Pont Alexandre III
With an overarching career spanning across prestigious institutions such as McKinsey & Company, Merrill Lynch, Standard Chartered, and Bain & Company, and through the length of the globe from New York to London, Singapore, Sydney, and Hong Kong, Sameer is currently Managing Director of Streeton Partners in Hong Kong, a firm he founded.
You wrote a wonderful travel story in The Harvard Crimson about “A Weekend in Paris” back in 1992 when you were a staff writer for the prestigious college publication. And now, you’re back in Paris with Destinations. It seems like this city has always held a special place in your heart. Tell us about your love for the City of Lights.
Most people associate Paris with romance or culture or food; my first associations of Paris were about my father. He was a naval officer, a huge military history buff, massive Francophile and one of the biggest admirers of Napoleon Bonaparte you were ever likely to meet. One of the happiest days of my father’s life was when President Francois Mitterrand awarded him the Ordre National du Merite for services to friendship between France and Pakistan. For a long time I saw Paris through my father’s eyes as the city of Napoleon. As an adult I’ve been fortunate to have visited Paris enough times to revel in its many other sights, sounds, tastes, outside of Musee de L’Armee, Les Invalides and Le Tombeau!
What’s absolutely wonderful about Paris is you can have any kind of experience you want, and it can be different each time. It can be a culinary adventure. Or cultural immersion. Or sightseeing. Or romantic getaway. Any which way you choose, it’s going to be memorable.
Name a few of your favourite sights and destinations you would recommend to visitors in the French capital.
I strongly recommend slowing down when you get to Paris. Not trying to hurriedly check things off some long list. I would suggest lingering in a few places, letting Paris embrace you.
Here are a few suggestions. Take in the vast spaces around Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome. Walk across Pont Neuf and take the stairs down to the water, sit under the tree. Check out Hotel de Ville de Paris. For museums, I love Musee d’Orsay’s collection, the Orangerie, as well as Musee Rodin which is superbly peaceful, especially the gardens. And, of course, the grandeur of Imperial France – crossing Pont Alexandre III, through Musee de l’Armee, to Napoleon’s final resting place. On our last trip this summer we spent an entire day strolling around Ile St Louis and up to Place des Vosges, eating along the way, pausing to admire the buildings and statues and churches.
Eating through Paris is a favourite recreational activity for many, of which I too am guilty. Even on short business trips, make sure you step out for lunch; few things beat a quality Parisian bistro meal. There’s an incredible amount of choice in terms of type of food and price level. As they say, it’s a gourmand’s paradise.
What I also enjoy doing is watching the waiters in brasseries and bistros at work. They have an admirable dedication to their work, it’s like a craft. The French call it a métier, it’s so much more than a job. You see it in how they slice up the baguettes or uncork a bottle or fillet the fish table-side. It’s a delight, almost on par with the food.
What was your most interesting Parisian moment?
Discovering Rue des Martyrs has to rank up there. It’s a delightful street, packed with all manner of deliciousness. Locally-sourced vegetables, fruits, chocolates. Delectable food. Ice creams. I swear, you put on five pounds just looking at the food.
One of my earliest happiest memories is when we celebrated my mother’s birthday at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. Stunning views. Chocolate cake. Sparklers. As a 12-year-old, things didn’t get much better!
Most recent memories are of walks around Paris, and long conversations over meals with friends. We were just at Drouant by Antoin Wassermann, which certainly is excellent food. What made it memorable was sitting outside most of the afternoon on a gentle summer day with friends, in a quiet and super pretty square. The Prix Goncourt is awarded in this restaurant, and the staff gave us a tour of the cozy salons where the decisions are deliberated by the great minds. Plus, there’s a great cigar shop next door. What else do you want?
Streeton Partners, the name of your new investment firm, is a shout-out to your alma mater, Karachi Grammar School. Tell us more about it.
KGS was good to my brother and I, and we were good to it! Shaheryar was House Captain and Victor Ludorum, while I was School Captain, and we both were massively loyal Streeton House members. It’s where we first learned about teamwork, leadership, competing, winning, losing; all essential skills for life. And the simple compelling motto stays with you long after: Excelsior.
Streeton Partners takes a film studio approach to financial services. Instead of films, we produce financial services companies.
We identify opportunities in financial services, then assemble a team of visionary investors and world-class executives to build companies that best capture that opportunity. Based on our experience, analysis, and insights on consumers, tectonic macro trends, and tech developments, we have developed a clear view of what needs to happen in financial services. Instead of waiting for the future to happen, we are creating it.
Sometimes it will be a large company that we transform. Other times it’s a startup that we create, nurture, advise, collaboratively build. Currently we are active in Greater China, Northern Europe, California, and New York.
What is the quintessential experience of working in the FinTech venture capital industry and what makes it a great sector to be part of?
I’ve worked in almost 35 countries, and discovered that all of humanity has a few important things in common. We want our children to have better lives than us; we want to live a life of dignity where we can afford some comforts and every day luxuries; and we want to retire in peace without being a burden. What unites is far greater than what divides us. Those are everyone’s dreams. In its true purpose, in its finest form, financial services companies help customers’ dreams come true.
When I was at Standard Chartered we developed a fantastic TV commercial that talked about parents making their dreams come true of their child fulfilling her potential. We ran the same ad in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and it was well received, because we all share the same dream. We developed products that helped you with disciplined saving and intelligent investing; the same products were launched across the world, in the Sub Continent, Africa, Middle East, South East China, Greater China, Korea. Incredible!
Technology has been, and will continue making financial services better for customers; successful firms will adopt it in creative and unique ways. We want to weave financial services with technology to reclaim why this sector exists – delivering better customer outcomes for their life’s dreams. We don’t waste our time trying to philosophically figure out what classifies as disruptive or entrepreneurial or award-winning or whatever. We don’t want tech for the sake of tech. If tech makes things better in terms of customer experience we like it. If tech helps customers borrow wisely, invest intelligently, transact cheaply, we like it.
As an added personal bonus, financial services and tech attract super smart, high energy, creative, driven, dedicated people. They’re inspirational.
As a developing country, Pakistan still has plenty of room to grow in the FinTech industry. Do you have any plans for expanding FinTech in Pakistan?
There is already some good work being done in Pakistan FinTech by entrepreneurs and inside several incumbent financial institutions. A lot of the elements required for FinTech do exist and Pakistan is on our radar. Stay tuned.