Not long after Qudsia Kadri was appointed the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of the Financial Post (FP) in 2000, a colleague working at another newspaper suggested she run a fashion magazine instead of a financial daily.
That memory is still fresh in Kadri’s mind.
“After all, it is a male-dominated society... a woman running a newspaper and that too, a financial daily, was an oddity in the industry,” she says ruefully.
In fact, it was only a year earlier in 1999, that Kadri joined the FP as a reporter. Within a year, she was heading the organisation – which by any measure was a phenomenal growth leap.
“It was a dying business and the owners were thinking of closing it down. But I was passionate. They asked me if I wanted to run the paper and I said yes.”
That was just the start. The paper was not making money and survival was difficult without the owners’ backing, all of which made Kadri’s job even more difficult. Yet, in spite of this, her biggest challenge was to rise above the stereotypes and the labels of being a woman. She remembers how people would be surprised to see her at press conferences dealing with matters relating to the national budget. “Please send your editor,” they would say. “I am the editor,” she would reply.
A mother of two daughters, she takes pride in telling me that one of them is a banker in the UK and the other a lawyer in Karachi. “I am a firm believer that children have to be prioritised above everything else.”
Yet, this was also the kind of setting Kadri thrived in. For over a decade, until 2011, she was the only woman who was the Editor-in-Chief of an English-language daily in Pakistan and the only one to sit on the Executive Committee of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS).
It was perhaps her dedication to prove her doubters wrong and her awareness that as a woman she had to fight harder that made her last at the helm for so long and sustain a dying business. And it earned her quite a reputation among her peers.
“One of my presidents at the APNS used to call me ‘Razia Sultana’ and ‘Rani of Jhansi,’” she recalls with a smile.
I have always had a notion that successful people have a law degree. This belief was reinforced when Kadri tells me she studied law. Her father was a civil servant and she was raised mostly in Rawalpindi. Two of her uncles were successful lawyers, so law really seemed the right choice at the time. She practiced law from 1989 to 1993, working for a firm of solicitors in London. During that time, she was also involved in assisting the London Metropolitan Police in domestic violence cases.
She says that her experience as a lawyer came in handy at the FP. She would make her reporters check and recheck their sources and facts.
“My legal background made me wary of publishing anything that was not authenticated. In my 12 years at the FP we received only two major legal notices, which is a feat, because newspapers receive legal notices every other day.”
A mother of two daughters, she takes pride in telling me that one of them is a banker in the UK and the other a lawyer in Karachi.
“I am a firm believer that children have to be prioritised above everything else.”
For Kadri, it was always important that she give her daughters time and she has tried to instil in them the same sense of empowerment that is a fundamental part of her own personality.
Kadri moved back to Karachi in 1994 and joined the LTV Group of Companies as the SVP dealing with HR, Administration and Communications – the latter giving her the first flavour of Pakistan’s media world, which set her up well for her next opportunity.
“I had a penchant for writing and was a regular contributor to several English language newspapers and magazines.” This partly explains why although the FP was a “dead paper,” she couldn’t resist the opportunity to work there as a reporter when it came knocking in 1999. She had no idea, of course, that she would be leading the paper within a year.
From her experience as the chief editor of a financial daily, Kadri is critical of the business environment in Pakistan. In her view, the regulators, be they the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) or the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), have to play their role in curbing corruption in the financial sector and fostering a culture of transparency.
“You have to understand that if you are reporting on the economy, understanding the links is critical.”
While at the FP she also hosted television talk shows for a couple of private channels, yet despite having worked for the electronic media, she is a critic.
“This race for rankings and ratings has destroyed standards. It is quite tragic and like Doctor Faustus the channels have sold their souls to the devil.”
In this respect, here too she sees a role for the regulator, in this case the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), to be more proactive. She also lays emphasis on the need to train media people, especially in an environment where more and more news organisations are entering the arena. In fact, training journalists is close to her heart. She was president of the Media Women Publishers and Journalists Organisation (MWPJO) from 2009 to 2011. One of the MWPJO’s goals was to train journalists from interior Sindh, but they were unable to garner the kind of support they had hoped for from the Sindh Government.
In 2011, Kadri left the FP (it closed down the following year) to join the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as head of their media cell. Yet her flare and passion for journalism is far from over. Having conversed with her for over an hour, I tell her I have a feeling that there is another media stint left in her.
“Never say never,” is all she replies.