An immobilization – People


Having met so many people over the years in my profession, few have left such a lasting and impressive impression as Maheen Rahman, CEO of Alfalah GHP Investment Management.

I first met her in 2014 to discuss an advertising campaign she had been involved in for Alfalah GHP and I remember being surprised to see a woman at the head of an asset management company worth nearly Rs 20 billion at the time. Even more surprising was his youth, especially in an industry that seems to view gray hair and men as prerequisites, especially at the senior management level.

During our meeting, she explained the intricacies of mutual funds with clarity and precision – leaving me very impressed with her business acumen, numeracy skills, disarming personality and the passion she displayed for her. job.

Two years later, I learned that Rahman had arrived at Fortunethe list of “40 under 40: Top ten female CEOs” – and the only Pakistani woman to do so. That’s what led to our second meeting – this time for a relaxed hour-long conversation in his tastefully decorated corner office overlooking the Arabian Sea.

She smiles when I ask her how it all happened; appointed CEO of IGI Funds in 2009 at the age of 32, turning a loss-making company worth two billion rupees into a profitable entity of over eight billion in just four years, then when Alfalah acquired IGI Funds in 2013, selected to be the CEO of the merged company – which is now worth around Rs 40 billion.

“To be honest, my appointment to IGI Funds was a surprise. I had no training in asset management; my previous experience had been in investment banking with BMA Capital Management.

Being the pragmatic and methodical person that she is, Rahman rolled up her sleeves, went fast and got into the job – learning the trade, understanding synergies between departments and ruthlessly identifying gaps and measures. needed to remove them, only the line looked less red.

Rahman reminds me that she took over the reins of IGI Funds in 2009, at a time when the recession was hitting Pakistan hard. The economic outlook was bleak and people were extremely reluctant to invest in mutual funds.

“We had to adapt quickly, refine our business strategy and convert one of our income funds to cash funds, in order to give our investors the level of comfort they needed.”

The burden of having to turn the business around during this time required her determination, extreme dedication, and the courage to make difficult decisions – traits that were either inherent in her or that she simply needed to acquire. One was the unpleasant task of firing people.

“When I had to adjust the size of the business, I was directly affecting livelihoods – it’s hard to have that on my mind. However, Rahman was quick to point out that most of the employees have been taken over by other companies in the group or have been compensated.

“From someone doing equity research to running a company, Pakistan has rewarded me for my persistence. There is so much more to do and I want to be in the middle of it all.”

Coming out of the recession a winner was like passing a financial endurance test. The experience, she remarks wryly, was grueling but gave her the confidence to know that she could survive the worst of times. By comparison, she says, her work is now much smoother and less stressful with only occasional “black swan events”.

She adds that over the years, she has learned to disconnect when she comes back to her family.

This is my signal to ask a very progressive CEO some regressive (but inevitable) questions about their support system and what it’s like to be a female CEO in a male-dominated industry.

“I had known my husband from college; he knew how ambitious and interested I was in all things finance and he totally supported me.

A mother of three young daughters, Rahman is also quick to acknowledge the support of her parents and in-laws for her children, adding that “I never want to depend on a hired aide for my children’s primary care. “.

“As for being a female CEO, I never saw myself as such. I am a person who enjoys doing the job. Being a woman doesn’t give me any privileges.

With a quiet confidence that only comes from years of hard work and advancing through the ranks, she believes that the only thing that matters at the end of the day is performance.

Leaning back in her chair, she says with a smile that female CEOs come under more scrutiny than their male counterparts and therefore must lead decisively, leaving no room for error. The trickiest part for a woman, and especially at a higher level, is finding the balance between being motivated and reserved while remaining accessible.

“The last thing a person at the management level wants is to be isolated. If people feel like they can’t communicate with you, it will hurt your progress and your business.

Rahman identifies the behavior displayed by women – the instinct to suppress their personality at work, a reluctance to seek promotion, a conservatism in valuing their own potential – as not exclusive to Pakistani women, but as a global phenomenon based on the effect of centuries of gender bias.

“However, we have come a long way – girls take their careers seriously and organizations provide more conducive environments for women to work.”

I ask her if she ever manages to take time off from work and she admits that she enjoys traveling with her family a lot, that she often takes three or four days off to do so. She also loves to cook and graduated from the prestigious Cordon Bleu school in Paris while living there with her husband in the mid-2000s.

Is there anything less than the perfection that you are striving for? I ask, slightly envious. She blushed slightly as she said “there is still a lot to do. Asset management is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what can be done in terms of financing and raising capital in Pakistan.

Does this mean that his future plans are to stay in Pakistan?

“Absolutely! From a full person doing equity research to running a business, Pakistan has rewarded me for my persistence. There is so much more to do and I want to be in the middle of it all.” , she just answered.


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