Sunday, 30 December 2012

Nicotine on Brembos

In December 2011 I made a new year’s resolution to quit smoking, I had been smoking for eight years and from somewhere out of the blue it struck me, why don’t I consider getting rid of this habit. A whole year is going to be completed in a few days and I felt it would be good to share my experience with others who might want to quit this year. If you have been a smoker for a while It’s a great new year’s resolution!

It all started as it always does, I wanted in the group of the most desired and not a nerd which I felt like I was becoming so I started smoking and a few other things I would not like to disclose at least in this post. Began with Marlboro Menthols and quickly switched to lights and later to Hards. Once the budget cornered me I had to switch to cheaper brands such as Goldleaf until after a few years that I could afford the original imported Duty Free Ones again.

I have met and seen so many people who want their loved ones to quit, buying nicotine gums, patches and electronic cigarettes but the reality is that the biggest help is the will to quit. I never used any form of urge suppresser and I can tell you that you just need to give the smoker a reason to quit or hope that he/she finds one for themselves.   

It might strike you as unusual but I always considered smoking a pleasure and never a weakness, even though I smoked a lot. As in all cases around us (at least everyone who is reading this) the smoker knows the health risks associated with tobacco but still persists to smoke, maybe because at that young age the idea that we cannot heal ourselves from anything is too distant. I similarly knew the dangers but I also knew from day one that I will smoke only till my problems last, once I have the perfect life I will quit. What happened last December was a reckoning that my problems are never going to end cause no matter how many of them I overcome new ones keep surfacing. It’s a never ending cycle and these are with everyone no matter how fortunate they are in life. So whether it’s the job, the girl, the car, abs, life, visa stamps there is always somebody who has it better than you. Even though the thought is simple but yet it’s like Morpheus said the difference between knowing the path and walking the path. 

The first few weeks are tough both psychological and biological urges kick in especially when you are with friends or you watch movies where characters are smoking (that’s exactly why tickers run on responsible content operators about smoking hazards, it makes so much sense now). It all gets easier as every day passes you just need to stay steadfast with the aim to refrain from even a single puff. Many websites offer tips and guides to quitting, there were however two things that worked best for me. A reward system where you buy yourself something from all the money you save by not smoking and second a psychological eating cover for the time you spend smoking e.g whenever you have an urge just go outside or wherever you smoke and eat something like a candy, gum, peanuts, etc . In my case I always smoked outside in the balcony, the stairs or while driving and usually with a beverage. Whenever I felt like smoking after quitting I would have the beverage go out to the same spot where I smoked and eat something instead to simulate the feeling.

There are things I miss about smoking because lets face it it’s the best way to kill time, skip awkward meetings, excellent socializing time when you are with your friends on a smoke break and a great conversation starter. Even though I feel strong that I will not start again but the chances of a relapse exist. 

I am not sure if its just me or a general feeling that more people around us are smoking than lets say 10 years ago, the acceptability has somewhat increased. I can recall that in my childhood smoking was considered a sin with severe penalties set by the family, today however school going kids can be seen smoking. The parents and society maybe feel a little lenient that at least they are not into drugs. I cannot be someone worthy of asking people to quit cause I myself never listened to anyone but I truly hope that people find what they are looking for before its too late. I know there is more to the tobacco industry in Pakistan than just hoards of people wanting to buy more cigarettes than ever before. Lack of opportunities and our declining economy is compelling masses to fall for all sorts of nuisances. We have been hearing that more stringent measures are being taken to enforce smoking control but simplify increasing prices (through taxes) or availability (prohibited sale around schools & universities) alone will not be able to tackle the situation until and unless the reasons that make people fall for it in the first place are not handled.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Jon Puri and Darbari of our HRM

Over the last few months through the virtue of my employers I had the opportunity to meet companies nationwide, along with other observations the most dominant concern seemed to be of employee retention. Employees just cant seem to be tamed, they keep quitting. I was amazed to find out that even some of the brightest entrepreneurs and senior managers went on to advocate a black listing mechanism where employees who leave their company can no longer get a job anywhere else.

In my career I have had the opportunity to work for the most amazing companies and the worst possible ones, within the spectrum of multinational corporations to national giants, family owned businesses, small start-up companies to private entities. With all these flavours I just wanted to address the Human Resource Management and Employee Retention issue being widely faced by our businesses today; and from a different perspective.

I believe the reason behind low employee retention is in 6 areas, these are

1. Respect

Employees are not slaves; they have values and egos which should be respected at all times. No superior can scold his subordinates just because he has a bad tamper; the employees are not hired to tolerate your Schizophrenia. Everyone has bad bosses but the chain of command needs to be monitored and constantly reminded about respecting their subordinates. If your company can hire and fire people with no policy or procedure then do not be a fool to expect that your employees are going to follow a procedure to leave you.  

In fact the respect should extend to all the employees needs things such as security, prayer areas, parking spots, cafeterias etc are solely the employer’s responsibility. I have witnessed companies allocating billions of rupees worth of company property to be used as free employee parking spaces whereas I have also experienced company owners using every inch of their property to be used for profit maximisation.
2. Equality

All employees are to be treated equally once they become a part of your team, you cannot practice discrimination of any sort based on the university they studied in, the company they are coming from, their religious beliefs, gender or ethnicity. You also cannot stereotype employees based on absurd associations e.g. employees with beards who offer prayers five times a day are good employees and the ones who smoke are bad ones. This is one of the most ridiculous practices which has nothing to do with employee productivity. Gauging performance is described next but when I say you need to practice equality you need to ensure that you have no double standards defined in your organisation, no favouritism and no biased judgements. You cannot treat employees differently; the same rules should be applied to all.  If you practice inequality then you have deliberately alienated a particular group or individual and its going to switch on the next best offer.

3. Performance Metrics and Measurement

It is said that you cannot manage what you cannot measure; you need to have realistic quantifiable well defined parameters for performance measurement. Never use subjective associations like above or any ones personal judgement to measure performance. There are numerous tools and literature available for measuring performance but the key is to always set clear parameters, targets which have been broken down to a monthly or even a weekly level ensuring frequent calculations. Both you and the employee should know exactly where he stands on the performance scale, you should be able to track performance and identify deviations as frequently as possible.

With the results you will be able to identify high achievers, spot individuals who need training and practice a fair reward based system.    

4. Training

No employee is perfect not even Harvard Barkley Brown or Yale graduates. Everyone needs to continue learning and improving their skills, so provide them opportunities to do so. These can be basic professional skills the immediate boss imparts or specific skills that an employee needs to perform his current job or general skills such as project management or contract writing. These trainings can be in-house or it can include local and international classroom sessions and they send a clear indication to the employees that the company is investing in them and preparing them for future leadership positions.

This training is also in form of specific assignments where for a predefined duration employees are rotated between various job functions, this creates a better understanding of the company and eliminates monotony which sometimes employees face who have been involved in the same function/ market for too long.

Your employees are your ambassadors so even if your well trained employee leaves he carries the acumen with him and the new employer develops the respect for your organisation who trained him creating a positive image. On the other hand employees who are not trained are an embarrassment for you especially if they have spent a lot of time with you.

So don’t look for employees from reputable companies who have created amazing individuals, try to become the institution yourself.   

5. Growth

Everyone needs to keep growing in their personal capacities and climbing the corporate ladder; the pace of this growth is determined by the performance measurement tools you have adopted. In the earliest phases of the career an employee feels he’s growing with monetary gains only but as he progresses he needs more authority and control, so make sure your employees keep growing. 

In certain types of businesses there is no room for growth, in such cases the next point might help and in family businesses the top management places are reserved for family so please do not be alarmed if your senior management quits or decides to start their own ventures.

6. Ownership

All employees need to feel a strong bond with the company this can be achieved by offering them a share in the company equity. Sometimes bonuses or benefits such as paid leisure trips try to accomplish this but when you make your employees a partner in your business the bond is strengthened. This sense of belonging has a positive impact of productivity and retention, if you realise that you have someone valuable there is no harm in offering them a small percentage of company shares.

Darbari is a raag and Jon Puri is a raagni, both consist of the same notes but have a different style of delivery; this difference completely changes the music’s meaning and application. Our HRM practices are also comparable on a similar scale, our companies know these six elements and even practice them but the difference is of the style of delivery or the “chaal” as the legendary Mehdi Hasan once described the two at a live performance. He said that if you even slightly deviate from the specific style of delivery you’ll ruin the raag, extreme care is to be practiced.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Poppy fields of Nazimabad

We are all familiar with MQM as a political party and we all know that it was encouraged by Zia as an opponent for then PPP of Bhutto, just like the Sharif brothers were in Punjab. I wanted to write today not about why MQM was created or how it operates but rather the damage this operation is going to cause us.

I grew up in the projects of Nazimabad and saw the MQM network too closely for anyone to question or doubt my impression of this organization. I have witnessed so much wrong this network does personally so before I begin lets keep the idea aside that people only try to tarnish this organization’s name because it represents the oppressed.

My argument is not over the wrong done but upon the manifestations if it continues doing it. We have all heard the Robin Hood explanation for this movement that it takes from the rich and gives it to the needy creating balance & harmony. If this would have worked in the real world what would happen when all the rich have been robbed?

Lets for instance say we all start growing marijuana and poppy, lets market it to the most lucrative buyers of North America and Europe. Build a logistics network across the country so we can effectively move the crop from the fields to the productions plants. Have policy reforms create incentives for farmers, make them the preferred crop, lets ensure the government sets a high floor price. With good packaging and attention to detail we can create a brand stronger than ecstasy.

In no time we will be making insane amounts of money which we can use to rebuild our nation. We will build roads, provide medical benefits to all citizens, Pakistanis will have social security cover, inflation would be controlled, fuel prices will be fixed the government will bear all the international market fluctuations. The Rupee will appreciate, the energy crises will be over we will build wind farms, coal projects and nuclear power plants. We will create massive water storage facilities and hundreds of small dams so our poppy fields will never run short of water.  We will keep increasing our production capacity providing the best quality product and one day we will achieve our dream.

This is the day that worries me, on this day we will have all the fortunes but our major workforce would only know how to grow poppy, how to market it, how to manage the operation, how to dodge the authorities on the destination ports, who to bribe and how much to offer. This is the time when our standard of living would have raised and we due to better education options available will increasingly not want our kids to work in the poppy industry. We would want to be respected globally, our conscious would be becoming clearer and we would want to be associated with more global socially accepted businesses, we would all become activists of change and say no to poppy. Mind you this is the time when the bulk of our GDP contribution would come from this business. What will we do?

Sadly massive build-ups of non-sustainable ideas like above are not new, during the crusades entire Europe was engulfed in creating soldiers to fight off the Muslims. When the war ended these returning knights did not know anything but war and resorted to ceremonial games. The Mujahidins were encouraged to fight the Russians in Afghanistan by the United States and they themselves have been fighting the same group to this day.

A more recent example is of Pakistani banks between 2002-2008 who hired and nurtured thugs and hoodlums as recovery agents for the booming consumer financing business of the time, people who would not pay instalments of cars and other capital items financed through bank agreements would get calls and visits from this special wing. When the consumer financing bubble burst in 2008 these groups were naturally asked to look for jobs elsewhere, this is when a very sharp rise in street crimes, robberies, kidnappings etc. was witnessed. Although many of these individuals already had political affiliations some who did not ended up joining parties since they promised a sanctuary for their kind.

My comparison of MQM or its leader here is not with mad men, I am not trying to equate Kony, Pol Pot, Ivan, Farah Aidid or Idi Amin with Altaf Hussain. The similarities stem from the flawed dream and the idea of empowerment through arms creating generations whose bread n butter is loot & plunder. Although if Mr. Hussain is ever presented before a court he can plea not guilty on an insanity cover, a bit of his singing will win the jury.  In the last decade MQM has been defended and protected by the military and later in the name of democracy, both forms have failed to curtail its wrong. As the operation grows nothing good is being cooked and the hurting bit is there is no light at the end of the tunnel, the tsunami has spared them or maybe it’s the other way around.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Why Pakistan Needs a Baidu?

Pakistan is a country which has been a victim of severe lack of sincerity and honest leadership, from military totalitarian generals to the tampered democracies no one has bothered about the country.  There have been countless examples of decisions made since Pakistan’s inception that make us wonder why was it so difficult for them to make the right choices?

From the agricultural reforms that India enforced in 1948 to renewable energy projects, making dams, creation of several urban centres avoiding over population in the two cities which are now getting impossible to manage. To making nuclear warheads and not making nuclear energy; in the process selling the technology to North Korea & Iran, humiliating the national hero and now buying energy from Iran.

We all know that competition that too in presence of state run companies is always good for the consumer; it forces competitive prices and improved product/service quality. India for instance remained an advocate for developing a local automotive industry from Maruti cars to Bajaj motorcycles India was determined to create an industry that can compete with the Japanese. Today India’s Tata motors own Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands.

In Pakistan Mobilink who was given a cellular operating license free of cost (who later had to renew it at a much higher price USD 291 million to be exact) kept minting money until the PTCL’s (state owned) Ufone came into the GSM market. Now with several licensed GSM operators in the country not only is the government making zillions under taxes but also the consumers get ever competitive offers.

In case of Google and its ever increasing interest in Pakistan, history is repeating itself. Unlike China which identified Google’s intentions and created its own search engine and services under the name of we are as usual not thinking to compete and planning to dive in head first into the trap. If we leave the search engine aside under the internet freedom mumbo jumbo Google products are being used by our corporate sector, from corporate email accounts being hosted on Google servers to navigation maps we are increasingly getting dependent on Google.

I am not suggesting that we throw away our android phones, say no to Google and start drinking Amrat Cola the argument is that why are we not creating the needed competition. Why cant Pakistan have a Baidu? We all know and I have tried to build upon my case above that this competition is going help us keep these service prices low, improve quality, create jobs and conserve foreign exchange. Let me say it in another way, if we create competition for Google locally this will not stop consumers from using Google but will give them alternatives, thus preventing a monopoly. And I assure you this is going to happen and we will create a competition but will do so late as in all other cases. With the presence of Tata, Mahindra and Maruti consumers in India still buy Ford, Skoda, Honda, Nissan and other locally assembled cars but we all know the difference in prices, models, variants and options available in India and Pakistan.  

Unfortunately no one is talking about it, it seems Google has bought everyone. I do not know why but I have a gut feeling that the story behind it is similar to the USAID and Rafipir Theatre incident where none of the news groups agreed to talk about the Rafipir version as all of them had USAID funding. Not even Khadim e Ala or his active IT wing is doing anything about it who is so keen on giving away laptops under a 40 million dollar contract but would not want to create a Pakistani Baidu worth a minute fraction of this amount. Well Mr. Schmidt (executive chairman google) did go and meet him at his mansion!

China is heavily criticized for its internet censorship policies and the golden shield project, where cyber content and traffic is monitored for political reasons. After loosing the battle in China Google has increased its efforts promoting internet freedom in its new target markets including Pakistan, a clear indication that it does not want to face a similar situation ever again. (And yes it wants world peace). On allegations of espionage the Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton went on to compare the Chinese government internet censorship to the Berlin Wall, its worth mentioning here that Mr. Schmidt was a lead sponsor for Obama’s campaign and was even a Commerce Secretary candidate, a CTO position was created in the administration just for him; not implying anything just trying to connect the dots.

I do not support the communist idea to suppress voices against the government but any national policy made should be done so by the country itself, no foreign entity should dictate it for its benefit. We all know that western interpretation of law has always been biased, especially international law. Facebook refused to block blasphemous content but did ban pages made against Nazis and African Americans saying that they spread public unrest.

I am not trying to imply Google being an evil organization but rather highlight our national incompetence and lethargic attitude. Google is responsible for a ROI it needs to ensure for its shareholders, one of the ways to make more money is to gain more customers in emerging markets. Countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico, Philippines etc. who share some of the largest chunks of world population.  It is our responsibility to safe guard our interests, with all the tax payer funded machinery of ministers, ministries, advisors, export boards, provincial ministries, committees and select committees no one is taking steps to provide a sustainable business infrastructure for tomorrow. Its just convoys and roadblocks, talk shows and ratings.

Friday, 30 March 2012

A Case of Spoiled Engros

It was somewhere in the early part of 2010 when Asad Umer (the legendary leader of Engro Corporation) was speaking at a Business School when I heard him talk about “values”. He explained the concept of pure passion fused with the desire to win are the best things to have given you stick to the values that define you. The Afridi ball chewing incident was fairly recent then and he took it to explain how things can go wrong if you can no longer distinguish between right and wrong, Afridi just wanted to win even if it meant tempering the ball in front of a zillion cameras. I guess the Shakespeare’s “The sun itself sees not till heaven clears” explains it better and I admit I remember the quote from the Julia Styles movie.
Afridi chewing the ball in the series against Australia, February 2010
It is extremely disturbing for me to see Engro who all of us saw as the saviour become the organisational Afridi, so what exactly has it been chewing upon publicly? Let’s start with the products we commonly come across, Engro Foods Omore Desi, a replica product and promotional campaign to the Walls Badami. When the Omore Kulfi failed the best available option was to copy the multinational competitor right down to the wrapper print. Just get rid of our existing product and create something that will sell as good as Badami, copy the colours, the ad, jiggle and give it a bit of Punjabi touch. What can you do “original just does’nt sell”.
A rattling slap over the earlier celebrations of a local company surpassing the dreams of a multinational giant, Unilever. With all its claims of being a great Pakistani company all it can think of to generate sales was to bow down to Walls.
A side by side view of the two products, Walls Badami and Omore Desi Kulfi
They have been good at hiding the traces, this is the only image I could find which shows the original green wrapper Omore Kulfi along with the Choc Bar
Another product is the Dairy Omung, a tetra packed milk made from milk solids (powder milk). Just because the market is ignorant you are selling them liquid milk made from a less expensive powder form. For those of you who do not know, many industrial applications of milk such as confectionary  and ice cream use powder milk available in bulk industrial packaging. It is both imported and locally produced in Pakistan. It differs slightly to the powder milk available for domestic use with brand names such as Nido or Millac. My concern here is not the product or its quality rather the ethical implications. The Pakistani market believes that tetra packed milk is better because it is pure and natural; on the other hand powder milk is considered to be a synthetic product. Using this behaviour Engro decided to tetra pack powder milk, if I must the ongoing war on sourcing liquid milk between the competitors was also an important reason along with the production efficiencies attained by a readily available raw material.
Some argue that since clean water is not available to everyone Dairy Omung is doing the nation a favour by combining clean water and milk powder in safe packaging, they show a few naked kids running around in the slums and freeze the frame on their puppy eyes. Oh come on you seriously believe that BS, as if Dairy Omung was hydrating their lives.
When stories about Kony’s LRA atrocities in Sudan & Uganda emerged it was said that young boys were forced to kill their mothers and asked to join the LRA or choose to die. I am not going to comment on Kony and LRA but instigate that our value system can only take a certain amount of beating. I think Engro’s value system has taken its dose of beating and has joined the LRA. Those of you who have read this far will be curious about the beating in question; well the fatal blow was the methane supply restriction. Engro Literally breaths methane, its massive investments made in the Dharki urea plant expansion at a time when the dollar jumped from 60 to 80 nearly overnight had already cost it a fortune. It hoped with the largest Urea plant the increased production will cover everything, Mari natural gas fields were supposed to be the endless methane supply; at least that was the plan.
The reality is that Engro Urea production has never operated at the optimum level; gas supply limitations have caused massive losses. All the fancy operations it had such as Foods whose existence depended on urea sales started having frequent top management meetings and the results are jotted down above. The cost of urea bag increased constantly but has only been able to slow the fall.
I believe that Engro had started chewing it self long before the natural gas supply restrictions were imposed, the internal politics coupled with hiring & promotions based on references had spoiled it enough. The individuals chosen by the white who were groomed up to be leading the company today are not being recreated. I wonder if another buyout for Engro comes by, will the existing pool of employees be willing to sell their homes and save the company, this happened in 1991 when Exxon became Engro.
I love Engro and sincerely wish it sticks to the values it once believed in. The people who say everyone else does it to survive, so why cant Engro? For the answer I heard the smartest thing from the most unlikely of sources, my boss’s driver once said to me “if a dog bites you, you don’t bite it back”. Now who can argue with that? I considered him as an unlikely source because of my boss and please don’t ask me why we had that conversation.