I vividly remember my first meeting with Ajmal, even though it was about 10 years ago. I was having lunch at a Turkish restaurant in Hong Kong when Ajmal sat next to my table for an interview. I overheard the story and it truly moved me. So, I turned around and said to him, "I am sorry for interrupting your interview, but I found your story truly inspiring. Can I have your contact information please?" I know it was a bit rude, but I had to go back to work, so I could not wait until the interview ended. Luckily, Ajmal did not think twice; he gave me his business card.
Ten years passed, and Ajmal became more inspiring with his expedition, entrepreneurship, and award. So, here is Ajmal's story. Another Amazing Human in Hong Kong, It is a story about willpower, adventure, and determination.
What brings you to Hong Kong?
I moved to Hong Kong in 1992 from Pakistan. My parents lived Hong Kong as my father was assigned to work here. Before that I was the Executive Director of The Child Care Council – Church of Pakistan. However, after three years, I decided to quit and move to Hong Kong to be with my parents.
Did you ever receive different treatment, or did people try to put you down or judge you due to your disability, and how did you overcome it?
It is all but normal for a person like me (wheelchair-bound/subcontinental) to face discrimination in a world full of stereotypes, like the one we live in. Society at large still has a long way to go to fully accept people like me. I would go to the extent of saying that it is a combination of acceptance and not knowing what to do and how to treat a person in my situation.
When I started looking for jobs in HK, I attended many interviews for which I actually had an appointment for but was not allowed to enter the offices, as the receptionist did not know what to do with me and was completely puzzled to see a person like me coming in for a job interview.
In some cases, they even thought that I had come to beg for money and I was immediately shooed away. I have to say that awareness amongst employers has increased a lot and these types of incidents would not and must not happen these days.
I want to share a short story that might elaborate on how I try to overcome these situations. While working for Revenco International as a project manager in China, I was once called by the owner/big boss (one of the billionaires in South China) to meet him and have lunch with him, as he had heard good things about me. Remember, I was part of a massive workforce and was a nobody. I had never met the owner. I was escorted to his penthouse/office for lunch by some of the very senior members of his management team.
I had to wait outside his expansive office for some time before I was called in. Needless to say, I was very nervous. I was briefed by the people escorting me on what to expect, what to say, what not to say, etc. and I thought I was somewhat prepared.
My turn came and I was called into the office. The man himself came out to welcome me. There I was, confronted by a very tall and confident businessman, a person who owned and ran a big business empire. When he saw me, I could see that he was visibly taken aback. Immediately, he asked me what was wrong with me, why I was not walking, and how he could help me. My immediate response to his question was, “You are my boss and I work for you – so you tell me how I can help you instead”.
I could see that my response further shook him up and there was pin-drop silence for a minute or so. Then he asked me to follow him to his office. We had lunch and a long discussion, and I could see that he was still totally taken aback and a bit reserved throughout the conversation. This experience also laid the basic foundations of respect and friendship between him and me, which we both enjoy today.
You are now the Founder and Chairman of the Board of OCTO3 Group Holding. Please tell us about your career journey.
As I mentioned earlier, in the beginning, it was very tough. However, I did not give up.
In 2000 I was hired by Revenco International as a project manager. In 2002 while working for the group, I was invited to fix Cityline Hong Kong Limited, and I become the CEO and President of Cityline. Cityline was a success story for me. I manged to turn around the company within two years and ended creating a regional ticketing technology powerhouse.
In 2009, I started my own company, ASAP TP. In its first two years, ASAP TP had some of Hong Kong’s major businesses as clients for payment processing.
It went on to receive numerous industry accolades and awards. Unfortunately, one of my business partners took a bad decision and ASAP TP had to go through liquidation. In 2014, I set up another company, OCTO3. I am now the Chairman of the Board of OCTO3 Group Holdings. So, commitment and hard work pay off!
You also did a lot of endurance sport. Tell us a bit more about that.
I was a very active person before my accident in 1987. Due to my accident, I had to take heavy painkillers because I have constant pain in my lower limb.
In 2003, I decided to put my attention on sports instead. I started with handcycling, then eventually moved on to triathlons. I competed in various handcycling and triathlon (half-Ironman) competitions, developing myself into an endurance athlete.
I eventually took up rowing as a sport and ended up representing Hong Kong in Single Scull Rowing on the Hong Kong national para team. I have won many medals for Hong Kong. I still row for Hong Kong.
Does sport help you to manage your pain?
Of course, the pain is still there but the intensity has dissipated. As a matter of fact, I think that when I was on medication, the pain seemed greater because my body was dependent on an external chemical source. However, now the chemical source is inbuilt and never far from me. I can summon it at any time. Having said that, it should, of course, be understood that the pain I have can at times be debilitating. However, I think it is my attitude toward handling pain that has changed, and this change in attitude has resulted in a lower sensation of pain.
Tell us about your recent expedition in China.
In July 2019, I went on an expedition and set a new world record after handcycling from Beijing to Mohe (Chinese border with Russia): a total distance of 2,615 Km in 37 days. I did my hand biking in partnership with Inspiring Hong Kong Sports Foundation to raise awareness of disabled sports in China and Hong Kong and to raise funds for the education of needy children in Hong Kong.
Can you tell us the current situation of disabled sport in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is already quite advanced when it comes to ELITE sports facilities for PWD but there is still a long way to go for sports facilities in terms of the average PWD. This is where more effort and energy has to come into play.
Before you set out for your expedition, did you fear the unknown?
I am quite a normal human being and have all the typical fears, including the fear of the unknown. Having said that, I am also an extreme sports person and an extreme adventurer, as strange as it might sound. However, my experiences in life have transformed me and given me the courage and capacity to venture into the unknown.
Over many years, as I was making myself stronger by training and exercising, I was also pushing my limits by putting myself outside my comfort zone. The very act of learning how to scuba dive with my disability was essentially putting myself in harm's way. However, staying focused and learning how to execute manoeuvres without getting hurt or injured was extremely empowering.
Similarly, when I started doing Ironman competitions, I had to muster up a lot of inner confidence to overcome my mental fears and physical limitations. Many years of putting myself outside my comfort zone and into the unknown has resulted in my being (positively) addicted to pushing myself even further into the unknown.
I have to say that this all comes through building capacity and learning how to navigate ourselves – and above all by building up self-confidence.
Last but not least, what message would you like to share with the readers?
Step outside your comfort zone and don’t be afraid of the challenges that ensue. Put aside your ego when pursuing new challenges/ventures.
Parents should let disabled children lead more integrated and normal lives; let children make mistakes and be there for them to learn from their mistakes. Let them build capacity and confidence. Most of the time, this happens through adverse experiences, so never worry if things go wrong.
In terms of the general public – people need to understand that the responsibility of a disabled person integrating with society lies not only with the affected person; it is shared equally with the general public. It is also the general public’s responsibility to pay attention to and be conscious of the needs and requirements of a disabled person. So, learning and acceptance is a two-way street.
If you like to get in touch with Ajmal. please click here.