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Mian Mansha owns one of the best banks in Asia but his ambitions reach much further. He plans to create a new holding company and list his various interests on the LSE. And he hopes to expand his business base
across Asia and into the Middle East and emerging Europe.
IN AN INCREASINGLY banal, public relations-heavy world, where chief executives stick rigidly to a message-led mantra, Mian Mohammad Mansha is a throwback to a more open corporate era. The chairman of Pakistan’s largest company, Nishat Group, Mansha is also Pakistan’s richest man, with a personal fortune of about $5 billion.
But that’s not enough for the native of Chiniot, an ancient Pakistan city famous for churning out many of the subcontinent’s richest and most ambitious traders and entrepreneurs. Mansha, who took over the family group aged 22 after the death of his father, and who has never before been interviewed by the international media, has grand plans for his sprawling group, which boasts 30 company divisions stretched across sectors as diverse as tourism, cement, insurance and textiles. He’s engaged in rolling most of his assets into a single holding company, with a view to raising billions of dollars by listing them on the London Stock Exchange.
Mansha plans to sink billions more dollars, raised on the international debt and equity markets, into much-needed infrastructure and power plants at home – assuming that is, given recent market turbulence, that the international markets are still sufficiently healthy to help out in a year’s time. And having recently teamed up with a Malaysian lender, Maybank, he plans to join forces with his new partner to lavish yet further billions on buying at least two foreign lenders pummelled by the credit crunch.
Considering that the 61-year-old Punjabi plans to create Pakistan’s first genuinely global corporate, with banking and insurance interests across Asia, the Middle East and beyond, he is remarkably down to earth. To some, his lack of media exposure might, combined with vast wealth, mark him out as something of a recluse – a modern-day Howard Hughes, the US mogul who lived out his years holed up in a Las Vegas hotel eating nothing but chicken soup.
Mansha, of course, is nothing of the sort – although ironically he does have a book on Hughes tucked away behind his desk, alongside biographies of John D Rockefeller and Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. "I’m nothing like Hughes," Mansha protests with a smile. "He was something of an eccentric. I have a very normal life." Jacketless and with a crisp white shirt and pink tie, Mansha looks you directly in the eye and answers honestly, directly and at length.
Yes – he’s optimistic about the future of his flagship lender, Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), which in July was handed the award of best bank in Asia by Euromoney. "It’s one of the great franchises in the world," he says. "It is really quite the strangest bank in the entire world, because one-third of its deposits are current account deposits, with an average of just $2,500 per account. It’s unique in the world – small customers like us, they stay with us, and we make sure we offer them really good services that they like. There’s a trust factor – a bond between us and our customers."