Born in Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh) and brought up in Varanasi, this dynamic entrepreneur Frank Islam landed on the shores of United States with a dream. He went on to establish his information technology company, the QSS Group in 1994 with him as its only employee. He built the Group to more than 2,000 employees and sales of $300 million before he sold it in 2007. Frank provides targeted financial assistance to civic, educational and artistic causes and groups. Organizations that have received his support include: Colorado University, Montgomery Community College, Strathmore Centre for the Performing Arts, and the U.S. Institute for Peace. Frank serves on many boards and advisory councils including: the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Johns Hopkins University, and George Mason University. He spoke to Sujay Mehdudia of Amar Ujala during his recent trip to India about his plans to give back to his country and his state of Uttar Pradesh especially for the youth and SME sector.
How would you describe your rise to such an important position from a small town of Azamgarh to one of the top shots in US corporate world and Indian community?
I was born in Azamgarh and brought up in the holy city of Varanasi which is now represented by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. I landed in US with a dream and the inclusiveness and openness of United States provided me with lot of opportunities to reach where I am today. This is what we can do in this (India) country today especially with the vibrant youth population and under the vision of Mr. Modi. The Prime Minister has brought new energy, new focus and new direction to do business in India. However, I feel that he has a lot of work to do. I am optimistic that he will do wonders and make this country more prosperous which is very important for all of us. I look forward to India to be prosperous under his leadership regardless of caste, creed, religion or background of the person or the community.
In the post Modi visit to United States and the bonhomie generated by the visit, how do you see Indo-US relations going forward from here?
ANS: There was a lot of energy and excitement over the visit of Mr. Modi to US. It was also an opportunity to engage with the very prosperous Indian community and also the vibrant US business community. Now we need to broaden and strengthen our relationship with India. We need to have a strong and collaborative partnership with India. India is an indispensible partner and lot of things are common with India which include democracy, shared interests and shared values. As president Barak Obama said the rejuvenated relationship with India is the happening moment for the US in the 21st century.
How would you like to see the roadmap be drawn for the relationship to grow in the coming days between India and US?
ANS: During my visit to India I have met a lot of ministers and business community. I sense a lot of hope and optimism among them with the zeal that we would to take India forward. I hope that India does move forward under the leadership of Mr. Modi. I think there is a lot of hope from the business community in US that we need to have a robust trade relationship in place. AsI look forward to year 2020, I foresee the bilateral between India and US going up tremendously. India needs to work in the direction of improving its infrastructure, reduce corruption and paperwork for doing business and tame the bureaucracy. In fact, US also needs to work with the Indian community. The US businesses see the 350 million Indian middle class a target for our products and services. The relationship is reciprocal and needs to move both ways. We are also looking to transfer of technology and the best practices from US. We are ready to work in the energy sector and green energy will be the focus. Infrastructure sector is another area and the most important the national security issues. On several issues like environment, pollution, education and faculty exchange programme we need to move together. Those are the areas where India and US have to work and I think the PM is committed and passionate about this and I look forward to a great relationship between the two nations.
There are several trade related investigations being carried out by various outfits in US against India including some by USTR. How do you see these in creating problems in firming up the relationship?
We need to take this relationship to the strategic level and in fact it should be a partnership. As for trade disputes, I would not use the word that investigations are going on against the India. Rather I would say there are some concerns about the functioning of the economy, trade and the economic reforms promised by the previous governments had not been carried out. It is very difficult to do business in India. The fact of the matter is that we have some issues and challenges. Both Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Arun Jaitely are committed to reforms. I don’t think there are dispute but these are challenges. I see that lot of things are going to work between the two nations very soon. US is a natural partner for India and we have to make sure that a strong India will shape the landscape of the world. It can also provide safety, stability and security for the entire region and that is why i say collaboration in security issues.
Tell us something about the investor sentiment in US ever since the new government in India took shape in May 2015?
The US investor sentiment is very strong including that in the NRI community. The sentiment and mood is to have a robust trade relationship with India. Making easier to do business and reduce the incidence of corruption. Lots of investors are energised and have great interest in India. I see a lot of business sentiment emerging for India. You will witness a lot of increase in FDI flows from US in the coming months. We need to re-energise the relationship and turn it into a partnership. Some of the major concerns for the US investors which need to be addressed on top priority is the retrospective tax issue, concerns over holding back of economic reforms, red tapsim, creaking infrastructure, reduction in the layers of bureaucracy to do business or get various clearances. Tax is a big concern for NRI and there were some questions but I am told they were working with Finance Minister to reduce the incidence of double taxation for NRIs. I do believe that tax reforms will happen soon. I see a brighter horizon between the two nations.
Would you throw some light about your business and how a man from UP has shaped up in US?
ANS: My company FI Investments is a mostly invested in small and medium enterprises also called SMEs. It had interests in the IT sector and set up a company in 1994 with myself being the sole employee. It grew up to 2000 employees and a $300 million worth company. However, I decided to exit that business and instead carved a niche for myself in IT and energy sectors and these are my targets areas for investment in India. I see India as a natural partner in IT and software. A lot of young, bright and innovative people are here hold a lot of promise. We want to focus do to things for SMEs as they have a lot of potential to grow and contribute a huge amount to the economic growth and prosperity of the nation. These SMEs will become the engine of growth in the future Agriculture is another area where we would like to invest including setting up backend supply chain infrastructure to put an end to wastage from farm to the folk. I have a great desire to invest in India and give back to my country and the people especially those of Uttar Pradesh. I am also very excited about clean India or the Swach Bharat Abhiyan launched by the Prime Minister and would like to be part of it in some manner or the other.