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Frank Islam: A Journey from Dusty Roads in Azamgarh to Wealthy Neighborhood in Maryland

Frank Islam stands in front of his mansion known as Norton Manor in Potomac, Maryland (Photo credit - Michael Ventura)

His family had to sell a large piece of their properties to buy him an airplane ticket to the US for education, and later he had to mortgage his house there twice to start business.

Inclusive India

New Delhi, January 12— He was just 15 years old when he left Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 1969 to get admission at University of Colorado in the United States. His family was too poor to buy him an aeroplane ticket. So they were forced to sell a large piece of their properties. But around four decades later, he had become such a successful entrepreneur in information technology in the US that in 2016 he donated $2m to his alma mater AMU. He is Frank F. Islam.

A short video documentary below (prepared by N.S. Films Production) brilliantly captures the long and difficult journey of Islam from his home in a remote village in Azamgarh of Uttar Pradesh to Aligarh Muslim University to University of Colorado in the US to his business ventures there and then to his ongoing philanthropic activities both in his homeland and birthland.

A short video documentary by N.S. Films Production on life of Frank Islam.


Frank Islam was born in Kauraghani, a remote village in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. The young Islam spent the first few years of his life in the village. After high school, Islam moved to Aligarh Muslim University. While at Aligarh in 1969, Islam met a visiting University of Colorado mathematician Wolfgang Thron who invited him to apply to his university. He did and was accepted. But the family was too poor to buy him an aeroplane ticket. So they were forced to sell a large piece of their properties. Islam reached the US and began studying at the University of Colorado.

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s in computer science from the University of Colorado, Islam moved north to Canada for a job in an information technology firm. It was there that he met his future wife Debbie Driesman. In 1988, it was at the job as a program manager that Islam began nurturing the dream of owning a business. That opportunity came in 1994 when a minority-owned business QSS was on sale. Islam bought the firm for $40,000. Despite the preparations, life as an entrepreneur was not easy, specially not in the first two years.

“First two years were full of struggle and sacrifice. We mortgaged our house. As a matter of fact, we took the second mortgage on our house to get the money from a national bank which is no longer in business,” says Frank Islam.

QSS secured a number of contracts from large government departments and agencies such as the Pentagon and NASA. By 2005, QSS was in excellent financial shape with revenue of more than $300m. He had built it from 1 employee to more than 3,000 employees. But after running the company for 13 years, Islam was ready to move on. In 2006, the group was sold to another firm.

The sale of QSS marked the end of the doing phase in Islam’s journey and signalled the beginning of the giving back phase. He and Driesman set up a foundation to channel the philanthropic works. Over the past decade, Islam and Driesman have given to various causes in the United States and India through the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation. In 2016, they gave $2m to the construction of Frank & Debbie Islam Management Complex at Aligarh Muslim University, Islam’s alma mater.

Besides philanthropy, Islam is also active in promoting political and civic engagement. He has positioned himself as a thought leader through his writings and speeches, co-authoring two books and blogging for the Huffington Post since 2010. Two of the topics close to Islam’s heart are bringing the United States and India closer and his commitment to Muslim issues.

“All of us have done very well and all of us should invest in others by giving them letters of opportunities to succeed,” says Islam.

In January 2015, when then US President Barack Obama visited India as a Guest of Honour at the Republic Day celebrations, Islam was part of the US business delegation that accompanied the US President.

From the dusty roads of Azamgarh to a wealthy neighbourhood in Potomac, Maryland, Islam’s journey is one that inspires people. It’s the span of a decade since Islam sold the QSS and began his philanthropic efforts but his life is still in progress. A journey in which there will be more milestones.

“My legacy is our hope people remember me that I had inspired others. Because I have made meaningful and powerful impacts on people’s lives and made a difference in people’s lives. My legacy will be that created many more Frank Islams who can follow my footsteps to become entrepreneur, to take a risk to become a business owner and serve our country and give back to our country,” says entrepreneur, philanthropist, civic leader and thought leader Frank Islam.

Frank currently heads the FI Investment Group, a private investment holding company that he established in 2007 after he sold his information technology firm, the QSS Group.