Ameena Saiyid: A legacy of leadership and the lessons along the way


It’s no longer rare to see Pakistani women at the helm of successful companies or running businesses of their own. VCast Online has spoken to several female CEOs and entrepreneurs who are successfully leading companies and movements. But this was not the case in 1988 when Ameena Saiyid took over as the head of Oxford University Press (OUP)  in Pakistan. She eventually became the first woman from the country to head a multinational company and did so for nearly 30 years until recently taking the position of chairperson.

Among her many contributions to literature and publishing in Pakistan, the most well-known is co-founding the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), which first launched in 2010 with 5,000 attendees and grew to 175,000 by 2016.

Watch our interview with Ameena to learn how she dealt with resistance from men in the workplace (0:50); her own relationship to books (5:23); the importance of having mentors (3:16); nurturing the reading culture in Pakistan (5:53); and what she regrets after three decades of running OUP in Karachi (7:27).

What many people do not know about Ameena is that she was once an entrepreneur herself. For a brief period between 1986 and 1988, she ran her own company, which sold imported books from the UK. But in order to publish, she needed substantial investment. So when OUP offered her the position with enough funds to implement her ideas, she took it.

“I have been working with men for decades and have encountered male prejudice, which takes various forms. It is reflected in statements such as, ‘How will you have time for this? You have other responsibilities. What will happen to your job if your husband gets transferred?’”

The motive, Ameena says, is that of putting down a woman who dares to equate herself with men professionally. “I must add, however, that similar statements emanate from women.”

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The quotes used above were taken from the book “Ameena Saiyid: A Fountain of Knowledge” published by 21st Century Business and Economics Club.

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