Exploring the American Dream: From Pakistan to Harvard Business School

by Taylor Ellis on

Ahmed Makani studied his way from a poor neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan, to Harvard Business School

Ahmed Makani studied his way from a poor neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan, to Harvard Business School

Growing up in the densely populated metropolis of Karachi, Pakistan, Ahmed Makani felt he lived in two different worlds. By day he attended a private Catholic elementary school on full scholarship with children who came from Karachi’s wealthiest families. After school he lived in a poverty-stricken neighborhood — where electricity was scarce and retrieving drinking water consisted of filling it by the gallons and hauling it up ten flights of stairs to his family’s small apartment.

Everyday Makani walked two miles to the bus, while the other students drove by him with their parents in expensive cars. However, Makani says that instead of letting his shame and embarrassment overcome him, he was fueled by something else — a deep desire to be better than his peers at academics. “I felt like I could be better than them in something else and that’s academics,” Makani says. “And I thought, ‘you may be better off financially, but I’m better off academically, and I can beat you.’”

That self-awareness put him on an educational path that allowed him to reach an unusual milestone last week when he was among 901 MBA graduates in Harvard Business School’s Class of 2013. In a sea of cap and gowns on his graduation day, Makani looked like any other Harvard MBA: a newly minted corporate soldier filled with unbridled joy and enthusiasm. But unlike many of his classmates, his journey from Karachi to Harvard was long and difficult, and began early in his life, inspired as much by his academic prowess as his ultimate passion to become an entrepreneur.

‘BEING ABLE TO EXCHANGE A SCARF FOR A HANDFUL OF BILLS–THAT WAS THRILLING’

Makani ranked at the top of his class year after year and eventually won a scholarship to the best secondary school in Pakistan: Karachi Grammar school. And while he continued to excel in academics, his entrepreneurial roots were also being formed working at his father’s scarf shop. Makani says that this is where he became an “entrepreneur at heart.”

“… Making a sale and being able to exchange a scarf for a handful of bills — that was thrilling,” Makani says. “And I think it was at that point that I probably realized that I wanted to be in a position one day where I was selling a product or providing a service and engaging with the outside world.”

Quickly approaching graduation from Karachi Grammar School, Makani had no idea what he wanted to do. However, he says he came to a major turning point when a group of Karachi Grammar School alumni returned to give a presentation about Yale. Makani had never traveled abroad, but in that moment he set his sights on Yale and became the first person in his community to leave Pakistan to attend college in the United States.

MAJORING IN MATH AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT YALE UNIVERSITY

At Yale, Makani pursued degrees in mathematics and international studies. He says it was the first time his perspective was broadened, and that he was exposed to other students from all over the world. But like many of his peers with an affinity for numbers, Makani decided to make the leap into the financial sector after graduation as an analyst at Goldman Sachs for two years. Then he moved to San Francisco where he worked as an associate for technology-based private equity firm Vector Capital. However, both jobs exposed his lack of interest in the financial world and led him back to his first passion: entrepreneurship.

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  • Phillyrocks45

    Another HBS article…John Bryne is just turning this site into some HBS love fest.

  • short crosse

    Man, you beat me to it with your concise comment. PQ is now merely a HBS mouthpiece. Other non Harvard students and their journey to an US MBA outside HBS don’t count. Next Harvard article: HBS canteen has revamped its canteen menu, how does this innovation boost leadership. Can other B-Schools follow to play catch up in the war of MBA lunch boxes:-)

    Let us have a bet: How many more HBS articles in the next 30 days? I say 8.

  • Dave Coles

    This is wonderful. Congratulations, Ahmed!

  • Yakov

    Eight Harvard articles in June? I think you are way off and need to raise the estimate. By 6th June, this website has published 3 Harvard pieces alone out of 7 in total. That is 42% of output.

  • oko

    From Karachi to Yale. Must be from a rich family! Karachi Grammar School is an elitist school too.

  • weierstrass

    From gutter to Yale undergrad is a much much higher achievement than Yale+VC to HBS.

    @John: it would be interesting and fair to us to let us know how stories come to P&Q. Are they proposed to you by HBS? If so, it’s quite sad to see them use that guy’s story to try to make themselves look good.

  • Andrew

    Good for the candidate. Excellent.

    But is this news worthy? There are a dime a dozen of such stories. Moreover, there are so many Indians in b-school to begin with.

  • Andrew

    PS: By Indians I meant people from the sub-continent. Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis…same difference!

  • Aziz

    Yes, generally merit based, and elitist a bit, but they do have students from very poor families, on full scholarships, like the person in the story.

  • Prashant

    This is such a stupid story. Really? Yale to GS to Vector is the typical path for most people in the top 5. Every single immigrant tells the “rags to ritches” story. No offense to this dude, but this is not that impressive. This just sounds like the quintessential Harvard or Stanford story. Sorry to sound insensitive, but I feel like this dude is milking the situation a bit…

  • foggybottom

    Seriously John, wtf man. Harvard doesn’t need more publicity…I’d actually rather read about successful MBAs from non-core schools…like tier 3/4 schools…

    Or, continue to write about some African girl that grew up in a village but managed to get into Princeton and then worked at McKinsey and then Bain Capital. :)

  • teema

    What were his o/a level subjects and what were is grades in each of them?

  • Adnannmad

    I dont get it when we say karachi grammar school, a school of elites and normally they are alumnus of such universities in future. Not sure if the story represent clear picture. thanks and cheers if it hurts to writer

  • arafura

    The interesting part is not from Yale to GS to Vector, but from being a scholarship student at a catholic school to a Yale graduate.

  • AC/DC

    No you fool, it doesn’t mean the same. When we say Americans are imbeciles, we do not mean Canadians. Similarly, all three represent different countries.

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