PROFILE: Web wonder - Ajaz Ahmed Co-founder AKQA

Rich, young, and seemingly tireless, Ajaz Ahmed is the kind of person who makes you sick, or certainly envious. At 26 he heads up AKQA, the UK’s largest remaining independent new media firm, valued last year at pounds 26m by management consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Rich, young, and seemingly tireless, Ajaz Ahmed is the kind of

person who makes you sick, or certainly envious. At 26 he heads up AKQA,

the UK’s largest remaining independent new media firm, valued last year

at pounds 26m by management consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers.



AKQA now advises new media godfather Microsoft on its UK web site and

has a client list most rivals would sell their granny for - including

the likes of BMW, Orange, Sainsbury’s and Durex.



Ahmed set up the firm with three friends from his youth after dropping

out of university at the age of 21. He remains the company’s public face

as well as its largest shareholder, with an 88% stake in the firm. That

stake will be diluted as Ahmed prepares to float 40% of the company on

the Nasdaq exchange in 2002.



His CV remains deceptively slim. Although he achieved millionaire status

by the age of 24, he has had just three jobs - two of those while still

at university. And the last, as founder and chief executive of AKQA, has

occupied the past five years.



His Muslim faith means Ahmed has few vices. He doesn’t drink, smoke or

even take caffeinated coffee and rarely attends new media parties -

perhaps a reason why, despite his often high profile in the press, Ahmed

is less well known among his contemporaries in the industry.



The AKQA boss has been variously described by contemporaries and

industry watchers as ’talented’, ’dedicated’, ’precocious’ and

’arrogant’. But even his rivals have a grudging admiration.



’I think he’s an impressive guy; very confident and very seductive with

clients. AKQA is independent, which is good. He he doesn’t want to sell

up, he wants to be there with an empire in 20 years,’ says Alistair

Duncan, managing director of APL Digital.



Felix Velarde, managing director of Head new media, says: ’From the

beginning Ajaz was an inordinately capable marketer; he knows how to

talk about new media in marketing terms. He is very good at reassuring

brand managers who might be worried about the internet,’



Undoubtedly one of the keys to Ahmed’s success is his ability to bridge

the gap between technology and marketing. He says: ’What annoys me is

the perceived confusion; people spend too much time talking about bits,

bytes and baud rates rather than business. It’s not about technology,

it’s about ideas - technology is just an enabler.’



From an early age Ahmed was driven by an interest in both business and

communications; he was a precociously young subscriber to Marketing at

just 14. At 16, while still at school in Maidenhead, he wrote to the

managing director of Ashton-Tate, then the world’s third largest

software company, asking for a job. He was taken on to do odd jobs in

the marketing department before graduating to writing financial systems

software.



After leaving school he spent a year working in marketing and public

relations for Apple Computer, turning down jobs as a copywriter at BBDO

and a Unilever brand manager for Lynx, before opting for a business

course at Bath University.



But keen to put his skills to more practical use, Ahmed dropped out

after only nine months and started looking into starting a multimedia

firm.



Says Ahmed: ’There was a lot of talk about the information superhighway

and we knew if we didn’t start then we would have missed out forever. It

was better that I started AKQA than finished my degree; timing was

absolutely of the essence.’



Before establishing AKQA Ahmed went on a fact-finding tour of the US,

talking to the head of interactive development at QVC about how it was

using the web. AKQA’s first win was a project to develop a site for

Coca-Cola’s Frutopia drinks brand. Today the company specialises in

setting up and maintaining web sites that are integrated across all

business functions of the client: sales, marketing, communications, and

loyalty.



Ahmed’s own profile and wealth has risen with that of the new media

market.



This year he appeared at number 13 in The Sunday Times’ Young Rich List

- just one spot below Prince Naseem - in a survey which valued him at

pounds 14m and led to several offers of marriage, with staff at AKQA’s

offices screening calls for weeks afterwards.



Ahmed stands to expand his wealth further from AKQA’s flotation, and

recently restructured the company into two business units in

preparation.



Does he think that internet stocks are over-valued? ’When a company like

Yahoo! is worth more (on paper) than British Airways, it does make you

question the value. Market analysts don’t completely understand the

influence of internet companies. It’s like any new market; it’s

embryonic and everyone’s getting very excited, but I think it will

settle.’



For his part, Ahmed maintains that it is love of the business and not

money that is his main motivation. At a time when other players are

looking at cashing in their chips Ahmed jealously maintains control over

the company he helped to build.



’My motivation is exactly the same as when I started - doing smart

things for smart people. AKQA is very entrepreneurial; our independence

is everything You’re only worth what someone is willing to pay for you

and AKQA is not for sale.’



BIOGRAPHY

1989-1991

Marketing executive/programmer Ashton Tate

1992-1993

Marketing executive Apple Computer

1994-present

Co-founder/chairman AKQA



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