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

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The Tarang Moment

imageThey show these types of moments in movies. Imagine a man sticking his axe into the ground and out shoots a jet stream of oil. The man is sitting on an oilfield and knows that he has arrived. This is his goldmine. And talking about gold, the famous moment in McKenna’s Gold when they enter the valley of gold. The walls, the floor and even the stream are lined with gold. McKenna, Blind Adam and the whole entourage had also arrived. They were looking at a life changing moment.

Sometime in August 2007, myself and many more Engro Foods people, had this same experience. Lifelong we would know this event as the Tarang Moment. It changed our lives.

In commercial parlance, when you launch a brand you are stepping somewhat into the unknown. If you have done it right, then a lot of research on consumer insights has been completed. The product has been tested in stress conditions and has passed. Its taste profile has been matched and tested with consumers. The packaging and name of the brand has been researched, designed and tested. Through research and our own portfolio strategy, we know the bulls eye positioning and the marketing (both media and activation) campaign has been concept tested and fits the positioning. The distribution strategy has been agreed and we know exactly where and at what price the brand will hit the shelves. Our stock levels have been worked out and the production forecast has matched those, so that there is little danger of shortages.

As they say, all the ducks are in a row, and we are ready for success. So then one wonders why, nine out of ten brand launches fail. Unfortunately, that is the history of the world, so very likely things could go wrong and the launch may not be successful. At best recall (I may have missed a small one here or there), I have lived this routine through forty three launches in my career and many of those brands are not around anymore.

So back to that Tarang Moment. We struggled to get approval from our Board of Directors to launch a tea whitener. It took three attempts. Their query was that a rival brand had failed to make it a success, so why would Engro Foods succeed? When it was finally approved, we were allowed to launch only in six towns. That really set our backs up, and it was considered a challenge to our professionalism. Research showed us that tea was the highest incidence of milk usage in Pakistan and it also showed that in those very homes where this tea was consumed, there was a great demand and connection to ‘filminess’ (the movie world). It was also researched that as yet, no right fit product – enhancing the taste of tea – was on the market. Hence the brand Tarang, portrayed a ‘filmi’ world which was enhanced by ‘Chai ka Sahi Jor’. In all my career, I cannot remember a clearer positioning, which was backed by product attributes and fitted its brand world. We felt we had hit the nail on the head.

The Tarang Moment arrived for each of us at different times. For me it arrived at 8.32 am on August 15, 2007 in R A Bazaar, Lahore. The brand had been launched, but media had not yet broken. I was on a market visit to see how we had distributed the brand. A ‘SEC C’ class store in R A Bazar was my first stop early in the morning. An old woman walked in to buy something. She saw our colourful pack on the shelves and asked the shopkeeper “Ay kya haey? Ay Taranga?”. He said ‘chai bananay kou’. The old lady bought it, nary any advertising, nary support, nary any awareness. Alhamdulillah! I knew we had hit gold. Two weeks later this was further confirmed. With advertising on TV and strong supporting activation, our capacity to supply the product had gone short. What we had expected to achieve in a years time, we got there in fifteen days with maybe five days of TV coverage. When a new filling machine arrived four months later, that also ran out of capacity within another fifteen days. The Tarang Moment may last all of us a lifetime. Its unique in my career and probably unique for all the team involved.

A Driving Test

imageAs part of an elaborate procedure of hiring, corporates test a candidates personality. This is a dive into the inner being, to see hidden personality traits, create a picture and then try to match this personality with the corporates profile. There is a wish, that within this uncertain and complex procedure, some success is achieved in getting the right personality match.

Over the years I have seen this develop into a very complicated exercise, with hours of online questioning. Myself and the Engro Foods Management Committee (MC) went through just such testing sometime ago, to ensure that the next MC member can be tested for fit and thus make it a successful entry.

Over the years, most managers are still left with a nagging feeling. Where are these tests coming from? Who is designing them? How do we know they reach the correct conclusions? These have been designed for other cultures, do they really fit here? Many times it is simply a case of conflict. Reason and intuition is saying something and the tests are saying different things. Who to believe? Personally, my best results have come based on intuition and some judgement, rather than depending on physchometrics. So the jury is still out, on whether this works and the preferred route. Maybe, it should be a combination, but which is the dominant influence on a hiring decision? Psychometrics or a judgement call.

Now this might sound wacky, but bear with me. I have reached a conclusion, that as part of a hiring procedure, candidates who can drive, should be taken on the road and asked to drive for a time period. A Driving Test! Often, I have found, real personality traits are revealed under driving stress. Sometimes, one is really surprised. A mild mannered individual can turn out to be an aggressive, in the face, rude and abusive driver.

So following on from the above train of thought, I have carried this a bit further. While observing people drive, certain traits are revealed. These I have listed below, to show the appropriateness of my recommendation.

A mild mannered driver, under stress, will tend to be a calm manager, little impulse action and much serenity.

A decisive driver will apply similar decisions in a managerial role and will not dither and lose confidence. The reverse will be true for an indecisive driver.

An aggressive and pushy driver, will most likely take the same attitude into his job and also treat others in the same way at work.

Those drivers who follow all the driving rules, will tend to manage by the book and be strong in process and less so in human connect.

A risky driver can tend to risk himself and others in his surrounding. They might well apply similar behaviour at work and can tend towards taking risks which may or may not be appropriate. Similarly, a person who is a safety first and risk-less driver might be a very careful manager, who then will only take safe decisions.

The above is not a catch all list and there must be many other individual facets which could be monitored. These are better looked at by HR experts for appropriateness.

The above might sound way out of the box, but it is my feeling that if proper research and work is done on the above thought, we should be able to go a long way in revealing the personality profile of a candidate and then doing related work to match these traits to our organisational fit.

Something for HR experts and CEOs to chew on, for improvement in the hiring process.

Reality check: Pakistan not a milk ‘king’

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imageKARACHI: To be honest, the milk crisis that recently gripped Karachi came as news to me. The media was quick to highlight the issue as news, but I realised that it is actually a question of perception.

Dairy sector professionals have been used to the situation for years. If anything, it is a chronic issue for people associated with the sector, but not a crisis.

Back in 2005 when the feasibility of Engro Foods was completed, it was based on researched figures. A basic input was the census of livestock and related milk production numbers.

In a country where we cannot count our population – the last census occurred in 1998 – it is quite strange that we have regular census numbers on our livestock. The government churns out these numbers annually and has projected Pakistan as one of the premier milk producers. Unfortunately, these numbers are flawed and the volumes could be dramatically lower.

I encountered this fact one fateful afternoon in February 2006. Imagine the shock when our own census, after much effort, suggested much lower milk numbers. One could immediately see that the battle to become a big dairy player was going to be much more expensive and difficult to achieve. The whole plan was re-calibrated and we went on a strategy to develop dairy, through corporatised farming. The idea was to quickly enhance milk production, akin to what China has tried to do in these intervening years.

Over the next 18 months, we spent a lot of time with other large players trying to resolve this issue. Considering the difficulty in doing a livestock census of a very fragmented population – of animals who looked alike and had no identity – we turned the method on its head.

It was easier to identify milk volumes being traded in the market. Tracking all the local Baras and milk-sheds helped get a fairly accurate volume of traded milk in Pakistan. By now, these milk numbers were familiar and had lost the capacity to shock us.

We then used our knowledge and experience to add two large amounts to the traded milk volume. These were volumes consumed in-house by the milk production areas and wasted due to spoilage. Due to lack of electricity, one will be surprised at the high numbers wasted. So the Milk Tree was born in 2007 and has since been used extensively by the dairy industry. Unfortunately, all the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan continue to ignore this in their statistics.

The upshot of all this is that real per-capita milk availability and consumption are both significantly lower than discussed. Hence, my personal drive for ten years is to encourage people to go into large scale dairy farming. The demand volumes are such that I cannot see the bottom of the well here.

Pakistan may have a shortage of over 4 billion litres per annum in 2015 alone. This calculation is based on the human population numbers multiplied by a reasonable per capita consumption, versus actual supply of milk.

Shortage made worse

The above shortage is made more acute because of an inverse demand supply curve.

In the months when the supply of milk is high – February to April – milk demand is at its lowest.

This is because the changing weather causes respiratory issues and immediately dairy usage comes down. People associate lung congestion with milk usage in Pakistan.

Between May and September, supply of milk is at its lowest and dairy demand at its peak. Think Lassi and Doodh soda during hot summer months. This causes endless variation in prices in Pakistan, with a peak in July. Eid now falls during this time further accentuates pressure on the prices.

So the only answer is to steady the supply through a change in the cow lactation cycles and to increase production volumes.

Large scale farming is the only viable solution. In the short term imports of milk powder may assist, but will not solve the issue.

The government should encourage the formation of farms. But to make farming work, we also need dairy technical knowledge and a viable route to the market. Dairy farmers in Pakistan need to get together and create such a value chain.

I am not speaking of forming a cartel, but rather a method where chilled warehouses, trucks and market tools are available, so that milk can be preserved and supplied to the market for consumers.

The issue of milk shortages will get worse as the human population increases. There are already some reports of malnutrition among the young in Pakistan. This will deteriorate further and in time become a chronic issue. Milk is an easy way to solve these pains. The farmers and the government should start looking at this now, rather than convincing themselves that we are milk kings. Being an ostrich is not going to help anyone.

The writer is the former CEO of Engro Foods

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2015.

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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.

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.

EFL’s Summer of 2006

imageThe summer of 2006 was one of trial. Like the good and bad times indicated by the Quran, I had run into serious bits of difficulty that summer. On the one hand my fathers deteriorating health was well advanced and at work the worldly battle of commerce was reaching epic proportions.

To explain the above, one has to recount some history. We were working in Engro Foods at a very early stage of inception. I had joined the company when Sukkur factory was a hole in the ground. By March 2006, however, defying all odds, we had commissioned the factory in 8 months, collected enough milk for production, created the sales and distribution infrastructure and lastly found a name and launched a brand. All this was done on the back of a most driven bunch of people, who seemed to treat Engro Foods as their piece of the promised land. Precious and worth fighting for,

Olpers! Now what sort of name is that? Is that a milk? What does it mean? A red packaging in a blue/green industry; strange slim packaging and then those advertisements, they just did not show any dairy functionality. These were the barrage of criticism we faced in the first few months. We were firmly established as a challenger mentality brand and even some of my well wishers were looking doubtful.

To top it all, along came the launch of another new milk, with a catchy old jingle and a lot more money to spend in May 2006. They negated the innovation space we had created for Olpers, and were spending lots more money and operating in almost the same fashion, plus they were located slap in the middle of the milk shed, unlike us who were down south and far away.

Life was tough through late April and May. Our advertising funds were exhausted by now and the sales after the early days were bordering on 20k litres a day. This small sales was supporting a factory and other infrastructure. Worse still, raw milk prices had increased to the extent, that the low production and high costs meant that by June, we were facing negative contribution margins. For the uninitiated, this meant that for every litre of Olpers sold, our loss would increase. We were better off shutting the plant down, rather than selling. In short we were looking down a barrel of possible failure and like in all commercial enterprises, failures eventually find their source. Typically, it is the head or near it. So the reality was quite clear to me, I was standing near the edge of a precipice.

In that rather apocalyptic situation, a silver lining appeared on the horizon, when the two largest dairy players announced price increases in the trade. This meant we could now make a reasonable margin and at least reduce our losses, till we could somehow increase our sales. The Management Committee meeting to discuss what to do and when to increase our prices, was considered a foregone conclusion. It was just a question of when. Except that the oddest idea had lodged in my brain that particular day. It came on the back of a discussion with the Sales Director, who had wistfully mentioned that he would love to sell at lower prices for a couple of months, to get our volume going. When I mentioned this particular idea in the MC, quite predictably and justifiably, the ceiling blew away. But the more the discussion went on, the more I became convinced and later one or two of the other members too, that we needed to stay with the same price. When it was conveyed to our Chairman, he asked me if I knew what we were doing, because it was the oddest decision he had heard of; “that we were ready to sell at a contribution loss, rather than a margin”. To his credit, once convinced, he backed us to the hilt with the Board of Directors.

That decision of keeping Olpers price at negative margins, was the turning point in EFL. Next month in July we jumped to 130k litres a day sales and in August it went to 150k. By September when we finally took a price increase, we had grabbed significant share from our competitors. So much so, that in December 2006, not only did we deliver a much higher sales figure, but our bottom line performance versus plan was much better. By then we knew EFL had arrived, Alhamdulillah.

In the long years of my career, one cannot remember as crazy a move. Infact, I explain it to people, that had I been at a MNC, I would have probably been summarily removed from my position, but to EFLs credit, they allowed a totally left field decision to prevail and the risk paid off.

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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