There’s an old saying, “Never underestimate the man who overestimates himself”. A quick take of Syed Haris Raza’s impressive profile, and you realise the type of man the adage is referring to.

The talented young Chief Executive of Gerry’s dnata, a joint venture between Gerry’s Group and dnata (Emirates Group), has been credited with transforming the company into the largest air services provider in Pakistan, bagging a host of accolades along the way.

The typically media-quiet CEO sat down for an exclusive interview with The Karachiite to give us a sneak peak into the complex world of aviation.  

Run us through a typical day

SHR: After waking up in the morning my first order of business is to meditate for five minutes, where I count my blessings and contemplate my true purpose. This is followed by a customised exercise regime, one hour on weekdays and two hours on weekends, followed by a quick shower and a power-packed breakfast – enough to keep me fully-charged until the evening. I leave for the office immediately after. On the drive over, I’ll normally listen to a selected audiobook or a thought-provoking podcast.

After reaching the office, I take twenty minutes to have an espresso and mull over how that day in particular, fits into my plan for the week, the month, and the year. Usually the day has been planned well in advance. I make slight tweaks here and there, to make room for any last minute variances before tackling the day ahead. I’m quite fortunate in that as the day wears on, instead of decreasing my energy levels seem to have the opposite effect, so when I leave the office around 8pm my energy levels are at their highest.

I always arrive home with a smile on my face and a positive aura. I say ‘Hi’ to everyone, wherever they may be situated at that particular point in time, freshen up and sit down to dinner. Dinner is followed by a talk of the day, and the wife and I indulge in a little Netflix. Two hours after dinner, I’ll have my tea of the day, an assortment comprising of Chamomile, Green, or Macha and shortly after retire to bed. Before I close my eyes I take five minutes to reflect on my day, and then I’m off to dreamland.

How do you see the company changing over the next few years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

SHR: I have been called the King of Transformations. At Gerry’s dnata we’ve already pushed the envelope by creating something truly unique, and are blessed enough to be recognised for that on a global level. Our model here is something quite revolutionary and is sought after by many. The model, which is powered by great team, cutting-edge infrastructure, AI systems, state-of-the-art methodologies and so on, has been tested and already proven in two mega-crises and countless mini-crises that we have been able to overcome successfully, or rather thrived in those crises.

This is the very reason, for us it was relatively easy to achieve the “escape velocity” from the Covid-19 turmoil. At a time when many companies are shutting down we never so much as posted a loss. We have entered the revolutionary phase, from the evolutionary one, and the goal now is to increase the momentum further and grow Organically as well as Inorganically. In times where companies are returning to their core, experimenting Inorganically depicts our strengths and a revolutionary approach.

What is the best and worst part of being a CEO?

SHR: What I enjoy most is the thrill of chartering into unknown territories and taking on new conquests, packed with adventure. Leading the pack into battles alongside my trusted generals and winning wars, fighting alongside my comrades.

The worst part is having to carry the burden of everything. (I often think back to Ned Stark in the first episode of Game of Thrones, deciding on the fate of a Night’s Watch soldier).

What other CEOs do you look up to?

SHR: Elon Musk. He’s dreamer, a brilliant mind, and he strives everyday to make the world a better place. He really pushes the envelope of innovation, treading into territories where no man has gone before. His ambition is unmatched.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it?

SHR: I remember a few years ago, when terrorists attacked Karachi airport and our warehouse became a battleground between the terrorists and the military. We lost seven of our comrades that day. Watching the warehouse burning down with my own eyes and then finding out that seven of our own had embraced martyrdom.

When the operation was over, I remember a Commanding Officer asked me to identify the bodies. It was the most difficult moment of my life, and one that I’ll never forget.

That day challenged our very existence. I had to come in the next morning and lead, despite the emotional scarring. I had to keep the pack together while we were under attack. But we all came together and protected one another and then, it was only a matter of time before we bounced back stronger.

How would you describe your management style?

SHR: Like Camelot and the sacred round table. Flanked by worthy Generals all around.

What is your leadership philosophy?

SHR: My leadership philosophy has always been simple: Walk the talk. Don’t preach what you haven’t done or attempted yourself.

Would you describe yourself as an optimist or a pessimist?

SHR: I would describe myself as an extremely optimistic-opportunist.

What animal are you most like and why?

SHR: I would say there are two, a dragon and an eagle. Eagles have vision, they’re fearless, tenacious, high flyers and they nurture their young from a very young age. Dragon’s because they’re thick-skinned, mysterious, imaginative and noble – fire-breathing towards enemies but kind-hearted towards friends! Also because of what they represent: strength and power. Funnily enough, some of my friends even call me ‘Harrigon’.

What would you say is your biggest flaw?

SHR: I cannot deal with negative people. I just don’t have it in me. The type of person I am, the extremely optimistic-opportunist, if I am surrounded by negativity it stifles my environment. My environment is key to me achieving all that I set out to do. For me, it’s a matter of controlling my environment.

How do you navigate the business world?

SHR: A lot of it is by studying data and mental models but mostly, I just follow my intuition and my own unique understanding of the world. Given that it has worked pretty well for me so far there’s never been a reason to make alterations. Though I do make carefully selected improvements.

Describe some of the methods you use to increase efficiency.

SHR: I strongly believe in concept of Ikigai and I strive to always achieve a state of “Flow” in everything I do.

What gives you the most joy?

SHR: As cliché as it sounds, impacting other people’s lives in a positive way and helping them achieve their true potential. And then help them help others transcend and that’s how I would leave my mark. That, reading, and a little bit of writing every now and then.

What is your definition of success?

SHR: My definition of a successful life would be to live a life “having worth lived” – with personal and professional growth and an opportunity to give something back. Make a contribution. Leave an impact, a legacy.

Are there any mantras you live by?

SHR: Just one. I control my actions thus my life.

How do you deal in your quest for talent?

SHR: I am always on the lookout for great talent and I’m not afraid to take a risk on people who I see have great potential. I’m always looking for ‘diamonds in the rough’. I have been lucky that I have found quite a few over the years, and have transformed them and helped them go on to great success.

When hiring, how do you ensure a leader is a good fit for the company?

SHR: I always look at attitude and not aptitude. I can teach pretty much anybody to do anything as long as they are willing to learn through devotion and sheer hard work. I’ve also been known to use certain neuroscience and behavioural science techniques to ensure we’re a suitable match as Mentor-Mentee.

How do you create the right mix of personalities for your executive team?

SHR: Imagine a chessboard and its various pieces, each with different skills and reach and each one wields its own unique power, and together they become a force to be reckoned with. I handpick my leadership team and I choose them based on their future potential, not who they are today, but who they have the potential to become. I then train them myself and groom them to become my trusted Generals.

What are some of the methods you use to motivate them?

SHR: I create a bond with them. That bond is unique for every individual and it’s based on honesty. I have a coaching approach to leading my team, which turns out to be something quite special.

Shifting our focus from the industry to the business world, what are some of the biggest challenges to doing business in Pakistan?

SHR: Well, it’s a jungle out there and there’s no playbook. To thrive in a jungle you must either become the strongest or the most intelligent. Every day brings new battles, new adventures and new conquests. But with all of this risk and ruin, come great opportunities.

What do you hope to see change?

SHR: Our ‘attitude as human beings’, towards life, towards each other, towards this world, and this universe that we’re all a part of!