Principles and teamwork

imageSomewhere in Turkey, ninety families will be mourning their near ones today. At the same time their nation will be celebrating their heroes, who rose out of nowhere to do what was right.

Last night was one of those magical times in life, when correctness and equity occurs. Also as always, when great events occur, sacrifices are made and some people become heroes, as in the case of the ninety heroes.

I was just going to sleep, when a chance check brought me to these events last night. The next five hours were some of the most intense I have witnessed. This was reality television on a very large scale. A world wide view. It is also interesting to note that the Pakistani channels were at least a couple of hours ahead on reporting events compared to CNN and BBC. So at 6 am the foreign channels were reporting that a coup is still in progress, while Pakistan reported before 5 am, that the coup had failed. Since its not a question of resources, I then surmise it is more a case of politics and policy for CNN and BBC.

What enthused me most was that the events showed the two very qualities, which I have always been passionate about and which in my mind always lead to success. Belief in principles and resultant teamwork. Erdogan and the Turkish people stood by what is right and that belief made them last night. A President in trouble, back against the wall, was probably looking at death and ignominy, when he stuck his neck out, extraordinarily went via his smartphone on the national media circuit and rallied the country to come on the street (how many Pakistani leaders would have the guts to do this? Bar one…your own conscience would tell you that). Erdogan did that with guts, passion and belief. His people, stood by his call of principle. They believed him, because they valued him and trusted him. Then the teamwork happened. The leaders instruction was followed and contact made between individuals and unified action was taken in so many places. The most remarkable was the storming of a tank, while guns and machine guns were being fired. These were ordinary, unarmed humans who prevailed. The heart just races, when one sees that event.

You know, we in Pakistan were like that at one time. The first rally against the armed police of Ayub Khan happened in Karachi, October 15th, 1968. It went past my school in Depot Lines on the way to Saddar, which was the rally area at the time. I witnessed that as a young kid. Next day, the first student was killed at Gordon College Rawalpindi, commencing a five month successful resistance to bring down a dictator. Again principles and teamwork. Similarly, Karachi resisted in 1977 for four months, so that flawed election results could be rewound. Somewhere, we lost that passion for right as a nation, though individual candles still burn. I was in Lahore when sweets were distributed when Nawaz Sharif was deposed on October 12th, 1999. Partially, this is the lack of trust in and commitments of our leaders and partially it is because we have no principles left as a nation. We are only individuals thinking around ourselves.

So it was exhilarating to see a burning star for once. A star one could marvel in. Long may the Turkish people stand by principles and work like a team.

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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.

Democracy..I do wonder about niggles

DemocracyIn the days post the elections in Pakistan, I wondered (like many) about the whole electoral process. This naturally raised question on the system of democracy itself and the pain one goes through to see it perform even at the present sub-optimal level.  Its not to say that we should get rid of democracy and experiment again; sixty plus years of that is enough. No! At the moment there is nothing which can viably replace a mass selection system – democracy. But, I honestly wish there was something better for mankind, which would take us to a higher level of humanity. Atleast, away from all this killing and infliction of pain on innocents.

So to my gripe. Allow me that indulgence. Below are some of the thoughts which make me wonder. 

 

My first niggle. We can vote for evil people – Hitler!- and it is my right to vote for this type in a democracy..where is the play of conscience? For those not aware, Hitler actually came to rule via the ballot box. There was much evidence that the man was evil or mad, but the Germany of 1933 wanted a strongman and got one. Much to the detriment of themselves and the world. They learnt 65 million deaths later.

 

People who are standing for elections, generally desire to be elected. This has huge psychological implications. Now they have a vested interest and are on the slippery slope of corruption. There is substantial research which backs this theory; desire for power itself is a form of corruption. So at least we should be allowed to view a psychosomatic profile of the candidates.

 

A criminal has the same authority as an upstanding member of society. Where is the justice in that?  So a criminal (convicted) can vote and displace people, as much as you an upstanding person can. It is possible that such a person will vote for one of their own ilk. Our natural sense of right agonizes at such an eventuality.

 

The inefficiency of the system…if I make tall promises and people vote for me, it will take years before I will be called to account. Years of corruption and inefficiency…damage may be huge, voters learning from previous mistakes can take generations. Education, common sense and wisdom become an imperative among voters. Hence education in democracies is so important, which alas we do not have.

 

Elections are an advertising game. As consumer companies use advertising to sell goods we do not need, so the candidate persuades you to vote for him/her, maybe on platforms which do not affect you at all. The science exists. Its all been refined and a good marketeer will get inside your brain and convince you, without you even realizing it.

 

Big money is a necessary game in democracies. Advertising requires lots of money, as does electoral visibility. This includes ground activation to be in touch with your electorate. A huge amount has to be spent on research to understand the electorate itself. And then the logistic costs of moving people on the day of the election is massive. Top it all, to manage all the above, a large organization is required, which requires funds. A good democratic choice cannot be put on the ballot paper, without large funding. Obama spent over $1bn to run his campaign in 2012. So then is this open to all and sundry?!

 

Then the awful nexus with capitalism. Democracy tends to be at its workable best, if it is a capitalistic society. This allows the rich to get richer and its not necessary that the poor prosper – however the middle class tends to improve marginally. In the US the divide has sharply increased and the top 1% wealthy have increased dramatically since 1980, while the poor and homeless numbers have skyrocketed.

 

Lastly close to us, the rigging..but a lot happens in many places. Whether it is by force, threats, systemic or fragmented, it happens. Last elections in Kenya resulted in genocide. In 2000, the US Presidential elections were hijacked. Against the actual voting numbers, which went to Al Gore…the other candidate Bush won. Talk to Karachites, Lahorites, or Abrar in PTI. The evil taste left after these events, makes one wonder. My own sense is that something which is achieved by subterfuge, will not be of benefit to anyone.

 ” Our little systems have their day;

They have their day and cease to be:

They are but broken lights of thee,

And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

Tennyson 

My fervent wish is that we are able to refine this choice and selection process to the level, where we can say with pleasure, that democracy is really democracy. Inshallah. We need some form of harmony in this country.

* The democracy picture is taken from Wylio.com, a free picture site, and is owned by Dominic Alves.

Letter to Pakistan

pak flag

Printed in Newsline Magazine – August 2012

Dear Pakistan,

I dreamt last night of a young boy who was cowering behind a trunk in a railway bogey. In the background, there were screams, gunfire and one could smell blood. Not to forget the broken bodies. They were everywhere! Then, the dream cut to another scene and suddenly this train arrived at a railway station, the young boy was lifted out of the bogey and there were shouts of relief, as others were also carried to safety. There it is, the signboard says Lahore Railway Station and is that not my father there lying on the platform in shock? He has survived but he has seen hell, my dear Pakistan. At the ripe young age of 14 he has seen hell. Awful dream and I woke with a start, in a sweat remembering those millions in 1947, who suffered just to be with you. Just to belong.

Years later when that boy had become my father, he told me the story. Of the great aspirations and love which went with the commitment to abandon all in India and migrate to Pakistan. For him the horrible events along the way, defined his love for you. It was worth it to give all that for a land where he would be free. Where he could live, marry, earn and not be considered lower than others. Not for skin, nor for sect or religion, nor for his language. He thought it was worth it, for the home this country gave to him for almost six decades. Right up to his last months, then a wasting disease took him to a more permanent abode.

I am so sorry Pakistan, because somewhere in the middle, while still loving and pining for you, I went away, I went abroad for long stints. Did not show the same dedication my father did. As justification I thought I shall earn and give back to my land. My commercial training and reasoning kicking in! Only, money never equates to action and sharing pain. When I came back, you had been robbed. I had left you undefended and they had come, raped and pillaged you and left you distressed. My fault. I did not consider that my home was worth raising my voice for.

Well I have been back many years now and have seen some light at the end of the tunnel. These young ones they are more like my father. They are ready to live for a cause. Oh I know you would say that the vast masses are insensitive and uncaring. But do not lose hope, my dear Pakistan. These young ones have a vision and a story they believe in and are beginning to awaken. The big, long slumber is over. They have a finger on your pulse, they know you are alive. My dear Pakistan, I feel you will finally get the leaders and people you deserve.

Inshallah.

Oh yes, I meant to write and say to you Happy Independence Day. A very Happy 65th Birthday!

Your hopeful citizen

Sarfaraz

Best Revenge

The Best Revenge

“Mom was right in asking me to spend Ramadan here, Nani. Easier rozaa’s. Smaller days than Canada.”

“Yes beta. Not much to do here though. Loadshedding; also its hot and thirsty. Not many friends; all the relatives are in Canada, US and UK”.

“Why is that Nan?”

“Beta they thought they would have a better life elsewhere.”

“So why did you not go?”

“This is home. I am not leaving my language, my people and my food. What will I do there? Watch endless TV about unfamiliar things. At this time of life, no one to tell all the art of living I collected for 70 years.”

“But Nani, you are alone and who do you meet here?”

“My neighbours, some old friends and cousins who still come. Then all the young ones from the maids’ household. I teach them.”

“You could be with Mom in Toronto. She will look after you. I know she has a busy job, but she loves you. Even the cold is bearable with heating.”

“Beta, my heart is here. Your grandfather is here in that graveyard. My father and mothers souls are here. This is home and a passport cannot change that”.

“Nani what happened to your parents. I never saw them and Mom was saying vague stuff.”

“(Sigh!) Well she never saw them either. I haven’t these sixty-five years”.

“Nani, what do you mean?”

“Well jaan, I was very young and living in Ludhiana. We had a fair life. Not too rich, but enough to live. We used to live in a Muslim community. Then one day I heard my parents talking. It was sort of worrying. They were saying we should move to Lahore or Multan.  I asked why?

My father said because they were coming to get us and we will be safer in Pakistan. So what is Pakistan and what of my friends? My choti sister started crying. ‘Don’t worry’ said Abba, ‘Pakistan is home and where home is the heart is’.

We went by cart first and then found this crowded truck. Father was lost for a while. Then in Gurdaspur we found him. So there we were in Pakistan and safe in a camp. It was August 16th. Then all hell broke loose. Suddenly the raiders came, there was gunfire, stampede and they were killing everyone. I hid behind some bodies. After they had gone, I went to see. Abba and Amma were dead and Amma was lying on top of choti to protect her. But choti was dead too.”

Silence…

“Somehow I got to Lahore. Some good people helped me. Then after 10 days my uncle in Lahore came and took me home. He had been looking for us for days. I told him about father and he cried. Chacha said to me, ‘We have given the price of blood for this land. Remember that always. This is precious and yours. Don’t give it up easily’.

And so my dear, I do remember it and shall not leave. My land, whatever may go wrong, I am staying here Inshallah. I want the right to stand before Allah one day, to ask him to question all who have cheated this land and to call judgement on the evil visited in the name of the military, religion, democracy, justice, the rich and uncaring. I am going to ask Allah to visit the best revenge on these people who have spoilt the home that is mine and of another hundred and eighty million people. There is a heavy price to be paid yet. Alhamdulillah”.

“Nani you sound angry”.

“No beta, I am extremely determined and very sure”.

*Historically, Gurdaspur originally seemed to be awarded to Pakistan, with a 51% Muslim population, but then was subdivided with majority areas going to India. This became a high killing field, as population moved either way.

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