Two brown envelopes

1. Hazme
CEO and founder of EastNets, Hazem Mulhim, in an undated photo. (Photo: Handout from Hazem Mulhim)
Entrepreneur’s Hazem Mulhim is the CEO and founder of EastNets. His long journey has taken him from a small corner computer shop in Amman to a leading global financial regtech software enterprise. Following is the first of a two-part biographical article covering the early phase of his journey: اضافة اعلان

It may take one event in one’s youth that stays indelibly engraved in the memory and that may have a pivotal impact on one’s future.

For Hazem Mulhim, CEO and Founder of EastNets, this event was the moment his father, an accomplished lawyer in Kuwait at the time, laid two brown envelopes on a table in front of him. One included the sum of money his father had put aside to fund Mulhim’s university education in the UK, the other held a paltry amount, hardly enough to support him for a couple of months.

Young Mulhim had failed to score the A-level grades required for enrollment in university, which was what his father had expected. The elder Mulhim was not giving his son a choice; he had to take the measly $200 in the other envelope and go his own way.

“It was the fork in the river, when I could have traveled in any number of directions,” Mulhim told Jordan News.

“I was twenty years old … and although I did not know it then, the envelopes were the crucial turning point in my life.”

With university funding chances in the UK evaporated, he sought support from the PLO in Syria, who was offering scholarships in Eastern bloc countries. This “fork in the river” would land Mulhim in Bulgaria.

“I arrived in 1975 and did not leave until 1980. I would endure a process of gradual painful change.”

Separated from his family and behind the iron curtain of a communist country, Mulhim learned a new language and persevered.

“Looking back now, there was something brutally Darwinian about the process of personal transformation. I think everyone, certainly every entrepreneur, must have their own version of my formative Bulgarian moment.”

Mulhim graduated in 1980 with a master’s degree in medical electronics.

Birth of an entrepreneur

Adapting to drastic changes in life is a necessary step toward building resilience, a strong character and a working vision. Having accomplished what he had set out to do in communist Bulgaria, Mulhim’s most testing period was ending.

“Three traits, I believe, best prepare you for entrepreneurship: being open to new ideas; the will to broaden your horizons; an eagerness to learn new tricks.”

Mulhim had an epiphany after a few odd jobs, one of which he started in 1980, as a medical electronics employee at Siemens in Kuwait, where his father ran a thriving law practice. He realized that the glue holding the business world together was not machines, but rather the software driving them.

“If this seems blindingly obvious today, it was not back then.”

In 1982, another chance presented itself to Mulhim through a job at Technology International Corporation’s (TIC) in Orlando, Florida, a venture set up by Khaled M. Diab, a Palestinian refugee from the Nakba of 1948.

Mulhim’s new role at TIC reinforced his vision of the transformational power software would have in industry and business. He became involved in the development of TIC’s language recognition software stack, which enabled operating systems to recognize and process Arabic letters and numerals.

By the time Mulhim had received his master’s degree in Bulgaria, the computer revolution was well under way in developed markets. And by the time he had arrived in the United States, the Apples and IBMs were starting to invade homes and offices as computer retail outlets, such as Radio Shack, were spreading across America.

Back in Kuwait again, Mulhim saw the computer retail trend also spreading.

“First mover advantage is essential in business, and there were already street-level stores in Kuwait.”

Mulhim chose to launch his showroom in Jordan, instead, where he had spent his childhood. He chose the rising district of Tlaa Al-Ali in Amman for his first showroom, registering the company under Jordan Computer Center. The first seed capital for this venture came partly from his own pocket and his father’s, as well as six other investors with whom his ideas struck a chord in “a chance meeting”.

“My first investors ran Computer & Engineering Bureau (now Optimiza Solutions). They liked my idea of selling PCs to homes rather than businesses,” Mulhim said.

With little capital left after renting and furnishing his showroom, he sought consignment deals with local PC distributors to stock up.

What distributors and agents lacked in pizzazz and marketing acumen, Mulhim brought into his retail venture.

“I offered my supplier’s products in an attractive setting where customers had first-hand experiences, playing with computers and gadgets.”

Those were the Ataris, Commodores and Sinclairs of the day.

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