By S N Syed
Former chairman of Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA) Bilal Mulla is a reputable name in readymade garment business. Born in Karachi, Mulla took education till graduation and started his business in garments as a working partner in 1972 and later started his own company Mulla International in 1980, as an export business company from a small investment. Later, he started manufacturing and established his own factory in Karachi. He received first guidance from his father and visited Middle East at the age of 22 years for his business motives.
He has continued his business at Mulla International now for over 35 years and employs around 2,500 workers at his factory. His business earns him and the country big foreign exchange. Because of security reasons, he does not disclose his total sales. He exports to Europe, Middle East, USA, Canada, Brazil, China and Far East countries. “I have travelled to more than 25 countries for my business. I started a very small company with honesty and now it exports to multi-countries,” he said. Bilal Mulla is assisted by his younger brother in the business.
Talking about the challenges he faces, Mulla said everybody in business in Karachi was facing the challenges regarding law and order and infrastructure. Availability of utilities were also a challenge concerning the industry, as buyers needed shipments at the time but any delay in them amid unavailability of utilities was affecting the business, especially related to the exports. He said that cost of production in Pakistan was higher as compared with the competing countries in the region. “We need international level playing field in the business mostly with utility charges and labour laws, and then our efficiency starts,” he said. Around 22 agencies visit the factories for audit and other issues. “There should be one window operation for them so that businessmen’s time is not wasted.”
For the start of one window operation, a policy framework was prepared around 13 years ago but it could not move forward and was not implemented. Agencies just disturb the factory owner and go through corruption. Whatever fees and charges they want to recover, he said, they should recover without disturbing the businessmen.
Strikes, which have reduced in scale in the city now, affected at large to the industry in past, as it had become difficult for the workers to reach at the working place. “Political parties and the government should create charter of economy with consultation of the businessmen. A ten year policy should be adopted with no strike calls and no politics it,” he suggested.
He complained that they were not given their refunds, which were long due. Although former chief executive of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) was a businessman but their issues were not resolved even in his days. “The TDAP chief executive had taken over the charge but bureaucracy was working behind him. He had not many powers,” he said. “Our first direction is finance ministry, and then comes the commerce ministry.” Export associations have been calling for last two years to support them, as exports were declining. We needed help at that time of declining of exports while the government knows only when the exports have already declined. “Market and customers are going away from our hands,” he said. Any action by the government after the decline is of not of the use.
He agreed that mostly raw material was being exported whether it was cotton, yarn or rice. Finished goods were not being exported. He suggested the government to discourage the export of raw material from Pakistan. “If we get good quality yarn instead of coarse count, we can increase the value by three times,” he said. He said that spinning field of the textile sector was benefiting from the export refinance scheme while there was need to adopt a policy in the interest of the country.
Despite of several challenges pertaining to the economy of the country, Bilal remains optimistic of the future of the country. “There are high profile people in business and other fields. They can change the destiny of this country if allowed to work freely,” he said.
However, he does not see much charm in his current field of textile. The existing companies are not in the situation of survival, whereas 20-25 year old companies are either winding up or have defaulted in somewhat and are hiding it. “Cost of doing business has increased manifolds. Those companies that started from spinning to garments are doing well, but such units are very few and that too established after struggle of around 50 years,” he said.
He said that there was no ‘one window’ in the country, which provides information regarding exports. “Pakistan’s commercial councilors in different countries help in collection of data related to exports. They have data related to exports overseas. Purpose of commercial councilors is to assist businessmen of their own country,” he said. “Later, you have to further work out on it, through phone calls and emails etc.” He said that communication was better now compared with the days he started the business. “I had no telephone for six months. I had developed some contacts through Pakistan Embassy. For four years in 1980s, I worked with one buyer only with smaller shipment. There is need to satisfy your buyer. It is difficult to make a buyer and easy to make him run away.”
I read and research on markets, check on internet. Discuss with professional institutes regarding exports. We are working on Central Asia and South Africa.
Those who want to enter in garment business, he suggested, should not go for 50 percent bank finance, which should be below than that. They should control their expenses and work carefully and then enter in the international market. They can go into the big market and customers in the US, EU, ME and explore new markets Central Asia and South Africa along with other markets. Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) has listed feasibility reports of some businesses on its website and the new entrepreneurs can look at them and then have consultation with the experts of that field before starting the new business. “Seeking guidance before any business is must then look through your feasibility and satisfy yourself. Then have a look at investment and work fully.” Discuss your outcome with people of knowledge in that field and such people are in large number in this country.
He also stressed over the need of education in your field of business. “The better education you have, the faster you will grow,” he said. “You should keep your eyes open and calculate the risk fully. But, even MBAs get failed.” Beside, get involved in social activities and support people in hospitals and education.
Bilal Mulla is former chairman of Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association and a board member of Kashif Iqbal Memorial Thalassemia Centre.