BPF caught up with Mohammad Saleem Latif as our Outstanding British Pakistani this month, who won the Commonwealth Export Champion title in November 2017 as a leading Commonwealth SME. To learn more about the Commonwealth First programme and to apply please visit: http://www.commonwealthfirst.org/
How did your interest in business develop?
I originally graduated as a Medical Engineer but my passion for computers led me to work for IBM. It was a 9-5 job, a typical shift for many. However, very soon I began to realise that my childhood dreams of doing large and wonderful things in life started to fade into the distance. There simply wasn’t enough time or money to pursue any of my dreams so I decided to start working for myself.
What is it that you do now?
I am the Managing Director of a company called ePortfolios which specialises in online solutions for the monitoring and evaluation of teachers’ professional growth and lifelong learning. It basically assists with the tracking and assessment of teachers’ knowledge and skills along the Professional Teacher Standards.
You have quite a list of outstanding achievements, but what do you take most pride in?
As of November 2017, becoming a CommonwealthFirst Export Champion is at the top of the list. I’m so proud to have won. The fact I am a British Pakistani and Muslim makes me even more proud as I get to positively represent both my faith & community and challenge the stereotype of people with my background.
Tell us a bit about the Commonwealth First Mission and how you came across it?
The CommonwealthFirst Mission was established to encourage and enable small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to trade with and invest in countries across the Commonwealth.
I was looking to expand the business by incorporating teaching standards from countries apart from the UK. During my research I came across the Commonwealth Standards Framework for Teachers & School Leaders. This led me to the CWIEC website which, in turn, took me to the Commonwealth First programme.
What are Commonwealth export champions and how did your company qualify as one?
Export Champions are 100 of the best small and medium sized enterprises across the UK who demonstrate an innovative approach to their work, have ambitious plans to grow internationally and who contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals whilst at the same time have a high level of impact on the countries they export their products to.
ePortfolios qualified as an Export Champion because we met all the above criteria. We have an innovative solution, which can help all 52 Commonwealth countries measure, track and assess the knowledge, skills and personal attributes of all 20 million teachers along the new Commonwealth Standards Framework for Teachers and School Leaders.
What is the best thing about being a champion?
Wherever I go, the recognition of being a champion, the respect I get and the honour it imparts is unparalleled.
As a champion, I’m taken on tailored trade missions and given access to high level networks. I get assistance from the UK government, trade associations, Chambers of Commerce and unrivalled profiling and branding opportunities.
In April I will get the opportunity to be part of the Commonwealth Business Forum where, for the first time since 1997, the UK will host Commonwealth leaders at Buckingham Palace for the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
By far the best thing for me, however, is being a role model by those I love as well as those in the wider community.
How promising is the future of export businesses across the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is made up of 52 English speaking countries with a combined population of 2.2 billion, of who, over 60% are under the age of 30. With technology making the world an ever-smaller place, the potential for businesses to expand into these countries and access the younger population is huge.
Moreover, with a combined GDP estimated to top US$13 trillion by 2020 and a framework of shared values, regulatory systems and language, trade between Commonwealth countries is cheaper and costs, on average, 19% less than trade between nations outside of the Commonwealth.
Where do you see yourself and your firm 5 years from now?
Within the next few years we hope to involve British, Canadian and Australian Universities and Institutions in the distance monitoring, assessment and accreditation of teachers working within developing Commonwealth nations.
We hope our efforts and success in training teachers to a high professional standard will spur the development and implementation of Commonwealth competency frameworks for doctors, engineers, scientists etc as well.
Our ultimate goal will be to work with the Commonwealth governments to allow professionals from all different backgrounds and ethnicities to move and work freely within the Commonwealth.
What was the most crucial decision you have ever made that led to where you are now?
That must be applying to train as a teacher back in 2008.
It was only during teacher training that I discovered the importance of the ePortfolio and observed how it was used by our School Mentor to assess our teaching performance and our University Tutor to judge whether to grant a teaching qualification.
The rest is history.
If you could change one thing about your journey, what would you do differently?
I worked completely independently throughout the design and development stages of the ePortfolio. On reflection, if I was to start the journey again, I would probably align myself with recognised institutions and have started to network much earlier. If I had done this, I think I would have found the route to market much less frustrating.
Do you have any regrets?
I’m not big on regrets. I very much believe that everything I have experienced in life has ultimately brought me to this moment.
I have learnt, however, to enjoy the journey more. I remember often looking outside on a sunny day, longing to go outdoors only to continue working in my office. It’s important to remember there’s life outside work, however much you enjoy what you do.
How do you cope with failure?
When it comes to failures, disappointments or rejections I try to understand the reasons behind them and then work around them as best I can.
If, after exhausting all options, it still doesn’t work out, I believe that it’s because its either not the right time or it’s something that’s not destined to be for me.
A wise man once said: “What is destined will reach you, even if it be underneath two mountains. What is not destined, will not reach you, even if it be between your two lips!”
What are some traits every businessman needs to be successful in his or her job?
My top 5 would be:
1. Trustworthy – Who wants to do business with a fraudster?
2. Ambitious – Has a vision & passion to get exactly where they want to go
3. Intelligent – Can weigh up decisions logically without basing judgements on emotions
4. Courageous – Willing to take calculated risks and face the consequences
5. Sociable but with a thick skin – Needs to be able to network whilst accepting genuine criticism and rejecting unfounded negative attitudes.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
For business inspiration, I look to James Caan, the famous Dragon’s Den tycoon. He gives me the courage to strive to achieve a really high level of success, although I aim to do that whilst preserving and taking pride in my Pakistani identity and Islamic faith.
Other than business, what are your hobbies?
I own & run several websites, YouTube channels and Facebook pages that attract millions of visitors/viewers each year. I also run a charity that works with local partner organisations to build wells that provide fresh clean water to entire villages. Apart from that, I also enjoy going out with my family, running an online meditation class and playing chess.
What advice do you have to offer to young British-Pakistanis who want to follow in your footsteps?
If you want to be successful, hang around with successful people. As Jim Rohn so eloquently put it, “you are the average of the 5 people you hang around with the most.”
If it means making new friends, then make some new friends. Take action. Join the right groups and keep your eyes and ears open. There are plenty of people out there doing well. Your task is to introduce yourself to those you would like to emulate and get a relationship off the ground. The rest will happen naturally.