Entrepreneur Amna Shah has been working diligently toward success since she came from Pakistan to the United States at age 16.
She started her higher education when she came here as a teenager. She worked-sometimes two jobs at once-to put herself through college.
Last year-after years working in freight forwarding, international logistics and finance–she launched her own company, AHS Consulting Inc.
She now has 10 consultants and projects $1 million in revenue by the end of 2015.
“It … feels good to give back to U.S., for it gave me my American dream,” she said.
The early years
Shah came from a well-off family. She went to private school in Pakistan. She learned English growing up-a fact that often surprises people in the United States, she said.
-Shah has her master’s in accounting and financial management.
-Her grandfather wanted her to be an engineer or doctor.
-She and her husband didn’t get along initially. But he invited her to his family’s house for a home-cooked meal. She met his family and they were “awesome.”
-She and her husband opened an 89-cent store and a hair/nail salon. They sold them both for a profit.
-She said she’s dealt with chauvinism in a male-dominated corporate world, and starting her own business means she doesn’t have to try to “roll with the big boys.”
Her mother worked for an airline, and the family often got free plane tickets that Shah used to visit family in the United States.
These early experiences helped instill in her independence and a passion for travel, she said. Her aunts and uncles had diverse careers and skill sets, a fact that also shaped her, she said.
She pursued her associate’s degree in international business at Chicago’s MacCormac College.
“We were well-off, but I never wanted to ask my family for a dime,” she said. “I came [here] with $3,000 and I never asked for any more.”
Working and going to school was stressful. She worried about making everything work financially.
“I had to think about how am I going to pay my rent-those things worried me,” she said. “I would pray like crazy.”
But she said she’s the kind of person who believes everything happens for a reason.
Many happenings-such as working at a gas station, where she met the man she’d go on to marry, or attending a job fair that eventually led to a significant job position-might have played out exactly as they were meant to.
She got her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Robert Morris College, where she graduated summa cum laude.
With her husband, she’d also go on to start two businesses and later sell them for a profit.
She spent years working at World Commerce Forwarding and other major companies.
Soon, she would get a call from someone in Chattanooga-a place she’d never heard of.
In 2013, Chattanooga-based, third-party logistics firm Access America started another company called Steam Logistics to pursue international opportunities.
Joe Falco, former director of finance for Lamp Post Group-which had a business relationship with Access America and Steam-quickly learned that the industry was complex from an accounting and regulatory perspective.
“We needed a strong, experienced controller to ensure a smooth launch,” he said via email.
Steam had already implemented software called CargoWise, so leaders needed someone with experience with that. They searched online and found Shah.
“Her references confirmed our hunch that she was an intelligent, hardworking, knowledgeable leader that also has a strong entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
She was just the kind of person they wanted-“sweet, funny, quick-witted and always thinking outside the box,” he said.
Initially, she wasn’t sure Chattanooga was the place for her. But she visited and fell in love with the downtown area. And the opportunity to help start something from scratch was attractive, she said.
AHS Consulting Inc.
While still at Steam, she decided to start her own consulting business. She spent lunch hours and any other free time working toward that goal.
In 2014, Coyote Logistics acquired Access America. Shah and the company’s leaders eventually agreed mutually to part ways, and she worked to build up her company, which serves freight and logistics industry needs in IT and staffing.
“I’ve proven myself; it’s word-of-mouth,” she said about growing her business.
She has a small office on Ringgold Road now and many people work remotely, but she’s looking to develop a new office space eventually.
Some of her employees have relocated to Chattanooga, and she’s proud that she is helping contribute to the community, she said.
She loves giving back.
“I am helping the system,” she said. “It has given me the American dream. I am employing people and giving them a great lifestyle. They travel. They work their own hours. They have a learning environment.”
Muslim living in the South
In July, a Chattanooga resident with a Muslim background attacked two locations here and killed five people.
Being a Muslim in the United States, Shah has experienced prejudice and hatred. It happened after 9/11 when she was living in Chicago. People would often tell her to go back to her country, she said.
After the Chattanooga shootings, she worried she and her family would be victimized.
Terrorist attacks in Paris over the weekend shocked the world and also prompted some comments online about how “all Muslims are terrorists.”
But that’s a misconception Shah doesn’t necessarily feel the need to defend against, she said.
After the attacks, she quoted the Quran on her Facebook page-“Whoever kills an innocent person, it is as if he has killed all of humanity”-and condemned the violence.
“I’m a Muslim and I don’t feel the need to clear my name and existence every time a new attack is blamed on all Muslims,” she said. “I condemn the attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris, as no one has the right to take innocent lives.”