story in my opinion:  hard work and discipline.  That is what made them successful and that is what we need to emulate moving forward.  The next 50 years of Pakistan’s story are still unwritten, a lot can be done.

We are a democratic country. We have a population who is majority under 35.  A New Pakistan will emerge in the next few decades, led by new people, with a new vision and new thinking. Have a sense of Nationalism, and all challenges will fix themselves.  United we stand, divided we fall.

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