Noman Rao

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As someone who has set up successful businesses and seems well on his way to becoming a serial entrepreneur, Noman Rao is already in a position many others aspire to. He is definitely his own boss, is not tied to the office or a restrictive routine, and has the chance to explore new ventures in different countries and industries.

With all that, though, comes a self-imposed responsibility. Others might be content to oversee the development of just one start-up into a thriving, profitable business. But, for Rao, that is not enough. He also feels a sense of urgency and obligation to keep taking on new challenges, create jobs and opportunities, and to look for continuous improvement in what he does and in how his companies operate.

Clearly, that explains his reasons for wanting to take the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA and why he was chosen as the first holder of the scholarship for entrepreneurs, which was introduced in 2014. Indeed, Rao is not just a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit and big ideas the program seeks to foster, but also stands out as someone who thinks globally and has the drive to put ambitious plans into practice.

“I started my first company in Chicago,” says Rao, who now lives in Turkey, from where he oversees companies with major operations in the United States, Pakistan, and the Philippines. “It was an e-commerce business providing nursing and hospital uniforms, and it took me about a year to build it up while also maintaining a full-time job as a Vice-President of Manufacturing.”

Fast-growing sales let Rao quit his corporate role and, subsequently, to restructure. The numbers showed it made sense at that point to keep the manufacturing side of his operation in Chicago, where it was easier to find people good at sewing, cutting and embroidery, but to relocate the “pick and pack” and shipping functions – and himself – to near Atlanta, which also had the advantage of a warmer climate and longer summers.

Everything, though, was kept under close and constant review, with decisions made quickly and Rao monitoring operations and results online and via Skype.

“I have been doing that for 10 years and so far, so good,” he says. “I can see the factory, check the numbers and KPIs online, and it works great. Of course, there are challenges, but that is normal in any business.”

The next stage, planned for this year, is to move into the hospitality sector, supplying uniforms for chefs, service staff, and front-desk personnel. Some manufacturing is now done in Pakistan, and Rao has also invested in a company producing lab coats and other specialist items or unique styles.

Besides that, he has already branched out into a completely different field as co-founder and chief executive of Nolin BPO Services. The company focuses on business process outsourcing, with close to 100 staff based in Pakistan and the Philippines handling everything from telephone marketing to helping clients with accounting services, marketing websites, and order optimisation.

“A background in industrial engineering taught me about making things better and leaner and how to provide value for the customer,” he says. “But as you develop a business, you also recognise areas in which you are lacking and need some help. People look to you for decision-making and expertise, but you need someone to guide and mentor you too – and that is why I was especially keen to take the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA.”

In certain ways, he likens the program to one of his own businesses, seeing it as focused, high-value, forward-looking, and offering a variety of “services”. From the outset, he was also impressed by the diversity of backgrounds, industries, and ideas found in each class, meaning that the collective experience and the level of group discussions is “just phenomenal”.

“I did my homework and looked at other options, but the faculty here is world-class and the offer of a scholarship sealed the deal for me,” says Rao. “After 20 years, it was a bit tough to be back in class again, where the tables are turned and I’m being questioned by team members and professors all day long, but the arguing and convincing is now something I like.”

As a self-made person and a successful entrepreneur, Rao is also doing what he can to help others achieve their dreams. His companies actively encourage employees to start their own businesses and will examine the plans, assess the market, and even provide financial support and guidance.

“We don’t take a share in these new enterprises, which might be restaurants or car repair shops, and don’t charge any interest for loans,” he says. “I can help people find jobs and add value to their lives, and the skills and training from the EMBA will help me guide them better.”

Position:
Co-Founder / CEO
Company:
Nolin BPO Services
Office Location:
Tekirdag, Turkey
Class of:
2015