When Shahzad landed in the UK in 2001, he was a 21 year old with little money, no university training or formal qualification, but a determination to succeed and prove to his father back home in Pakistan that he was not a failure. Thirteen years later, Shahzad was able to achieve much more than he had expected, and is now at the head of UK & US based businesses that he founded with his wife, Madiha.
He recalls how difficult it was to find a job those first few days. With no money to rent his own place, he found a friend who offered him a sofa in an North West London flat shared by other Pakistanis working in the security sector.
Through his new friends and flat mates, he was able to find a job as a security guard. “It was the only job I could find. I didn’t tell anyone in Pakistan as security guards are invisible people back home. But now, I cherish this experience. My ego dissolved at a very young age because of it.”
After working for a year, commuting for up to five hours a day for minimum wage, another old friend from Pakistan came to see him and offered him a position in the IT department of a new property company. Although he had no formal training in IT, Shahzad was good with computers and a fast learner. 4 years after joining the company, he was able to introduce major savings. The employer, an entrepreneur himself, began to coach him for free and motivated him to start his own business.
Encouraged by his employer and mentor, in 2006, Shahzad built a recruitment platform, but it never took off. While working part time in IT and managing a failing business, he fell in love with his to be wife, Madiha, who immediately joined the business in an attempt to save it.
One day in 2006, a man randomly came to their office and asked if they could offer security training. Desperate for any income that might come his way, Shahzad said “Yes we do” and went from a recruitment site to find a suitable trainer. He eventually found more candidates after building his own website. By 2007, his security training business was becoming cash flow positive and eventually he was able to buy out his competitors. By the fourth year, with his wife Madiha by his side, he was able to grow the business into a several million dollar worth industry leader with an expanded training offering. “Pakistanis and security don’t go well together but we were able to build the largest security training company. At its peak, we were training 20,000 people a year, roughly three in ten working in the security sector in the UK had security training booked by us. All the people who helped me in my life now work with me, including Madiha’s brother, my two bothers, my sister and friends who supported me.”
But with the success, acquisitions and fast expansion came challenges and mistakes. “ I didn’t go to any business school so made some bad decisions and acquired a company that was not compliant with certain training regulations. As a result, we got our license for security training revoked three years ago and blocked by the industry.”
But with Madiha’s help and emotional support, Shahzad restructured the business, re-positioning is as a digital marketing platform for training providers to help small training providers promote their business and get affordable access to cutting edge technology to compete with large companies. The business now runs itself and is more profitable than the training business. “If I look back, I can see the gain in loss and now I also see loss in gain, life in the end is a zero sum game.”
Looking back, Shahzad agrees that although in the early day his focus was on making money, his current motivation now is to help people, using business as a conduit. With his wife Madiha, he is also involved in projects advancing girls’ education in Pakistan as well as an incubator project to help young adults start their own businesses.
As he looks forward to what lies ahead, he is always reminded of how far he has reached with the help of others. “My background has helped me become more self-reflective and spiritual, and a strong believer that true success lies in inspiring others to achieve their full potential.”