The Marathon, a human story

imageEarly morning today, I watched a fascinating life event in real time!

I have always been interested in athletics and just love the direct competition, the emotion and show of strength of individuals. Its gladiatorial and a human story without being hurtful to people. Today, watching the Marathon in the World Championship, was an education which captured all the above ingredients.

When Edna Kiplagat, the Kenyan, who had been World Champion twice in the past, suddenly dropped back a few meters from the leading pack of five competitors, in the last ten minutes phase of the race, it was the declaration of her inner self. If you are running twenty six miles plus at fair pace, then for a top athlete, mental endurance is what it is about. They are all supreme athletes and physically in prime condition. But at some point, the mind does take a call. Through the fog, stress and physical challenge, the mind is ready to go on or conversely the pain barrier has become too much and now its time to lower it.

In that one moment, it is a real human story. The particular athlete is deciding, I am superhuman or I drop back to being a normal mortal. In this case, Kiplagat, who had overcome these barriers often in the past and been superhuman for long, decided that notwithstanding a great career, she could not be superhuman anymore. No more! She was saying ‘I am ready to go home’.

Moreover, as always happens in this life, there were four others in that leading group who continued onwards. Soon enough, in the next couple of kilometers a sprint ensued at the end (which must have taken superhuman effort) and out of the ashes of Kiplagat, rose another phoenix, in the shape of the Ethiopian, Mare Dibaba. The new World Champion.

Is this not what happens in real life also? Not so dramatically though. We all take calls at a certain time, that our search for achievement, the sacrifices and effort it calls for, are just a mountain too far. And so we decide to lower the ante, or decide to change our purpose in life. Others who are with you in your life, continue onwards. They still have the desire and out of them will appear another flag bearer for the future. The Marathon today was a one hundred and fifty minutes encapsulation of all our lives.

Making Real Organisations

imageI had a session on this topic with managers of a large MNC recently. They were interested in the thought, vision and strategy involved in creating an organisation.

You cannot help but personalise such an endeavour, if you want authenticity. It all starts from a considered and declared choice. ‘Who am I’? The real authentic model! I will live ‘MY’ life; not someone else’s. It is only one life to live after all and why short change yourself.

Once you understand the ‘Who am I’ part (facing the truth is tough!), it becomes easier. The next vital question is ‘Why’ do something? It’s essential to connect the ‘Why’ to the ‘Who am I’. You want to do things which are fulfilling your aspirations. There is a very good talk on TED by Simon Sinek which explains the ‘Why’. He then goes on to secondary questions, like ‘What to do’, to satisfy the ‘Why’. And once you decide on the ‘What’, you can go into implementation and talk about ‘How to do it’. (Simon Sinek ‘Start with Why’)

The ‘Who’ is our soul; ‘Why’ is the vision; ‘What’ is the concept/strategy; and lastly ‘How’ is the tactics.

Most organisations function only on the ‘What and How’ level. Its not authentic and it’s generally not sustainable. At some point, to exist beyond plain commerce, they will have to dive deeper to learn about themselves.

My legacy, driven on by the ‘Why’, is doing ‘What’ my soul wants to do. Not what ‘someone else’ wants me to do. If I deliver on what someone else wants to achieve, that is no success. I may have wasted my life.

So from childhood I wanted to do certain things. Money or position was a minor achievement in life. Fun, adventure, helping others were the big reality. Respect for characters like Abdus Sattar Edhi was intense. On the other hand, I had little admiration for corporate executives, especially the gung-ho variety.

To use Engro, as illustration of the above process.

The foods business started on the simple dynamics of per capita consumption. Same calculations are used by other consumer organisations in Pakistan. It’s commerce, core capitalism and fulfilment of apparent needs. Nothing wrong with that, but not my game. Why take this role at all? It amounted to two things :-

A) Its about Pakistaniat. Recreate the progressive Pakistan of the 60’s, to make us seem worthwhile again. Also to do something for rural area prosperity and emancipation of people.

B) Run an organisation in Cyrus the Great mould. A people’s organisation. Here people will carve their own destiny, they will belong and have ownership. There is no London or New York to report to. This is just us. We have freedom to think and freedom to do, because this is ours. If we fail, the CEO shall be answerable, as long as it is shown that due diligence was practiced and their was no malafide intent.

In the end this ownership drives the company. It ends up growing at huge CAGRs. It ends up winning international and local awards. In the end it also becomes very profitable. Because profit is a by-product of engagement of employees. The commercial purpose is achieved, but it’s culturally done in a human way and people are still happy.

In summary

An entity is created (NewCo)

A Vision is carved out.

A Value system is instituted to cater for the workings of a free, feeling and adventurous organisation. NewCo must hold a moral high ground.

The HR strategy is based on above Vision and Values. NewCo needs risk takers; flag flyers; people with heart; people not so interested in normality, but wanting iconic things.

Put them together and make them buy into the Vision.

CEO personally must live the daily aspect of Values. He has to walk the talk.

Out of this comes a common purpose. In this common purpose there is belief.

Out of this belief comes passion. Passion leads to ownership, diligence and hard work.

In achieving all the above, a team is formed. When team dynamics come into play, We are on a roll. The team will propel each other towards the target. Any target is now achievable. Every now and then, senior management will have to give direction, nudge, cajole, pamper a bit; but the cart will goimage rollicking along on its own now.

That was Engro Foods. Not once, but twice and with different management and people each time. I have also witnessed the same formula work in Shaukat Khanum Hospital.

*the pictures are from

The Sacrifices for our Green

imageThis Ramadan among other talks, I heard one from Maulana Tariq Jamil, which resonated deeply within me. It was simply because of its similarity to my father’s history. I wrote about my father’s experience at the time of Partition in Newsline Magazine a few years ago, in the form of a letter to Pakistan.(

Today, the sixty eighth Independence Day of Pakistan, I shall relate what the Maulana said, as it is a very relevant message for those who love Pakistan. I translate and paraphrase :-

‘When I was young, I used to listen to various personal stories about Partition and they were so earth shaking, that at times I felt that my heart would burst. This is the only country which was made on the base of an ideology, no cement or construction involved, just a foundation built on the bones of six hundred thousand people, who sacrificed their lives in a few weeks.

We are local people or have spent too many generations after the Partition, so we did not see or taste that sacrifice, unlike the original migrants. My father’s friend was one such migrant from Jullundur and once while sitting with him, he told us his own story, which I narrate now.

When he left Jullundur, his whole family had been separated, due to chaos and calamity all around. He was very young and the only one who survived. One single soul, in search of Pakistan; trying to hide in the fields during the day and traveling by night. One immediate and compelling objective; to survive the ire of the Sikhs, who were on rampage in the three bordering districts of the Punjab.

Eventually he approached the new border, at the banks of the Sutlej which in August was a raging monsoon river. In front was death by drowning or possible safety and at the back was death at the hands of the Sikhs. So, he grabbed a piece of wood and jumped into the river, risking drowning. As the torrent took him mid river, he saw that the whole Sutlej was full of bodies. Children, young, old, women and men. They had arrived at their final destination and their sacrifice was complete. Now the Sutlej had become a coffin and grave to their bodies. The same was true of the Chenab and Ravi in those few days, all three had become the bed of the migrant soul. But he (this particular young kid) managed to cross the Sutlej into Pakistan and survived to tell his story years later.

We should read our history. It tells us how we started and where we are going. This country was given everything – soul, soil, minerals and people. Unfortunately, it was just sucked into this one cancer. Its called insincerity and dishonesty. It could have been a Jannat on this earth. You know, this country has been bled dry, not by the little people, or the uneducated, or the workers. No, this sacrilege has been committed by very high class people, who are also well educated. Simply, they obtained degrees, but did not learn humanity.

Such big sacrifices in vain, by the many. All we are left with is thorns; we never really saw a spring. Had there not been some great humans, then the country would long ago have been sold. Fortunately, in the far corners there is still some light and it reflects in places. Somehow this caravan still proceeds on its journey due to these good people, despite the evil perpetrated by the so-called privileged.

One day those six hundred thousand will rise out of their graves, and demand restitution from all the insincere, whether they be here in Pakistan or settled abroad. There is no escaping this eventuality, because there has been ‘amanat may khayanat’ here.’

For my part I pray and say Pakistan Zindabad. The sacrifice of the many shall not go waste. In-sha-Allah.

*translated and paraphrased from Maulana Tariq Jamil. All credits are due to him. The figure of six hundred thousand death is presumably only the Muslim number, as many Hindus and Sikhs also perished. Total figures vary, reaching upto 1.5 mn in some estimates.

Hotel De Wereld

imageSo sitting here in vaguely accessible places and with a very dodgy wifi, there is not much one can do with a blog. In the circumstances I thought to reminisce a bit.

Recent travel took me deeper into non-urban territory in Europe and I landed up at the Hotel De Wereld. A quaint old town, Wageningen (the pronunciation escapes me still), slightly backwater, rustic territory. Farms, greenery and a university which was closed for the summer.

This was a Sunday and not much was open. Bicycles were to be seen, but cars were few and far between. The receptionist was shocked when asked if a shop for general goods might be open. “What at 9 pm” he exclaimed.

Nevertheless, quite unexpectedly, I had landed a gem. On closer inspection and research one found one of the historic places of Europe. The very hotel at which I was residing. Hotel De Wereld. Situated in the middle of cobbled streets and with greenery around the place, this quaint hotel turned out to be the very spot at which the German Armies surrendered to the Allies, on May 5th, 1945.

On reflection, I thought a blog with some photographs might make a refreshing change to all the verbose stuff I put down normally. So enough of writing, I shall now submit the visuals. But just to add, as in any historical site, it was quite overwhelming to touch history for just some moments.

image The plaque claiming history!image The Germans signing the surrender image Post surrender photographimage The Hotel as in bygone daysimageThe green, quaint road where the hotel is located

Definitely worth a visit, if you happen to be in the Netherlands.

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