Keep Provisions at Home

imageAs someone who started a logistics service provider in the 90’s and then sat on top of EFL, which had a remarkably huge supply chain, I should not have been surprised. But living real life reality in a silo, separated from my work silo, I was very surprised.

That Friday evening Benazir had been shot dead. We read the situation well, and immediately closed the offices and sent people home. Evenso, some fifteen of them could not make it and spent the night at the office. But the real surprise came 36 hours later. Sunday morning, I ventured out from my Shujaat home. A natural curiosity to see what was happening in the world outside. Partially also, it was a search and acquire mission, coming out of self preservation. We had enough provisions in the house, to last us a couple more days. But the fear that the troubles may last longer drove me outside.

It was a busy world. Right from the Clifton markets to the Badar Commercial market, the shelves of shops were empty. Like locusts had visited and devoured everything. At Ideal Bakery on 26th Street, I faced the irony of it. As I was turned away from the till, after an apology of “sorry, no bread” , the man behind me smiled and repeated Marie Antoinette’s words “if you go to X, there are some cakes available”.

I learned a lesson that day, some nine years ago. Never allow staple food provisions to decline below two weeks stock. In a survivalist world, it will save some lives. Big cities are not natural. Big cities are also ravenous. They gobble provisions quickly. They gobble provisions which are being freighted inwards from hundreds of miles away. In times of crisis, they gobble them at breakneck speed. This is what happened to Karachi that day. In a massive human crisis of failure and uncertainty, people took the provisions home. No bank can survive a determined cash run. Similarly, no city can survive a determined provisions run.

Luckily, the supply line to Karachi was restored quickly in the next days. Food came back on the shelves and so, nine years on, I write this footnote to history. But, what if it had not? What if someday, some mega city in the world faces a situation, where the supply lines have been disconnected, with no likelihood of restoration for a few months? Is it that unlikely? Well, I can promise you, in such a scenario, the consequences will be disastrous. We will discover that below that veneer of urban thinking, lies a human animal. Very basic, very selfish, very ruthless.

A small event, most likely totally unnoticed by 99.99 % of the population of this country, has occurred recently. Hanjin shipping lines, the 7th biggest shipping line in the world, has gone bankrupt. There is over capacity in shipping and on the back of the commodities recession, the shipping industry is facing a volume downturn worldwide and extremely low shipping rates. Hanjin’s ships are now stranded in ports and so is the cargo in them. Ports will not allow them to off-load, in the face of non-payment. A lot is going around, which is called feathers flapping in the wind, in the face of crisis – ie nothing. Hanjin’s goods will arrive months late, if ever.

Now what if the other lines are nearing a similar crisis? What if a couple more could go bankrupt, in the face of the global commodities and economic downturn. A significant portion of the worlds supplies will collapse. When they do, the related production will stop, which will have a further knock-on effect on commerce, creating a vicious downward spiral. Very quickly and like in weeks, we could have the worldwide structure collapsing like a house of cards. With such little events do major global events start.

My only advice to people is “keep a few weeks of provisions in your home.”.

 

*picture is from pakalerpress.com

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An Edifice built on Trust

imageRecently a senior CEO remarked to me about how out of control Engro Foods seemed in its early days and outsiders had no idea what was cooking. This was a general perception, outside of EFL, and was borne out of a lack of knowledge about the philosophy.

Hence, I write this piece.

Management is a fine balance between giving passion and initiative enough freedom and at the same time exercising some control, so that things do not go off the rail. It is a fine art and not a science. You have to know your team well and the game well also…that is a starting point. And it takes courage to stay hands off or on the opposite end, interfere to put things right. There is a time for either end and during the course of a project, you will end up doing both. But predominantly, you tilt towards staying hands off and allowing trust and ownership to inculcate.
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In the meantime managing is..

Ensuring flow of knowledge up and down the system
Ensuring flow of authority down the system
Ensuring flow of communication up and down the system
Ensuring flow of finances/resources down the system.

If you do the above properly, then the project should work successfully. When it does not, then it means that sincerity was missing somewhere in the system. Outside the above four dynamics, it is all humans who rule and drive the show. This is the biggest controller at the back. If your employees are driven and have ownership, then they will be sincere and work for the project goal. When all else is excluded and the project goal is owned, then team dynamics happen and when team dynamics happen, we just propel ourselves towards the goal.

It is absolutely fascinating, how fate almost conspires to cause success to happen, when teams work selflessly. I suspect that there is a lot of spirituality which is playing at the back. But unfortunately, there is no way to prove this, except to simply say “it happens”. I have seen this time and again during my own life and heard it from others. Think back simply to the World Cup 1992 and you will understand.

So, EFL was all about this. One created a home with a vision, and got a bunch of people to believe in it. Soon EFL mattered to them more than anything else. Hence they formed a very large family, and fought tooth and nail to achieve success. To enable them to achieve this success, they were given some freedom, and told that they were trusted. This edifice built on trust and ownership, ballooned into a massive company. Such a simple philosophy, but calling for a lot of belief.

* picture taken from dreamstime.com

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 dreamstime.com

A Farewell Night

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My farewell speech to Engro Foods people today.

Another generation of EFL bid me goodbye just four years ago. Circumstances required a return, because the needs of the many, were more important than the wishes of one. However, today I feel a bit of a fraud and am embarrassed for taking another farewell…we have been this way before.

But khair, thank you for all the ehtemaam this night. Its wonderful and memorable for me.

Before I go further, I want to do the important things first, rather than leave it to the end.

1- I want to thank all the organisers for this wonderful night…all of them. It was funny the way they were trying to maintain the surprise element, while so much was going around, which was visible. Becharay! But, thank you.

2- I want to thank the people of EFL. Two generations of them. They have been wonderful and the respect and love given has been amazing. I shall not thank individuals by name, because there are so many. Would definitely miss out on someone and cause hurt. Needless to say, I am grateful to all of you, in one form or the other.

I am also most grateful to my wife and two sons. They have borne the brunt of my work at EFL. The missed holidays, dinners and general presence, which is the need of a family.
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3- I want to tell people that like all humans I too err and where I have erred, then I beg your forgiveness. Don’t want you guys giving me a bad time up there on Judgement Day.

So to goodbyes. I can think of a few immediately! Famous goodbyes! I shall quote three.

-“I shall be back”. Terminator. Most inappropriate for now and I assure you I have no such plans.

-“I am just going outside and may be some time”. A hundred and four years ago, Titus Oates, walked to his death out of his tent, during Scotts failed South Pole Expedition, to save his collegues lives. Again, not quite my role to be a hero.

-“Here’s looking at you kid”. Humphrey Bogart when he departs in Casablanca.

It is this third goodbye that I am thinking of. In the years to come, sitting on the outside, I wish to see a prosperous and happy EFL doing all the great things this company was made for. It was part of our vision to do great things and I am glad (despite hitches) that this has been achieved in the first 10 years. One leaves behind a very successful company, with well oiled systems and a hugely talented work force. This is my legacy and I desperately want it to prosper.

It is now your part to continue this role in the future. The first gear has been executed well, now lets go into other gears. Make it happen! Work as a team, with dedication and passion, believe in this cause and it will be successful, In-sha-Allah. Also please remember, when success comes, to keep your feet on the ground. Stay humble.

Finally, I would like to say with some personal satisfaction, that at the tables of EFL, in the corridors and in the culture, I leave behind a lot of myself. It behaves very much, as I would like it to behave.

Thank you for all these wonderful years. Allah bless you all.

My very own Engro Foods

imageI feel humbled. I don’t think I can put it better. Fifteen months after totally unexpected events, I write about thoughts, which I wanted to express all along. To explain further one has to tell a bit of history.

Engro Foods started out as a personal dive into Pakistaniat – being a Pakistani myself. For years either abroad or working with MNCs, I had lost that connection…not in the heart, but in the daily rigour of existence. But I wanted it back so badly. This cannot be explained better than by an expatriate, who has been working away from home and has suffered from homesick blues. EFL was a gift which finally arrived in 2006. It changed my life and alongwith a bunch of disparate individuals, we carved out a vision, built a team and created corporate history. Along the way, we won two of the biggest world class level awards, which no other Pakistani corporate has ever done. Not one persons effort, but a team to die for.

Then in 2011, as it is my wont to do, I felt my time was up. The company set, the goals achieved, the awards taken, it was time to move onto new things. A dive into my own world of self actualisation. Frontiers in education to be conquered and my payback to this land of mine. Twenty months of education projects, mentoring so many young people, and blogging about thoughts which I could never express before. My time my own, for the first time in 28 years. However, it was arrogant to think that I control my destiny. I don’t! Allah does. So eventually a return to a commercial calling due to unforeseen events.

It was strange to say the least. What I had done and gained expertise in during my whole life seemed difficult. My apprehension was alive. Do I really have it in me? Can I take this particular stress? Does my mind work anywhere near what it used to. Will I have the drive? I genuinely thought..I was not up to it. But the need was imperative and really I had no choice but to return to a room I had left with some relief a while back.

Enter the office, I felt like I was going to school on my very first morning, or my commencement day when I entered the Unilever offices 30 years ago as a Management Trainee. Days bygone and old apprehensions! But it was strange at this age and time of life, when life’s experiences have given one confidence. How will I be received by old colleagues or the new ones? What will I say to them? How do I justify this U turn? Will the old trust be there? Will the old hand in glove fit be there?

I need not have worried. The capacity of humanity to surprise one is a constant in life. The smiles, the connections and in cases the hugs were all there. These were people after my own heart. They were warm and wanted to show that warmth and affection. I had been humbled. Right from the tea boys, to the drivers, to the secretaries, the younger managers, the older ones and then my senior colleagues (more controlled). This was still home, maybe altered and different in form, but the substance still remained. I still belonged here. And by showing what my colleagues did show, they once more sucked me back into that emotional churn, which was EFL. It compels me today, to write about it. To acknowledge it.

So to the taking up of this challenge. This was a place which was built to be a home, for togetherness and not just about individuals, but an institution. In the decades ahead, Inshallah, EFL teams shall go out and together sustain that very belonging and shall build a dream on top of it.

My friend Nadeem and Navitus

imageThe last time I met Nadeem Chawhan was when he came to see me a few weeks ago. He brought an apple pie with him, but then decided not to eat any himself, as he was on an eating regime. Early this morning, Nadeem encountered the ultimate challenge in this life and faced death. I pray that he went with equanimity and peace. Inna lillahi wa inna elehi rajioon.

Our association goes back almost a decade. At the time when Engro Foods was launched, Nadeem and Farhad (Nadeems partner at Navitus) were heavily involved. Not only in the early motivational sessions, but later in the vision and values aspect for the new company. Still later, as we tried to bind the company culture within the vision and values agreed for the new company, Navitus was instrumental in disseminating these down the line at EFL. I remember a session in Sukkur in 2007, where we bonded well over karahi and cigarettes and had a lot of laughs together. Also remember, as part of our community work going out with him to paint the local Sukkur government school.

His style was free wheeling, a bit in the face and at the same time he spoke the local colloquial language. Hence he connected well with the sales and milk collection people. There were many a time, when Nadeem would play the clown on stage and connect with our sales employees. During these fun filled sessions, he found ways to pass on the basic motivational or ethical messages we wanted conveyed. And within this system, he would create aspirations for our employees to drive them on to greater performance.

That was the official side of Nadeem, as representing Navitus. There was the other side, which to me was personal and over the years had been a great part of our relationship. To him I was Guru and every now and then we would share philosophical sessions, when he was in Karachi for one of his work sessions. I would pick him up from the Navitus rest house and we would go for a meal. In the old days, he would eat his share, as befitted his ample bulk. Over many hours of random discussions, we would talk about the art of living, why we are here at all and also a lot of spiritual discussions on the way to live this life. Our gripe about the rat race was something which bound our thoughts together and we imagined a world where one only did aspirational work and money was not the issue.

At the back of both our minds was his health. A lot of discussions on cigarettes and also his tendency to be large. So it did not shock me when he took the procedure to reduce his stomach intake. Some months later, when we met on a trip to Islamabad, he was thin and the familiar bulk gone. While, it was sort of sad, yet one felt it was best under the circumstances.

In the twenty or so months, when I left Engro Foods, Nadeem, Farhad and Kamran (another partner friend) were still in touch. Never in these months did I feel that I was now not important in the scheme of things for my Navitus buddies. Though honestly speaking I was now peripheral to their business. So it was with a heavy heart that one heard that Navitus had now decided to split and that these friends of mine were parting ways. Navitus had been such an integral part of the EFL story, that this break up went heavy on us, as I am sure it did for the partners.

Sadly it does not matter anymore, as one of the participants has departed. I personally have no words except deep sadness. For one to depart so young and vibrant is one of Allah’s conundrum, which shall be resolved at a different time and in a different dimension. All one can say is that Nadeem will be sadly missed by many and I for one will remember my long discussions – which led nowhere – with him and pine for moments which cannot return.

Posthumously, I want to thank Nadeem for great times and inspirational ideas which helped us. Maybe the good depart early. May Allah grant him maghfirat and Jannah and may his young family sustain during these difficult times.

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