In Iraq, Mohammed Qasim’s day starts early. Before even the neighbourhood opens shop, his children are out the door and off to school.
A few minutes later, he is on the road himself to start another day selling technology.
Qasim jokes about putting on a bullet proof vest, getting into a tank and dodging land mines along the way to work. But really, that’s a misconception.
Aside from the occasional car bomb, he assures me, life in Baghdad is normal.
“Iraq is not safe everywhere, but it is stable,” Qasim had said at a conference held by Laserfiche, a Long Beach, California-based records management software company. He was addressing an audience of about 2,500 people, some from as far away as New Zealand.
Last week, the value-added reseller made the 30-odd-hour trip from Baghdad to Universal City, California, just north-west of Los Angeles to accept awards for outstanding performance as a channel partner and for being a top reseller, despite never having worked a day in North America.
His energy, he says, has been entirely dedicated to providing IT in Iraq, a country not generally known in the West for security, personal or otherwise.
His company called New Vision IQ was established in 2009, after the war.
It offers various IT solutions and consulting to a list of big names, including the United States Embassy, the U.S. army, as well as Iraq’s own government sector and private sectors.
Despite the challenge of what Qasim calls a generally unqualified workforce in his country, New Vision employs about 30 people.
With the new Iraqi government in power, Qasim saw an opportunity.
As it turns out, many official paper documents were lost during the war. With the government pushing new technology in everything from record keeping to networking, Qasim took the experience and connections he gathered at his old employer in Abu Dhabi to start his own company in Baghdad, marketing both hardware and software.
But things weren’t always easy.
The new government was very strict. In its anti-corruption effort, at times, the cycle of payment was lengthy. Then there were the aforementioned car bombs.
Just two months ago, one exploded not 100 meters from Qasim’s office, shattering his windows.
“Two hours later, the streets were cleaned up, the lights came back on,” he said and laughed. Qasim is so used to telling this story that he skims over the details.
For the most part, he carried on with his day, and after work, he took his family out to a restaurant, then to the relatives for a visit.
“Things went back to normal, as if nothing happened.”
Despite these challenges, he says, his approach in Iraq is very much the same as what it might be in North America.
He talks to customers about their needs. He makes weekly visits. And, he makes connections. The same issues apply; government procedures, budget approvals, the competition – everything that comes with the territory.
If anything, he says, the tough regulations have helped him avoid shady dealings, and a good sales team has gone a long way.
When he makes the trip back to Baghdad on Thursday, he resumes working towards his goal of reaching $1 million in sales.
It’s a bit lofty, considering New Vision only reached $230,000 in 2014, but Qasim is determined.
He also has prospects that need his “personal intervention”, like growing his staff, but mostly he’s looking forward to spending time with his family – and maybe a little vacation.
“Iraqi people are very strong people,” he says. “We cannot expect where the cars will explode. But this is our life, and when we decided to open our company, we decided to be part of the Iraq of tomorrow.”