Amjad Mughal is a businessman who has shown that footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down. This young entrepreneur at the age of 28 is not only the manager but also the founder of his company, Ghulam Mustafa Contractors (GMC). Within a short span of just three years, Amjad has done tremendously well in this cut throat business of interior design by staying focused on the job at hand, and also by strictly adhering to the GMC’s aphorism of “we are just a few steps ahead of your expectations.”
Amjad was kind enough to take the time out from his busy schedule, and also in the midst of preparing for his forthcoming wedding, to share his experiences. Here’s the excerpt of his talk.
Q: Let’s talk about your company, GMC or Ghulam Mustafa Contractors. The name says it all, but I would like to know about the history, how it started and what you are involved in.
A: I founded the company in 2004 and named it after my father, Ghulam Mustafa. My father is basically a carpenter and he did a lot of wood work for different contractors. Before the events of 9/11 there was very little interest in real estate in Pakistan. A few months after these events Pakistan started receiving remittances from expatriates. Many Pakistani families started to shift back to Pakistan also and there was a boom in the real estate business. The policies of the last government also attracted a lot foreign investment in Pakistan. All of a sudden foreign companies were investing in Pakistan and setting up their offices. Besides, the private companies also decided to expand and renovate their offices. I decided to form GMC in order to cater to the growing construction industry.
Q: Interesting. So how was the business model of the company developed?
A: The business model basically came about from the previous works my father had done. Like I said, my father was basically a carpenter and he had a lot of experience in this field. We provide service on a project basis to customers. The business model recreates itself with every new project. It’s an ongoing challenge to provide accurate, fast, and competitive service. It’s not a challenge to perfect a particular style; it’s a challenge to complete each project perfectly to the client’s satisfaction.
Q: Was your company financed by venture capital, private investment, loans, or personal funds?
A: Personal funds; my father gave me Rs 50 lacs to set up the company. He trusted me to set up the company and with his guidance Alhamdulillah, GMC has done quite well since its establishment. His trust was not misplaced. My father is also my advisor and mentor.
Q: So you do not have any partners?
A: That’s right. There are no partners. It is my philosophy insan baishak chota business kar lay par ho apna (Start a small business but let it be without any partners).
Q: Are you the sole driving force behind the business?
A: Not really. My father is also very much involved in the business. He mostly sees to our projects in Islamabad.
Q: Most people confuse interior design with interior decorator. What is the difference between the two?
A: Interior design is quite different from interior decoration. In fact, most often the interior designer works with the interior decorator to complete a room, office, apartment or house. The interior designer is responsible for designing how the space will look. He decides on the layout and sometimes also decides where the rooms and walls should be built. The interior decorator on the other hand, is responsible for choosing the specific pieces, curtains, draperies, carpets and also the furniture to complement the room. Some interior designers also provide interior decorating services. We just concentrate in interior designing.
Q: So how do you come up with your designs?
A: First of all we see to the client’s requirements. We listen and create ideas and solutions to meet the needs of our clients for reliability, availability, accessibility and power. Then we see what the space is being used for—office or leisure, entertainment or workshop. Consideration is also given to what the meaning of the space and what it will signify — power, authority, and security etc. GMC mostly carries out all the interior designing of office complexes.
Q: Do you have any distinct corporate culture?
A: GMC is a young company so there is no distinct corporate culture as yet. But we are customer focused and our customers recognize this.
Q: Do you have any formal training or qualification in interior designing?
A: No. After my graduation I did some interior designing courses that gave me an understanding of the basic know-how. I believe that at the end of the day it is the practical experience that sets one apart in any profession. What you read in the classroom is very much different from the practical aspect of it.
Q: Tell us about your first project.
A: My first project was with Telecard in Karachi, which included all the interior designing. Initially I faced a lot of problems like labor issue, reading the architectural drawings, getting the right material. Of course, we use our own wood but there are other materials also and I did not know the correct prices and being green behind the ears, I did not have the know-how of how to work in the market. However, with the passage of time and with my father’s guidance I learnt the ropes and Alhamdulillah the project was successful and I made a huge profit.
Q: Wow! You must have felt like being over the moon.
A: I was extremely happy. It is a wonderful experience to have your first project a success. In fact the company was also happy and satisfied with the quality of work that they further commissioned fifteen projects in cities like Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad, and Multan. We got commissioned for other projects also. We did the Afreen project in Karachi and Islamabad in 2005, Envicrete’s head office and factory in Karachi, another Afreen project in World Trade Centre (WTC) Karachi; Supernet Head Office, Karachi; GO-CDMA in Karachi and Hyderabad; all Customer Care offices of Ufone in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore; Mobilink House, Karachi as well as Mobilink offices in Lahore and Islamabad; DV COM in Islamabad; Habib Bank Call Centre, Karachi; Worldcall Customer Care Centre at Schon Circle, Karachi and many others.
Q: All of your projects are commercial. You do not do any residential projects?
A: No we do not do any residential projects. In residential projects, every family member and the relatives and friends have their say in what should be and should not be done and how it should be done. It becomes very cumbersome. And in terms of scope and contract amount, residential jobs are often smaller. On the other hand, commercial projects are often much bigger in scope.
Q: What is your profit and loss margin?
A: All I can say is that GMC is doing really well. GMC has to its credit doing interior designing of leading banks and multinational corporations’ offices. The satisfaction of the client is of utmost important. We have not had any losses so far.
Q: How many employees does your business employ?
A: There are over five hundred workers including interior designers, carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, masons, and laborers. The professionalism and experience of our team has also resulted in GMC being commissioned for different projects.
Q: So what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
A: In my capacity as manager I set the vision and make sure it is executed. I have got certain responsibilities such as overseeing budgets, expenditures and things like that. I also spend as much time as I can on the project to see that everything is going on as planned and that there are no unnecessary minor hitches. So I'm very involved in the day-to-day working of the project. In addition, I also have to keep a keen eye on other departments especially marketing, purchase, accounts and administrative.
Q: Of all these, what is the favorite part of your job?
A: I like to oversee and make sure the work on the project is progressing according to schedule. I like being the boss!
Q: And you do not have any labor problems?
A: Labor problems are always there. I do not think there is any company where the management is not faced with labor problems. However, we have had very little labor problem. Majority of our workers have been with GMC right from the start. Some of them used to work with my father before shifting over to GMC. We do not treat the workers as workers but we consider them as friends and colleagues. May Allah forgive any omission or commission there is a hadith which states that one should pay the laborer his wages before his sweat dries. And we pay their salaries on time. The daily wagers, they get their pay at the end of the day. This is why are our workers are sincere with us.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you use your own wood. From where do you get the right type of wood and what are the different types of woods that you use?
A: Yes we use our own which we buy from the market and sometimes we directly import the wood from Malaysia, China and Burma. Our work is not totally based on wood. We do use other materials also. When we use wood then we prefer to use beech wood, Russian Diar, Diar, Oak, Golden Teak, Burma teak, Sheesham and Cherry. In wood work we concentrate on making partitioning, doors, furniture, arch, pergola and display shelves. Sometimes we do wood flooring also. Hardwood floors are investments for a lifetime as it can easily be refinished several times and each time it will look like a new one. Because it is durable, hardwood floors can stand up to the demands of everyday life.
Q: Some of the obstacles you have encountered along the course of building your company?
A: Pakistan is a nice place to do business. There is immense talent in our people which have not been properly exploited. Those who want to start their own business have to face a lot of hurdles—getting permits, grants, connections, you name it they are all here. I too had to and still do face these hurdles. The greatest problem is that of electricity. You are in middle of a project, with the headline looming large but there is no electricity! The load-shedding last summer just about drove everyone to the wall. When we import our wood we have to face customs problems. Everyone in every department instead of facilitating you try to make your job harder.
Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
A: My firm faith in Allah is my greatest strength. The backing of my family especially my father’s support and his guidance have been of immense help. I have learned from my mistakes. As for weaknesses… well you don’t show your Achilles’ heel.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I want to expand the company and open sub-offices in Lahore and Islamabad. I have visited Dubai, Malaysia and China and I hope to get some contracts from there. But to undertake foreign ventures you have to have enough capital to take the risks or opt for joint ventures. Since I don’t like to enter into partnership, the foreign projects will have to take a backseat for the time.
Q: What have been the keys in bringing your company to the level it is at today?
A: First of all my success is due to Allah. Secondly, by learning from experienced mentors, getting advice from those who have been in your position previously and succeeded, and to never let anyone convince you that you cannot reach your goals.
Q: Advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: Instead of starting your business initially, do an internship in a field you love and try to develop a relationship with a business mentor who can show you the ropes. Do not be afraid to take risks. Dedication and hard work is a key to success. You can do it. Follow your dreams. Make sure you are always learning and always improving.