Tanweer Ahmed: From Humble Beginnings In Pakistan To A Tycoon In USA

Ahmed had travelled to the US over 30 years ago where he set up a business which quickly scaled. His ability to diversify paid dividends to him

Tanweer Ahmed: From Humble Beginnings In Pakistan To A Tycoon In USA

American-Pakistani Tycoon Tanweer Ahmed made headlines in Pakistan recently after he generously donated $9 million to a local university and army chief General Asim Munir spoke highly of him during a visit to the United States.

But who is the Houston-based multi-millionaire, and how did an immigrant from Pakistan make it big in the United States?

Tanweer Ahmed - the boy from Sialkot

The 55-year-old Ahmed was born in Sialkot to a lower middle-class agrarian family. His father, Mohammad Waris, could not afford for his children to gain a modern education. Waris realised and appreciated the importance of an education and did everything for his children to go to the best facilities.

It led Waris to incur immense financial difficulties as he enrolled Ahmed in the best private school in his area.

A young Ahmed had to choose between the luxury of going to school by bus or walking for a couple of miles to save pennies for lunch. 

However, his family's financial situation became so dire that at the age of 10, Ahmed had to sell vegetables in Sialkot to pay his school fees.

Moving abroad

When he turned 18 in 1988, Ahmed realised he would only further burden his ageing father if he continued his education. He decided to leave for London, where his uncle lived. Ahmed stayed with his uncle briefly and then left for the United States of America. 

When Ahmed first landed in New York City, he had only $23 in his pocket and no contacts or anywhere to go. Ahmed started on a humble note in the US as an immigrant student and worked at restaurants to survive. He struggled there for a few months before moving to Sacramento and then settling in San Francisco.

Ahmed took up jobs at desi restaurants and gas stations - which were mostly run by immigrants from the subcontinent. The US economy was quite stable then, and employment expanded quickly. The next year, Ahmed was offered a job as a shift manager at the fast food outlet Jack in the Box.

Tanweer Ahmed's out-of-the-box approach to generating revenue led to his unprecedented promotions. In a couple of months, he was appointed as the regional manager, area manager, and then the General Manager (GM) at Taco Bell. Since then, the boy from Sialkot had a meteoric rise.
He set up a business which grew from one store to 153 stores in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas with over 5,000 employees – making him one of America's largest fast-food franchise owners.

At this point, Ahmed decided to diversify his business interests. He simultaneously set up insurance companies and invested in energy production businesses in Texas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Today, he owns franchises in several popular food chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. He also owns California's largest transport company and has business interests in the energy sector and medicine industry. 

He is also involved in the banking sector and played a role in reducing transaction times, which led him to gain the trust of the then-vice chair of the US Federal Reserve, expand his business, and enter into the middle class.

The key to business, Ahmed explained, was to take a step-by-step approach, meticulous planning, and diversification.
After establishing himself as a successful entrepreneur, Ahmed followed his childhood passion. In this endeavour, he was sure to attract global attention. 

Following a dream

Ahmed described himself as a passionate cricketer. However, his tough upbringing did not afford Ahmed the luxury of playing cricket when he was young.

Having established himself as an entrepreneur, Ahmed announced in 2018 his plans to construct the largest cricket complex in the USA. He acquired 86 acres of land near the Houston city area for the purpose.

He also owns the Houston Hurricanes cricket franchise in the Minor League Cricket.
Today, his Prairie View Cricket Complex is fast turning Houston into the cricket capital of the USA.

The choice of location was quite obvious because Texas is home to the third-largest Asian population after California and New York. 

In June 2023, the venue hosted the Houston Open T20 Tournament, which featured major league cricket and international stars. It drew a large crowd of fans from almost every country where cricket is played.

Philanthropic journey

As he saw business success, Ahmed started contributing towards his society, focusing on uplifting fellow American-Pakistanis and people in his ancestral homeland, Pakistan. 

In the US, he built ten mosques in different states and donated lands for graveyards in Virginia and California.

In Pakistan, he focused on his native Sialkot, upgrading the Sialkot girls' school into a college and opening a modern dialysis centre where patients can avail of the dialysis facility for free.

Ahmed has also built a modern hospital in his native Sialkot to make quality health care accessible.

During the 2022 floods, he used his contacts with members of the US Congress and convinced some, including Sheila Jackson, Algreen, and Tom Souzi, to travel to Pakistan as a delegation. 

When the members of Congress announced $30 million in aid for Pakistan, Ahmed matched that contribution with Rs30 million from his pocket.
Later, he proposed building a model village for flood victims of Sindh. This was a million-dollar project where a replica of a pure American village with all basic amenities was to be developed. He donated huge sums of money to build houses for flood victims in both Sindh and Balochistan.

In 2023, Ahmed donated $9 million to the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) to build a modern and fully-equipped Information Communication Technology centre and provide student scholarships.

Donations to NUST and the army chief's praise

When General Asim Munir visited Washington DC last year, Ahmed was one of the participants at an hours-long meeting between the army chief and the Pakistani diaspora living in the US at the embassy in Washington DC.

It was at this meeting that the army chief singled out Ahmed for praise, appreciating him for donating $9 million to the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad -- single largest donation by any overseas Pakistani for any Pakistani university -- to help students from impoverished backgrounds to access quality education through scholarships, with a focus on helping and empowering the most underprivileged students from across Pakistan. 

Gen Munir praised Tanweer Ahmed in the following words: "Pakistan is proud of heroes like you."

"Your support to NUST in establishing the Science and Technology Park, expansion of campuses and partnership for assisting financially challenged students are praiseworthy initiatives, meeting due recognition. Indeed, through this venture, not only will NUST gain further strength but also enable many students to bear their expenditures. Your efforts in the domains of humanitarian assistance and interest in academia of Pakistan is a true reflection and favour for the people of Pakistan," the army chief told Ahmed.

NUST also confirmed that Ahmed had entered into a formal partnership with the university by setting up an endowment fund that will benefit nearly 200 students annually. 

In recognition of his contribution to NUST, Sindh Governor Kamran Tessori conferred Ahmed an honourary doctorate and a gold medal for his philanthropic work in Pakistan last month. 

At the event, Ahmed expressed that it was not just NUST that he wanted to work with in Pakistan's higher education sector.

Countering false narratives

The meeting with the army chief and his comments about Ahmed brought a lot of attention to the entrepreneur.

After several misleading and false statements about Ahmed and his sources of income were shared over social media, he decided to take to social media and counter the fake news.

He gave an account of his meeting with the army chief and being a witness to the three-hour-long frank discussions the army chief had with the Pakistani diaspora at the embassy in Washington. 

Ahmed emphasised that the army chief was frank in his discussions with the community and that there was an overwhelming demand to attend the meeting at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, DC.

Future plans

Ahmed said that he wants to expand his philanthropic work in Pakistan. 

Apart from NUST, he expressed a desire to work with other universities. 

"Deserving students will get scholarships annually through the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The system to obtain scholarships will be purely on merit and aimed strictly at those students who cannot afford quality and expensive education," he said of the scholarship.

"I decided to launch the endowment fund to assist the talented and deserving Pakistani students in order for them to make their mark in various advanced sectors such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Information Technology (IT) and latest technologies. The future belongs to these sectors, and Pakistan will benefit hugely from its youth," he said, adding that his decision was also spurred from the fact how he could not pursue higher education due to a shortage of funds.