Syed Babar Ali
- Founder, Lahore University of Management Sciences (Education; Government)
Born June 30, 1926; Government College Lahore, B.Sc.; Advanced Management Program, HBS (1973)
“I felt, having been in industry and business for a fair amount of time, that you could so much with management, but not enough unless you added value to what the country is producing. ”
Syed Babar Ali is a Pakistani businessman and philanthropist, most famous for founding Pakistan’s leading business school, Lahore University of Management Sciences. After finishing college and with the partition of Pakistan in 1947, Babar Ali joined his family in starting a cotton exporting business, exporting mostly to India. As Babar Ali sought ways to export cotton to other countries, he saw a need for a packaging company in Pakistan, founding what eventually became Packages Limited. In this interview, Babar Ali describes how the Pakistani government encouraged privatization of industries at the time (1955-1968), and with the financial wealth his family already had, allowed for him to establish a number of joint-venture businesses in Pakistan with companies including Unilever and Coco-Cola.
After Bhutto was elected president of Pakistan in 1970, Pakistan began nationalizing certain industries, claiming that the national industrial economy was benefitting only a few wealthy families. Babar Ali describes how this caused his family to lose five large businesses, including their automotive business and their life insurance business. However, Bhutto was recruiting from private industries to lead the newly nationalized industries, and in 1974 Babar Ali was asked to lead a fertilizer plant. He agreed, despite the de-privatization having hurt his family’s businesses. Babar Ali describes how this experience allowed him to build and run a business from the ground up, and despite the business being owned by the government, he had a free hand to run the plant as he saw fit. During the four years Babar Ali spent running the plant, he began thinking that Pakistan needed a school of management to train managers and entrepreneurs.
Babar Ali describes how he began planning for founding of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), without funding or land from the government. This came at a time when Pakistan’s economy was moving back towards privatization, something Babar Ali says was crucial to his raising the funds to build the school. He also sought the advice of HBS faculty in setting up the school, and received money from the United States in the late 1970s (who was supporting Pakistani education systems as a way to counter Soviet influence) to build the school. Having been educated at HBS, Babar Ali says he chose the case method as the teaching method for LUMS.
Babar Ali also describes the expansion of LUMS to include an undergraduate program, a law school, and an engineering school. He also describes how LUMS is admitting and graduating women who enter and stay in the workforce, something he believes adds value to Pakistan’s economy. Throughout the interview Babar Ali describes how crucial good business ethics were in his success and how he believes entrepreneurs should think beyond their lifetime when starting a business.