An EFL 10 year Montage

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imageThe Engro Foods culture records our history in montages, which reduces the need for words, gives you small touch points and is easy to view in later years. With our ten years celebrations, from the day of incorporation – not operations, which started a year later- underway, I thought to create a montage of my memories. This has then gone out in our quarterly internal magazine, Between Us.

My memory stretches back to October 17th, 2005 and some twenty-five people huddled together to set the first vision of EFL, which was about doing it the right way, about opening up rural areas, about Pakistaniat and showing the world we can succeed.

A few months later, a hole in the ground in Sukkur transformed into a dairy factory and milk collection tankers poured in ample milk, much against peoples expectations. Flashbacks of laughing teams sitting around at 3 am at the PNSC office, eating pizza, just before the Olpers launch, are warm memories. Some months later I can remember our celebrations when we hit 150,000 liters a day. Then we launched Tarang. Immediately, we knew this was a success. The Tarang moment! The purple patch moment, which hits one maybe once or twice in your career.

There were those shuddering days in August 2007, when our office burned down and there was an existential threat for a few weeks to a very new organisation. We survived and the threat passed. Three weeks later we had makeshift offices, systems restored and most items back in order by the end of the year.

From then on, life has been one long roll with flash points every now and then. Our launch of ice cream and opening of our farm were tough risky calls in 2009. We have managed them Mashallah. There were tough moments, but both businesses thrive.

2010 brought the awful floods and the EFL teams gave three months of their lives to help the affected in rural areas. It is this Sadqa-e-Jaaria which propelled us to leadership of the liquid dairy industry months later. Just some four and half years after commencement of operations, EFL became leader and it has not been relinquished todate.

The ensuing years have brought ups and downs, but have also rewarded us with the two biggest International Awards in Pakistan’s corporate history. First, the G20 World Top 15 Company Award in 2012, and then the Transformational Company of the World Award from IFC/FT in 2014.

Most, I want to remember the people. One and all who gave their lives, sweat and effort to take this company to where it is today. A phenomenal achievement by a bunch of dedicated, committed and passionate men and women. I have a lot to thank them for. EFL has a lot to thank them for.

In parting, I shall re-quote my last sentence from the speech of Olper’s launch March 2006, to our people.

“When you become old and look back, you will tell your grandchildren, this was the finest thing I did in life and these were my finest hours”. In-sha-Allah.

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Bhai Babu

imageAn early morning rise. It was Christmas Day for some; Midnight Mass and early morning services too. For others it was the Quaids birthday. Whatever, it was a National holiday. It allowed one to indulge oneself mid-week , notwithstanding the approaching year end work at the office.

My son was visiting from university and so it was a good time to bond a bit. Once young people are out of the door and have gone to university, they never rightly comeback. So it was good to see him walking around the house early morning. On impulse, I inquired if he wanted to go out for a desi breakfast. And since he too has a sense of the out of the ordinary, so the answer was ‘yes’.

Off we went, my first thought was ‘lets go down to Burns Road (Bunz Rd) for nihari and some rabri’. But sitting in the car we decided to go for halwa puri, as nihari would slow us down for the rest of the day. It boiled down to where to go. Coming out of my old memories, the word Riaz Masjid popped into my mind. My childhood haunt, Tariq Road and the adjacent old Delhi walas society.

Memory is a strange phenomenon. It makes things larger than life. Riaz Masjid, where I had nihari and kebab through the years at Abdul Ghaffar. And where Bhai Babu served his worlds best gulab jamun. They are gulab jamuns to die for. Warm and they melt in the mouth, so syrupy soft they are. Riaz Masjid does not aspire to cleanliness, but it gives the same authentic old Karachi taste and feel. You can migrate back 50 years, to feel and touch a part of the brain locked away forever. This same Bhai Babu has great halwa puri and chana and aaloo saalan. It all made sense, providence desired that I take a trip down memory lane and so, we would go down to Riaz Masjid for breakfast at 6 30 am.

As we drove along, my memory recalled that adjacent to my destination was Sir Syed Rd, PECHS and that I spent my whole childhood till late teens there. It would be good to show my son a type of Karachi, he or youth like him have never seen. A city which had a lot of charm, was friendly, peaceful and had a character of its own. I still see the stamp of the old Karachi, in the individual Karachite. But alas, the individual has been swamped by a wider social cussedness which prevails today.

If you drive early morning in Karachi, it is totally still and quiet. Hardly any traffic. Its strange in a city which has millions of transport vehicles on the road for 18 hours, to go deathly quiet for 4 hours. It reminds one of Wordsworth’s Composed On Westminster Bridge. Anyway, a drive which normally would take 40 minutes was over in about 15.

At Bhai Babu, early in morning, there is not much choice. The halwa, with fat pouring out of it, the two saalans and then the puris. The puris were like magic. Soft and fairly dry, which was extremely unusual. There were also what were called ‘khasta puris’, which are like no other I have eaten. Not made out of regular super refined flour (maaida), but rather out of wholewheat. These are totally different in taste and texture.

So what was the trip about then? The difference was in the old school feel. The culture harks back to the days of yore. The courtesy and language is Delhi of old and has never left the 19th century. Bhai Babu himself was reading an Urdu newspaper. He deigned to ask me a couple of questions on events, probably because he saw someone who was clearly from beyond the local community. My son, back from his university, having seen mainly one tone Karachi, was open eyed. He saw little bits of reality, which hopefully shall teach him about this country of his. Maybe, create that small spot of belonging, to a country and city, which we have all used and abused extensively, and given back little. Driving back home he was less talkative and more introspective. Even his questions seemed to leave the taste of belonging, which cannot be produced coming out of plush, swank dining places, which charge a fortune. Maybe a trip worth taking on a holiday morning, when a warm bed had beckoned. Left me with some happiness and optimism for the rest of the day.

I would recommend a trip to Bhai Babu to all of you, on a holiday morning.

*picture from pakistanifoodspoint.blogspot.com

Namal University – reaches for humanity

imageAs they showed a video about Namal University, a student asked “do I not have a right to proper education, so what that I was born poor”. That is the crux of the matter. In a land made for righteousness, ninety plus percent people can only watch from the outside, while others less deserving waste an opportunity for learning.

Imran Khan met us today at a small brunch and told us his story of Namal University. It was good that he could give thought, time and effort to such a venture, while a major by-election in NA 246 was in the offing. He said, putting Pakistan right has been my mission, but my passion is to make the Namal project successful, so that people can acquire an education. A parallel was drawn with Oxford and Cambridge, where two great universities over centuries set the grounds for the British Empire. This is inspiration indeed! To reach for the stars, while we are all broken, down on the floor.

Two things Imran pointed out in his short speech, which are worth extrapolating on.

In 2002 as Imran was driving in this Mianwalli region, his car broke down. He spent the whole night there and the local people came to tell him that they were poor and could not afford a university. There were none in this region for a hundred kilometers. Imran felt an intense call to help. Something like he had in the years when the Shaukat Khanum Hospital was formed. But his vision went beyond this region to a much larger picture. This university will be a great one, which will educate the poor of all Pakistan. Should they not have equal rights to those born with a silver spoon, who could educate themselves much more easily? He thought of the likes of Oxford and Cambridge as comparison. Why not something like this in the eons ahead. As Imran mentioned, man is Ashraful Maqlooqaat. Where mans mind reaches, Allah has given him the wherewithal to reach that. Unfortunately, the sane and wise ones will always bring sanity and maintain status quo. But actually we need to dream big and believe in our cause. Once you believe, you will always win. One only loses, when we think we have lost (Philosophy which has also served me best in my life).

The second point was as telling. He said that in sixty seven years history of Aitchison College, they have produced just one test cricketer. Despite the best class facilities, comfort and resources. But on the streets of Lahore and Karachi, playing tape ball we have produced plenty of world class cricketers. This is the same story as the poverty stricken footballers of Brazil and Italy. Poverty produces a will, focus and drive as no other can. The same applies in education. The Namal scholars, living a hard life, have already climbed a peak. Their degree results in the first three graduating classes, on comparable standards of the UK universities, have been astounding. These young people are committed and have their heart in uplifting Pakistan. They will be an asset for this country. They can be our future.

Namal University has already arrived. In three years 134 students (mainly from poor families) have graduated and are already working in our country. It is reaching out for humanity. To do this, it needs to expand for the good of this country. This is not about politics, this is about Pakistan. In my capacity as a Pakistani, I testify that I have been involved with Imran Khan’s projects for over two decades. I have always found him honest and dedicated to the bone. Whatever your views about his politics, this is about all of us. Please go on the Namal University site and help monetarily, if you can. Every little bit will assist and bring that visionary future nearer.

The moment is gone

imageIt was the 1996 World Cup Quarters at Bangalore and two older stalwarts of Pakistan, who singly and together had done it so many times, were fighting it out in the middle. They were trying to retrieve a lost game. They failed. As Javed Miandad walked off late in the innings, his very last departure from the international arena, a highly partisan Indian crowd, let him know that his moment was gone.

This happens so often. In my history of following sports and really even watching life, there comes a time when your moment is gone. It actually happens to all of us in life. Just that some recognise it and deal with it, while others fight on desperately, slowly losing this battle, till one day they depart with less than grace. Nevertheless, it is a riveting sight, sad, melancholy and yet, the spectators watching almost one and all are wishing for success to happen again. It would be a great human story. Alas it almost never happens.

The statement which typifies this journey was made about Rod Laver. Master and king of tennis, and dominant for a decade. At 37 in 1973, he was playing the Aussie Open, and the newspaper wrote, ‘Lavers mind was making appointments, which his body simply could not keep’. That is the spectacle. A former king, not recognising his ageing, his mind still forming the visionary pictures, yet his body gives out.

For me the greatest of these stories, was the one of Muhammad Ali. Boxer, brash, believing, crusader and darling of the world, other than the old conservative red necks. He was not simply a boxer, he was the icon of the 60s and 70s and people pinned hopes of revolutions on him. It was the most instantly recognisable face in the world. He did what few ever did. Reached a pinnacle, sacrificed it on a principle, took on the US government, won, came back from the wilderness, and reached the pinnacle again, not once but twice more. No wonder we thought he was invincible. Maybe he believed it also. But, in the background a wasting disease was already working. In the slow decline spread over years, Ali kept trying to climb the pinnacle once more. He got beaten and only then the body gave out enough for him never to return to the ring. It was a terrible spectacle, yet it was fascinating as a human story, played out in front of the worlds billions. Very few of those did not wish him one last success, but this never happened. What a man and what a tragic decline. What a human story.

There have been many others in our sports, in politics and even conquerors in history. Stanley Matthews played football till fifty, losing his magic in the end. Adlai Stevenson fought elections till no one would vote for him. Alexander went on conquering lands till his army gave out on the banks of the Beas. Napoleon fought till he was washed away by the hordes of his retreating army at Waterloo. None of these and others like them grasped that for reasons of age, or of changes in circumstances, or belief, their moment is gone. But, they add fascination, colour and history, in this life of ours and are part of the effect of the nature of life.

So to today. In the sporting world two such stories are being played out nowadays. Roger Federer, king and master of tennis for long, has been struggling for years for that one last big moment. Its has eluded him these many years and so many of us want him to have that. Only nature is matter of fact and has no sympathy or emotion about this. Similarly, in the world of golf, Tiger Woods, revolutionary golfer, has not won a major in seven years. He is desperate and works and enters all the four majors. Yet at almost forty, is his time past? So many want him to have one last big day, before he goes off in the sunset. One hopes that both the above do not descend to the level of ordinary mortals, as they have been kings in their domain for long. Such a sight is generally unbearable. One prays that they have their day in the sun and then fade away gracefully.

To all I would suggest there is a time and space for success and the limelight. Then the moment is gone.

*picture from countermail.com.au

The urge to cut costs

imageRecently, during a dinner with some senior MNC friends, a discussion led to the question of comparing a cost effective model with a growth model. Normally, I do not write about these management questions. Most people do not have any interest in them, whatsoever, and I myself find them very boring. However, in this case, I thought it incumbent to record my learnings, as it may help someone in the future.

Right at the outset, let me declare that I find it amazing that some big management gurus tilt towards cost effectiveness, while in my opinion, cost cutting is only an occasional tool to boost efficiencies (for minimal periods) and can never create sustainability, as compared to a business growth model, which leads to longer term sustenance.

The answer in sums is so simple. Fixed cost will be, say 10% of the total revenues of the company. A substantial saving in these will lead to an overall increase in bottom line by approximately 1% of revenue. A similar growth rate in the overall business revenue, will lead to a 10 % growth in the topline. This will lead to a very significant pass through to the bottom line. That is the essential difference. In one case you are expanding the whole pie, while in the other its just one small slice being improved, while the pie does not expand, infact sometimes contracts.

Nowadays it seems to be a habit though. Most MNCs seem to be restructuring all the time. This is really a code word to control costs and become more efficient. A continuous cost drive takes the edge off creativity and makes people risk averse. Employees are incessantly worried about their jobs, so very little space is left to actually worry about performance. There are other side issues. Uncertainty, while cost is saved, leads to tension and insecurity. This inevitably leads to politics and a lot of in-fighting. The employees forget the purpose of working for the betterment of the company. Very soon, even when the cost has been saved, the company has lost enough sales, so that we are back to square one. The same bottomline! So then this process is applied again and more costs are drawn out of the system, with the same circular reference effect on the sales. The company is actually chasing its tail and we have seen some large companies dwindle into nothing over time.

Gunning for growth is always a positive message. It means more sales, more people working, less per capita costs, greater buoyancy, more people progressing in their careers and general all round happiness. Of course it comes with more risks, as growth is not a given and many times one has to create this growth, sometimes with innovation and change, other times with out of the box thinking.

Fortunately, in almost all my career, I have been in growth situations and only a couple of times has one encountered a cost saving situation. I make no bones about it…once the job was done, my dislike for the organisation led me to leave it at the first available opportunity, as part of a general exodus of many good people. Infact, generally the best performing people find optimistic spaces and are much happier moving from these sort of adverse cost saving situations.

The need to cut costs will surface at times, especially when a business is in trouble, and to save the company and a larger part of the work force, some sacrifices have to be made. In this case cutting cost makes sense for survival sake. But not the way its practised today, for the sake of enhancing bottomline and rewarding shareholders at the cost of employees lives and families. That is a most inhuman form of management. At the same time one is not advocating rampant cost increases here. Its good to be cost conscious and not throw away efficiency. However, that is a mind-set and not the main purpose of the business, which is to sell profitably, make bottom-line, have an engaged work force and happy shareholders. A balanced path!

The picture is from the free picture site dreamstime.com

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