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Honouring the Legacy of Zafar Siddiqi (1948-2024)

Amir Jahangir remembers Zafar Siddiqi.
Published 29 Apr, 2024 11:11am

Zafar Siddiqi was a luminary whose journey from the realms of finance and accounting with Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG) to the dynamic world of television production illuminated pathways for countless aspirants. With a distinguished tenure spanning 18 years at KPMG, including a stint as a partner and later as the managing director of a consultancy practice, his transition into the media sphere was marked by an unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation.

In the mid-nineties, his keen eye for opportunity led him to establish Television Business Production (Telebiz), a pioneering TV production house in Pakistan specialising in business programmes for international audiences. He also gave a new flavour and temperament to news in the form of Tijarti Khabrain and Karobari Dunya, programming that helped make economic and business news more relevant.

I first met Zafar Siddiqi in October 1998 at the offices of Telebiz in Bath Island, Karachi. At the time, I was only 26 years old, navigating the realm of journalism and business development associated with a technology magazine. Zafar Sahib, as I came to know and call him, shared his grand vision with me and extended an invitation to join him in reshaping the media landscape. More than a job offer, it was a call to revolutionise how news was made, a vision he would later realise with the launch of CNBC Pakistan in 2005.

In the midst of personal loss, his compassionate embrace remains etched in my memory. Following the passing of my father in August 2000, his heartfelt gesture at the funeral, the only time he ever embraced me in our 15-year association, offered solace beyond words. Whispering in my ear, he imparted strength, assuring me that I was not alone. His support extended even further as he entrusted me to the care of his dear friend and my immediate boss and lifetime mentor, Pervez Ehsan, whose guidance continues to shape my journey even today.

While the world may recognise Zafar Siddiqi as a media tycoon and the driving force behind CNBC franchises across the three continents, to those of us who witnessed his early struggles at Telebiz, he is simply ‘ZS’. Balancing long days at KPMG with tireless evenings at Telebiz, he exemplified the ethos of hard work and dedication. His approach to leadership, characterised by humility and a hands-on attitude, left an indelible impression on all who had the privilege of working alongside him.

His tireless efforts to advocate for Pakistan’s media prominence extended beyond the confines of boardrooms and studios. His weekly excursions at the start of the new millennium to Islamabad were a testament to his dedication to propelling Pakistan onto the global stage. With fervent conviction, he sought to impress upon policymakers the transformative potential of the media in shaping Pakistan’s narrative on the world stage.

I remember him travelling to Islamabad in the same black suit, white shirt and yellow tie, a signature mark of his distinguished presence. This attire set him apart from the usual media and business moguls in Pakistan, underscoring his unique style and individuality while reflecting his simplicity and grace.

His vision extended to animation and graphics, where he envisioned Pakistan as a hub of excellence capable of competing on the international stage. As early as 2004, he championed this cause, recognising the potential for Pakistan to emerge as a key player in the global animation industry. Despite facing scepticism from bureaucratic quarters, he remained resolute, tirelessly advocating for the realisation of this vision. Yet, the short-sightedness of the bureaucracy at the time failed to grasp the magnitude of his vision, dismissing it as fanciful ambition. It wasn’t until 2020 that the realisation dawned, albeit too late. By then, the window of opportunity had passed, with other nations seizing the initiative decades earlier. In the face of scepticism, Zafar Sahib’s unwavering determination and foresight stand as a reminder of the power of perseverance. Although his dreams for Pakistan’s media landscape may have been deferred, his legacy lives on as a beacon of inspiration for future generations.

His commitment to excellence extended beyond borders with the establishment of CNBC Africa, CNBC Arabia, CNBC Pakistan, Samaa TV and Samaa Radio, each a testament to his vision and tenacity. Under his guidance, Samaa TV emerged as a beacon of journalistic integrity, contributing significantly to discourse in Pakistan.

His influence extended beyond broadcasting and production, permeating into the realm of education and leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of media learning in the region. With the launch of Murdoch University’s campus in Dubai, he brought quality media education to the forefront, ensuring that aspiring media professionals had access to world-class instruction and training.

Zafar Sahib’s touch had a transformative effect on everything it graced. His visionary leadership and commitment to quality ensured that every endeavour he undertook shone brightly, drawing admiration and respect from all quarters. In fact, his legacy transcends professional achievements, extending to his roles on the board of the International Emmy Awards and as an advisory council member to the president of Nigeria. His thoughtful insights into the evolving media landscape found expression in his seminal work, TV News 3.0: An Insider’s Guide to Launching and Running News Channels in the Digital Age, a testament to his commitment to knowledge dissemination.

Although he seldom spoke of his personal struggles, Zafar Sahib’s resilience in the face of challenges served as an inspiration to all who knew him. His unwavering belief that progress must benefit Pakistan above all else echoes as a guiding principle in our collective endeavours.

As I reflect on the events of those fateful days, emotions swirl within me like a tempestuous sea. Arriving in Dubai on February 22, my heart heavy with anticipation, I was met with the crushing news on the 23rd that he was no more, and the sorrow that engulfed me in that moment was overwhelming.

While visiting his family home in Emirates Hills, I was overcome by a flood of memories. Here, amidst the echoes of shared visions for innovation in the media landscape, I found solace mingled with grief. Meeting his daughters, Sarah and Ayesha, once vibrant young children, now grown into confident media CEOs and authors, served as a poignant reminder of their father’s legacy. Their strength and resilience mirrored that of their father and his beloved wife, Seema Manazir.

In that moment, surrounded by the echoes of our shared journey, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the profound impact Zafar Sahib had on my life. His wisdom, guidance, and belief in the power of innovation will continue to inspire me, guiding my path forward – even in his absence.

As we bid farewell to this visionary, let us honour Zafar Siddiqi’s memory by embodying his ideals and continuing his legacy of excellence and service. Thank you, Zafar Siddiqi Sahib, for your wisdom, kindness, and unwavering dedication to Pakistan and its people. May your spirit continue to inspire us all. Ameen.

Amir Jahangir is a global competitiveness, risk and development expert. He is CEO, Mishal Pakistan and Adjunct Professor of Narratology and Storytelling, SZABIST.