GUL WINS £15K BRACKEN BOWER BUSINESS AWARD
by AMIT ROY
MEHRAN GUL got the best possible gift he could imagine for his 33rd birthday last week – the £15,000 Bracken Bower Prize.
This was established in 2014 by the Financial Times newspaper and the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Co and is given to someone under 35 whose 5,000-word proposal for a business book is judged to be “the best”.
The judges disclosed Gul “beat a record number of entries from 26 countries on topics ranging from technology, to gender, to the ethics of business”. The prize is named after Brendan Bracken, chairman of the Financial Times from 1945 to 1958, and Marvin Bower, managing director of McKinsey from 1950 to 1967.
This is the second time that the award – “it aims to encourage a new generation of business writers” – has gone to someone of Pakistani origin which the organisers hope “will encourage Eastern Eye readers, in particular, to pitch for the prize next year”.
Gul plans to write a book about “the new geography of innovation” – business start-ups outside the US.
“In the past 100 years most of the biggest companies we know in the world, and especially technology companies, came from the western world in general and from the United States in specific,” Gul told Eastern Eye.
“Think of the biggest companies you know today: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Cisco, Oracle, they are all based in the US. That’s going to change,” he predicted. “We are now seeing technology companies coming up outside the US which are growing extremely fast and able to compete with their American peers. These start-ups are often called unicorns. India has seven of them and we can expect more.”
Gul, born in Karachi, and an undergraduate at the Lahore University of Management, received a Fulbright scholarship to study international relations at Yale, and has been based since 2013 with the World Economic Forum in Geneva where he “helps senior business leaders understand how technology is changing business models, operating models, consumption patterns, and the demand for talent and skills”.
His career trajectory is similar to that of the 2014 winner, Saadia Zahidi, whose proposal, Womenomics in the Muslim world, is due to be published this year as Fifty Million Rising, a book about the new generation of Muslim women entering the workforce.
Originally from Islamabad, she grew up partly in Britain and studied economics at Smith College, a women’s establishment in Massachusetts. She, too, has been working at the World Economic Forum in Geneva as a senior director. The award ceremony alternates between London and New York – Zahidi got hers in London, Gul last week in New York.
Gul said he applied for the prize “because it’s a very valuable opportunity for young writers to bring their ideas to life”.
He won the Fox International Fellowship while at Yale and chose to spend a year at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi as a visiting scholar.
“It was an incredible experience and I made many friends along the way,” he said. “As a Pakistani, living and researching in India was a unique opportunity to view the relationship between the two countries from both sides.”
He explained: “I was very happy to get the opportunity to go to India because it tends to be the centre piece of Pakistan’s foreign policy and although I was thoroughly well-versed in the Pakistani narrative I was eager to see things from the other side.
“I’ve also had a specific interest in Indian higher education, places like the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) produce some of the top talent in the world. I was looking forward to being based at JNU to get a sense of how it is that Indian students have been able to compete worldwide despite limited institutional resources.”
He admitted: “The visa process was not easy and I had to wait eight months for it to work out. Even then I could only go to New Delhi because I got a city and not a country visa, so it was disappointing that I could not see more of the country – I couldn’t even go to (adjacent) Gurgaon.”
“But I know that my Indian friends who have tried to go to Pakistan have had to face a similar ordeal, so my situation was definitely not unique or limited only to Pakistanis,” he acknowledged. “I had a wonderful time in India; I already had a strong group of friends based there whom I had met at graduate school at Yale so I felt like I was going to a very familiar place.”
Asked whether he could offer any tips to the authorities on how the two sides could be brought closer together, Gul responded: “I think it’s important to realise that even though we have a tendency to emphasise differences, those difference occur in the context of overwhelming similarity.
“Which other country in world is India most similar to, if not Pakistan? Which other country in the world is Pakistan most similar to, if not India?
“But when people are similar it’s much harder to resolve differences; it’s like fights in the family or group of friends, even when the stakes are low and solutions relatively simple there is enormous ego and pride that complicates the situation.
“I think a good start would be to just let people visit each other’s country more often, which is not easy at the moment and I can say that based on personal experience. It’s much harder to demonise people when you know them and they’re real instead of just an abstraction.”