America is often called the “land of opportunity”, a country where anyone can find wealth if they’re willing to work for it. Here is the story of one immigrant who made his fortune, but ultimately found fulfillment by giving back to others.
M. Siddique Sheikh bought his service station 30 years ago.
He went on to buy dozens more, on his way to becoming a financial success in America.
But the Pakistani-American businessman remains close to his roots, and likes to stay in regular contact with his employees and customers at the station where he got his start.
Like so many immigrants to the United States, Sheikh came to these shores with little except a determination to succeed.
His father gave him only $10 when he left Pakistan. He managed to finish his training in auto engineering while working odd jobs, and then scraped up enough money to buy his first service station. But it was a big gamble.
“Nobody would pay the kind of money I paid for that station … the station wasn’t doing good business. …[the] first three years, I worked day and night," Sheikh recalled. "Go there, five in the morning. Come home, 11, 12 o’clock. Leave my children sleeping, and coming home, they’re sleeping…” [The gas station] was not always a good business to start out. But when you do marketing, promotion, take care of the customer the old fashioned way, it brought the business back.”
Former Fairfax County Supervisor Elaine McConnell is a longtime friend of Sheikh’s. Her county has many immigrant communities. She says hard work and sacrifice are common to them all. “They [immigrants] come here, with the idea of buying into the American dream, and they do it. They work so hard, and they value education,” she said.
In Sheikh’s case, the education and hard work paid off. Business got better and he was able to buy more stations. But his son Haroon says his father will always have a special place in his heart for the first station he ever bought. “All his hard work was paid off from this station. All his blood and sweat was put into this station,” he said.
As Sheikh became more financially secure, he branched out into other areas. He wanted to help his fellow Pakistanis who were new to America. And so he founded the Pakistan-American Business Association.
“It was important, when I became a businessperson in 1980, and I saw there was other organizations helping their own communities, and educating them how to get into business. So I joined them, then I came and started them in my community,” Sheikh noted.
He also wanted to help his countrymen back in Pakistan get a better education, so he is working to set up a student exchange program between the two countries. He wants to build college campuses throughout Pakistan
“It’s not about money. It’s about giving something back," Sheikh insisted. "Getting the people to think independently. When they do that, they will look out for their countries better.”
“I feel like, you know, my dad is putting all his heart and effort because he really wants to help his country, his motherland. He [Sheikh] sees all the opportunities that he received here [in the U.S.], and he would love it if the people of Pakistan would be able to get the same opportunities in their country,” Haroon stated.
As a new immigrant with only $10 in his pocket, M. Siddique Sheikh had only his dream to succeed in the U.S. and provide a good life for himself and his family.
Since then, his definition of a good life has expanded.
“When God, I think, wants you to do something good for the human race. And for the rest of my life, [that's] one thing I'd like to achieve,” Sheikh said.
Through his education program, Sheikh may yet accomplish that mission.