by Ayman Shahzad & Anum Raheem
Air Commodore (retd.) Munir is ranked amongst some of the most successful Pakistani tech entrepreneurs. His hard work and persistence have come through in his thriving group of companies launched under the “Clary” umbrella. The story of this retired officer who went from a night shift manager of a gas station to the owner of a company, which now employs about one hundred engineers, scientists, sellers and marketers, designers and developers in 5 countries is truly an inspiring one.
He retired from the Pakistan Air Force in 1993 and this is when the long and troublesome road to becoming an entrepreneur began. His entrepreneurial journey begins in 1999 after losing his lifetime savings in the Pakistan stock exchange. He then decided to take the risky and hard decision to leave his home and family to move to the United States of America in 1999. He had to liquidate all his assets to start his life in a new country. His small family was all split up with his eldest daughter living in South Africa, his younger daughter living in Pakistan and his son who was the youngest moved to Brazil.
Trying to reinvent his career at age 58 in a new country was even more difficult than he had imagined. Without the required experience it was hard for him to get a new job and without a credit history it was even harder to rent an apartment. He along with his wife was forced to move in with his brother in Birmingham Alabama. He landed a job as a night shift manager at a local gas station in Birmingham. He had very little money coming in and was forced to rely on his savings.
With his mind set on his future, Munir strived through his difficulties. His ability to critically analyze situations and his perseverance would both help him get through this difficult situation and take control of his own business. An opportunity came along when he took a road trip across America. During the trip he stayed near San Francisco where he found a small yogurt shop called “Yoghurt World”. He bought it for $70,000, which he would pay in installments. Both he and his wife started working at the yogurt shop from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm seven days a week.
This investment and his hard work paid off when his business started to generate a profit. The next step was to expand so in 2002 he bought Oreck (vacuum cleaner) licensed store in San Rafael and another store in Santa Rose. Although these companies were completely he still went through with the investment.
In the meantime, their son Sufian Munir, who was working for Ericsson in Lahore in 1999 when his parents migrated to the US was able to land a job with Ericsson in Brazil and then eventually in the Silicon Valley not too far from his parents.
In 2004, when Ericsson relocated Sufian to San Diego, he started to look for business opportunities for his father in San Diego. This is when he found a small Panasonic dealership called “Clary Business Machines”. Sufian along with his father decided to buy this small business from the retiring owner. Munir planned to sell his other businesses to focus on his new business but tragedy struck when management of 2 of the malls where the stores were located decided not to renew the lease making his stores unsellable. This sadly delayed Munir’s move to San Diego.
As a result, Sufian resigned from Ericsson and joined his father in Clary Business Machine but soon realized that the previous owner mainly generated income through connections and personal references. Without these personal connections, the sales started to decline rapidly and the business started to generate a loss.
To solve this problem they came up with the creative idea to create a larger market online. Sufian made different websites and started advertising Panasonic office equipment across the US. At the time B2B E-commerce was a new concept. Panasonic allowed them to use names like Panasonicfaxes.com and Panasonicprinters.com, which helped them in gaining top positions in Google and other search engines. This strategy benefited them greatly and the revenues started to double every year.
This gave Munir the opportunity to sell one of his Oreck stores and close his other 2 stores and move to San Diego. They decided to grow their product line by adding interactive whiteboards and conferencing systems to their websites. This soon became the main focus of their business. They soon opened an office in Pakistan to provide backend web development support and technical support.
Within 3 years they were able to grow the revenues of Clary Business Machines from $2.7 million to $11 million. CBM started ranking amongst the fastest growing companies in the US.
In 2009, as the American economy plunged, the duo started to explore options to increase their business and acquired another company in Colombia that sold office equipment in South America. A small multinational was born with presence in the US, Pakistan and Colombia.
Then in 2012, when they found a gap in the industry for a turnkey solution for classrooms and conference rooms, they started to look into development and manufacturing of a new product that could fill this gap. The outcome was OneScreen, a hubware solution that integrates all the tools needed for productive meetings.
Today, the business operates in 5 countries including Mexico and UAE and employs close to 100 engineers, scientists, marketers and business development teams. It develops and markets various product lines including OneScreen hubware, OneScreen canvas and OneScreen video wall. OneScreen is now being used by thousands of enterprises, government, and educational institutes in the Americas and Asia.
Munir is now 73 years of age and he along with his son plan to expand worldwide. It’s been 23 years since he retired from the Air Force and he is looking forward to the next entrepreneurial venture.