Showing posts with label Pakistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pakistan. Show all posts

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Size has a Price to pay

      
When I first joined Engro Foods in late 2005, most friends thought it was my version of madness and a withdrawal into failure. To drop out of main stream corporations, return to Pakistan and join a company which (at that time) was just a hole in the ground in Sukkur, was considered sub-optimal. That the decision turned out well, is not the subject of this blog. A great team with a strong passion to add to Pakistan was what made it happen, and I was blessed, lucky and at the right place.  
   
Be that as it may, my main topic here is about events which  happen, when companies which are young, graduate into becoming successful institutions. This is about the journey of growth and how it pans out.
       
During the first four years or so, the company was characterised by a young lot of people with an adventurous mind-set. There was no 'impossible', it was totally interconnected and anyone could come up with ideas. Hierarchy was just 'by the way'. Someone ten steps junior could walk in to tell me I was wrong and suggest change. Engagement was absolute. Fun was absolute. Risks were the bread and butter of the day. There was no need to be afraid of innovation. If it failed, we would learn and move on. If it was successful, we would enjoy the fruits and look for new directions. Speed was incessant. Decisions would be taken with sufficient data points (but not many), based on belief, experience and a willingness to risk failure.         
    
This was where our Board of Directors with Asad Umar as Chairman, played a huge roll. They were part of the adventure, and as events unfolded, so they were there in spirit. Very easily at some stage Asad could have said enough, and pulled this determined horse and broken it into shape. They chose not to and in taking that risk went along with the whole. It was a rollicking journey, full of passion, fun and successful - as I could never have imagined at the beginning of things.     
 
I vividly remember the period it all started changing. The day I knew it was no more an adventure, but a business and an institution. And with that went the most 'happening years' of my professional existence. Sometime third quarter of 2009, our retail audit share data identified that EFL had now overtaken Nestle for the liquid share of the market, with Haleeb running a distant third. EFL had arrived! And suddenly came the realisation that we have a large structure, which was worth a lot and which we could not put  at risk anymore.     
     
The Board knew we were worth a lot of money and the valuations told us that. It started looking at institutionalising EFL. Till that day, the human content ruled process, but suddenly process became the master. We had systems before this also, but if need be, we could reach down and change things at the drop of a hat. That was the basic tenet of our speed equation. By 2010, we had implemented SAP and put in an online realtime system for milk collection and also totally structured our HR processes. Our factories had thousands of SOPs and we could not mould and break things to make action happen. Our human numbers reached into thousands and when one went for a market or milk collection visit, there were so many colleagues one did not know. That family feeling was gone. We were turning into a machine. The feeling was accentuated, when we were listed in 2011 and were subject to market evaluation norms and the KSE rules.      
 
This is a perennial problem in creating institutions. While the goal is sustenance and longevity, but the truth is that the process is better done by other sorts of people. Not everyone is suited to this institutionalisation game. Hence, over the years most of the original employees of EFL have gone to other pastures - most of them are doing that same greenfield stuff in various new adventures. What has cropped up instead, is a more mainline company and human resource, who over time will learn to sustain EFL's position and with steady growth and systems,  make it a giant for the future. Simply put, the company will step from one orientation box into another.  

Sadly size has a price to pay on both a personal and company level, as has been shown in this change from one orientation to another, with a new set of leaders facing that change. The trick will be to ensure institutionalisation does not kill the innovation and passion of people. Easier said than done, unfortunately. I can foresee years of dedicated effort by the new team, which would then lead to this institutionalisation being achieved.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Nations, just do not happen!


The breaking news was as usual all about dire consequences of one action or the other. One gets used to it. This is the way of all channels and media world over. Somehow, bad news travels fast, gets more attention and attracts people. Nothing like a good old disaster to get people animated. Anyway, here in Pakistan we have become de-sentisized, as we have plenty of bad news and on top of it, dozens of channels vying for breaking news. More grief!       

All the bad news notwithstanding, I would like to add my two bits to this discussion on how things have become this bad and how we are in a mess. My personal take on it is that it is nature taking its toll. Yes, Nature!    

In the past I have written on our nationhood and blamed our duality of vision. The duality being a desire to be an iconic Muslim homeland and at the same time desiring a strong economic state. We got our wires crossed, losing our vision and in the process ended up doing nothing. However, over time and after due consideration, while I still think we need a vision to take us further - otherwise there is nothing to hold us together - but the reality is that nature is taking its toll.  
    
Let me explain my statement, which I assure you is not an effort to be facetious. In the worlds written history, there have been nine great nations. There have been other good ones, but what we would classically call great, are those who have dominated their period in the world, added to knowledge and their traces are left in the working of the world even today. Historically they have lasted an average of two hundred and fifty years. Want me to count them out? Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, China, Arabia, Ottoman Turk, Britain, America. More or less chronologically and another interesting point; there have been no repeats. China might well turn out to be the first repeat.   

Anyway, think of these nations. They were formed layer by layer. The Egyptians took thousands of years to come to a stage of absolute dominance. Same with the Romans.  From the discovery of Romulus and Remus on the banks of the Tiber to Julius Caesar was a good several hundreds of years. These years comprise a coming together, a homogeneity of purpose, a gathering of strength, conquest and respect from others that you are the leaders. Having reached this peak, the decline starts and first society fragments, then economics falls apart and finally the military strength declines. That is the round trip of a nation.      

Now think back to August 1947. When India got independence they had a memory. They remembered the Aryans, then Alexander as he came through the Khyber Pass, later the Huns, Mongols and Babur. They owned the Red Fort and Taj Mahal. This they took as their own. This was as much their history, as Chandragupta Maurya or Ashoka or Ranjit Singh. Their culture was a melting pot of homogeneity and in economics they were working against adversity together.

Then there was Pakistan. We had a seven year history (from 1940 resolution) two clearly varying lands and cultures apart by fifteen hundred miles, a western part which comprised borderland tribes who had only invasion history in common and were diverse. We had nothing binding us, other than a principle and we competed for the same resources. This all was running uphill against history and nature. No wonder! 70 years is minuscule in history, a dot in time. We are children and still learning. When we get to our teens our time will be different and hopefully we will mature one day. This might involve another hundred years for these layers to form. In comparison to other development of nations, I would say maybe we are like the Wild West of USA just now.  

We shall get there Inshallah. Just require patience and faith. Nations just do not happen, they are chiselled into shape.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Of Wings and Visions

 — 12 April 2012
Of Wings and Visions
When the Pilgrim Fathers migrated to North America, they landed their ship, the Mayflower, in present day Massachusetts, sometime in late 1620. This band of dedicated Puritans, who had taken the extreme step of a migration to protect their way of life, set about building a colony. They faced endless difficulties and enemies, but they prevailed. In just a years’ time, when their colony was suitably protected, they sat down and celebrated Thanksgiving. This colony eventually became the present day Boston.

The world of 2012, some 400 years later, still reels from the significance of these events. The vision, to which the Pilgrim Fathers aspired and then lived, was that they were good people intent on living their way of life; and that the big bad enemy was lurking outside, trying to prevent them from living their values.

Down the ages in the folds of time and history, this story has survived, matured and still shapes the USA and, therefore the world, of today. The powerful vision of the first Americans, surfaced when the fight for independence occurred in 1776 and matured during the fight with the Indians in the 19th century. It continued to strengthen at the Alamo in 1836 and in the words and actions of Woodrow Wilson in 1917. It lived on when Roosevelt went to war in 1941, when MacArthur went to Korea in 1950, when Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev in 1962, and when Johnson sent armies to Vietnam and to the present day Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. It was always the good American facing the big bad enemy outside – one that needed to be defeated for the American way of life to survive and continue.

That, in essence, is the importance of vision. Time and again, history has seen visions changing its course. When Attila picked up the sword of Solomon from the steppes of Asia, waved it and promised to become ruler of the world, it unleashed a 30 year hiatus, and the world was rocked to its core. When the Bedouin Arabs swept all from China to Spain, it was with a vision to change the world. Similarly, when Rome issued forth to conquest, it was with a powerful vision to rule the world, a Pax Roma. In a softer manner, when Jonas Salk did not patent the Polio vaccine, his vision was the safety of the human race. Today, some 7 billion humans owe him a debt of gratitude, not measurable in any currency or bullion; a most powerful delivery of a vision.

In 1947, Pakistan too started with a powerful vision. It was to be a beacon of light to the downtrodden and to the Muslims of this world. Pakistan would stand firm, on its own legs, against the wrong, for the good and be a homeland to the helpless. So where did we lose this vision?

My personal thought is that this vision had two fundamental flaws to start with. Firstly more than half of the population in the East did not quite subscribe to it. The Bengali nation had always been fiercely independent, inward looking and with no history of interest in the world outside. It was bound to trouble them when this vision and its implied rule from West Pakistan was thrust upon them; they could not even have their own language to speak and write, in a country where they were the majority. Secondly, our own rulers post the Quaid-e-Azam, and to some extent Liaquat Ali, did not subscribe to this vision.

Visions are to be disseminated and lived in warm flesh and blood. When your own rulers go sign the Baghdad Pact and enter SEATO and CENTO, those watching can see the frailty of your vision. You have already subjugated your authority and independence and become a pawn in someone’s game. There is then, no vision to sustain. To fly high, you must be independent and have self respect. Our wings were clipped in the very early days and our people saw this and understood.

When 1971 happened, the last shreds of belief in our vision were gone. Puppeteers like Zia, who tried to create a perception of this vision by fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, simply were not supported by the population at large.

Our tragedy is that we have no believable story to tell our people. When they do not have a story, what do they live for? The next best thing – themselves!

So we now have millions of small visions, all working in every-which direction. And then we wonder why we are not getting anywhere!

For me the solution to Pakistan’s problems might be slow, but it is very simple. We need someone who is respected by the people to stand up and give them a vision. If this someone is credible and the dissemination of the vision is good, the people of Pakistan will believe once again. As the plan to implement this vision becomes clear, teams will form and success will be road-mapped. People will have something to do, rather than break into myriads of belief systems. We will get action, results, patriotism and self respect.

One who acquires self respect can reach for the stars. Our clipped wings will be returned to us when we trust ourselves to fly high. We shall return to being a nation.

“Naheen tera nasheman takht-e-sultani kay gumbad par
Tu shaheen hai basera kar paharun ki chatano par”.