Mind The Gap – Khaadi –

Gap Inc was the formidable US clothing retailer that was always relevant and wildly popular. It literally came from no where and then grew to having Banana Republic on the high end of the spectrum and Old Navy on the lower end. But some where in the middle it lost its own brand identity and it became too vanilla in a category it had created it self. Where others were giving it a run for its money on its own turf, it was a crisis of confidence, leadership and missteps.

We have our own, perhaps even better version of the Gap success story. Khaadi. It is the one brand that has done every thing right, from customer service, to designs, to branding, to placement to creating its own niche and beyond. But the question is what happens next? 2015 is very different from 1998, staying fresh over a 17 year run is not an easy task for any business, let alone fashion retail. Khaadi has to be commended for what it has done so far.

2014 saw it expand to online a few years after its expansion to the Middle East, Malaysia and the UK. Compared to other retailers, Khaadi has had a decent plan every time when it came to expansion but at a global e-tailing or retailing level there are some things that are strikingly familiar to Gap. Lets start with the Malaysian expansion, the target market there cant possibly be Pakistanis or South Asians alone, just by pure numbers it wouldn’t make sense. What would make sense is to target the local Malay population. They frankly don’t know what Khaadi means or represents.

What they do know is social engagement , their love for trendy clothes and bright colors(even the men). No less Khaadi does not have a Bhasa Malay media campaign. Id caution on taking the billboard and tv engagement space. Malays are pretty digitally plugged in, so a social media campaign or two targeting engagement and brand development would have most certainly helped. Khaadi is too big now to not think about these strategic missteps and it puts it in a similar space like Gap should it continue to not address these items.

Then we have the online store, a great leap into international retail without the physical footprint. But to be a serious player and to beat the “aunties” who are buying Khaadi product from Pakistan and stuffing suitcases and taking them to the US to retail or sell to friends or family, Khaadi has to re evaluate its supply chain, production, fulfillment and delivery logistics. Else it will be beat on price on its own goods locally procured and hand carried to the US and beyond.The first thing that has to change is the online experience. It is harrowingly slow, the site needs to be updated to a proper e-commerce portal with multi currency and multi location shipping. The site just doesn’t need a refresh but instead needs the Khaadi touch to make the experience special like the brand it self. The potential of the e-commerce store at some point would outweigh the sales volumes and FX earnings if executed properly.

That has nothing to do with Khaadis core business, which is to manufacture top quality product. Here in lies the problem similar to GAP, reach out and get the help you need as opposed to trying to do every thing in house or based on the advice of people you know.Its time to get professional advice. At a globally competitive level. Not at a mom and pop shop level where by having COD in Pakistan and shipping enabled to USA you start to think you are the best thing since slice bread. The shipping and checkout process is short of horrible. Khaadi needs to emulate its in store service equivalent to remain relevant. Enough said.

You have the potential, but you aren’t there yet. Its easy, you pay for what you get. In Khaadis case it has the cash to fund this growth. The question is, does it have the foresight and willingness to not die in an industry that it created, the signs are there, it needs a product reboot along with an online reboot. It has to innovate to stay relevant and grow. It would be interesting to see its in store year or year growth ratios.

Then we have the Khaadi Home and Khaadi Khas and Khaadi Kids phenomenon? Any one see similarities to GAP yet? Khaadi is a niche player that needs to go wider and deeper in its expansion strategy, just like Max out of the UAE. A home grown “value fashion brand” that has over 1.2bn$ in Sales and eyeing 3bn$ soon. Now that is ambition, fueled by growth, a stellar management team and not an army of one. They are focused, albeit their niche is a little different but they are doing all the things they need to do to stay on track.

Khaadi in its purest form is limited by the ability of its CEO/Entrepreneur/Chairman at large to wear many hats. The same person that brought it this far. That’s where a Senior global management team comes in to play to go beyond the current state. The CEO should have the wherewithal to see the shape of things to come and realize that he has done an exemplary job in building one of the smartest, well managed, high growth brands in the country. But to play at a global level, re-define the niche and build distribution and logistics capabilities along with production uplift, he needs to now move up to the big boys table. Commit financially, mentally and in principle to lead the charge to make Khaadi into Pakistan’s true first Billion-dollar brand. This can be achieved with focus on the brand it self and not diversions and distractions into other ventures just because you are cash rich.

Stay true to the core before diversification in to other lines of business. Khaadi has had an admirable and phenomenal journey; it can go further but only with the right strategic outlook and plan. The mix is good, but the leadership beyond the founder is questionable for a global expansion charge, that fuels growth 50X from where it is today.

| Performance Shading | the art of self-serving KPIs

KPIs(key performance indicators) in the broader context of the enterprise and in providing color to ones output are a great tool. Every major corporation around the globe has some form of KPIs, they have been around for centuries in one form or an other. The age old saying, “you can’t improve it, if you cant measure it” resonates with pretty much every one. So if we have established that performance management/ KPIs etc are good for business, then what’s the issue?

That in it self is the issue, namely the blind or sole reliance on KPIs , metrics, performance score cards without understanding the nuances of measurement it self. Here’s an interesting story that revolves around a decade of interacting with mid-to-senior level executives, who are potentially 2 degrees removed from the operative management teams of large scale enterprises that rely on these systems. This crowd to me, are in the business of executing busy work, work that is being created to measure only the things they feel are worthy of measurement, as those are the only things they can influence towards positive improvement.

So there are essentially entire groups of people, within enterprises we know and cherish around us, that essentially have people employed for the sole purpose of doing busy work; then representing it as a key input to the over all process of the organization and generating miles of score cards and performance charts around their accomplishments. At the risk of sounding inept or inefficient, leaders don’t cross question this type of output.

In my experience any one who takes more than four sentences to describe what they do and how it impacts the bottom line, basically has no input to the bottom line. Either their loyalty/perseverance or tenure has allowed them to essentially build a fort around them selves and lock themselves in. With only them knowing what they do all the time whilst creating the illusion of commitment and high-end performance.

As you peel the onion you find out, that all there is to this story is much the same, that it has not changed over the course of time, but these “performance shaders” have become so skilled at maneuvering the corporate culture & the organizational dynamics and have almost developed an instinct to shade reality by hiding behind meaningless numbers, charts and score cards. That is a susbtantial problem.

Elsewhere in the civilized business world, this sort of inefficiency is eventually caught and a course correction ensured. The reason why I am almost spell bound by incompetence around the enterprises I see domestically is two fold. Performance management is a skill, like a sous chef that needs practice, training and years of learning to master. But in our enterprises a course in “TQM”, “Franklin Covey-Modules” , “presentation skills”, “time management” etc all count towards the holy grail of a consummate HR/learning management professional. We have not equipped our functional leaders within the talent management space to either have the breadth or depth of exposure required to manage, grow and groom talent. At best we follow archaic systems. The CEOs and leaders of the organizations go to impressive foreign courses, they attend executive work shops, but two tiers below them the idea of learning and development revolves around buying software to execute a learning management or a performance management system- at best.

Secondly we have a culture of life time employment. Perhaps some of our societal needs govern that, but to be globally competitive we have to draw fresh blood into the system. Instead, we bring in fresh blood, which gets tainted an old color by the old guard that is still calling the shots. The old guard has to be counseled out of these enterprises. An enterprise by definition is not a charity, if that is the reason for employing some of these folks, then enterprises should do the next best and noble thing and setup charitable alternate workforce development opportunities much like the “many faces of the an organization whose ex-employees proudly display the coveted (R) in front of their names post retirement and go on to pretty well for them selves”.

The other cultural norm is the “scarcity” of the CEO/executive leadership and their interaction across the organization. This creates a temperature difference, much like on your windshield on a humid evening, you may perceive to imagine what the environment outside looks like even with the mist on the windshield, based on your own experiences having driven past a particular point every day for the last many years, but the reality could be much different on a particular evening. Using only intuition in most cases the CEOs perception may be far from reality, thus giving a false sense of what needs to be done. This is a classic example of being asleep at the wheel. The CEO may expect some thing, which the performance shaders are well equipped to masquerade when called upon. The CEO gets a fall sense of security in knowing that his people are closely looking at numbers and measuring things. Whats amiss in this equation, is the inability of the CEO to challenge what’s being measured and why.

Recently a group of very senior and talented external HR / Performance Management consultants (albeit not Sahabs by any stretch of the imagination)  in Pakistan were discussing some of their large scale projects. (Past projects for my benefit-without names for obvious reasons of discretion).

The central theme that emerged was, that like society at large, the corporate fabric of performance is also shaded, just like we shade the truth in our every day interactions, corporations are no different. For professional organizations, the typical life of an outside CEO is three years, hence they only tend to focus on short to medium term gains, they didn’t join the organization to be a hero, so they don’t ask the difficult questions. In the domestic “saith based” organizations, it is an implied rule that there is and can be no one smarter than the owner operator, who much like the feudal ecosystem of our country really only came to power by preying on the insecurities of the people, so the people will only do, what I call alignment with tasks which receive “clapping and praise”. By just doing the things that earn them the “saiths recognition” they are already very deep in the performance shading business. The only way to run a globally, regionally or locally competitive organization, short of the involvement of under invoicing, tax evasion, illegal subsidies, duty forgiveness schemes and the likes there of, is for the leadership of companies to question the performance shading that is so prevalent around them. This can only happen with the right level of skill set, exploration techniques and above all the will and integrity to really make a difference.

” Do not waste a minute — not a second — in trying to demonstrate to others the merits of your performance. If your work does not vindicate itself, you cannot vindicate it.”

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

“Cheap Labor” Inefficiency – The Short Cut Society

In a society where the only cut is a short cut, be it on the road to work or driving in the opposing direction to oncoming traffic to shave a few mins or seconds in reaching the destination, it is incomprehensible how we continue to survive.

In developing economies much like ours, with a large working class population, labor(economics tells us) is abundant, opportunities to deploy that labor are scarce. Hence every outcome should be maximized by the labor as the cost and price of substitution is marginal at best. Yet the exact opposite happens every day.

Lets take a basic example, scenario one, you have a simple task, you have a water pipe that has a leak, you reach into your pocket book and call the “plumber” you have on retainer. He comes in, potentially without his “real tools” and sees the issue, whilst chewing tobacco of some kind he mumbles some thing and says “not to worry”….

What you don’t know, is that because labor is so cheap and he knows he can get a quick “fix” of payment from you by temporarily fixing the leak, he applies some basic remedies to get you going. Two days later, due to the non-compatible adhesive he used the lines are clogged, the pipe burst in two places and the motor took a reverse allocation of water. You are really worried now, you call him again, he once again pacifies you and says not a big deal, this time around his last short cut that cost you more than you bargained for is fixed , full and final as best as he knows. Had he replaced the dysfunctional piece of pipe or applied appropriate treatment on the pipe in question. You wouldn’t have had to shell out the extra you just did.

So, wherein lies the problem? The problem starts with you, you want a short cut, the most valuable asset in your go to retainer black book of contacts is the guy who responds on the first call and get on site the fastest. In the long term by not measuring twice and cutting once, you have actually caused more harm. The second issues lies with the entire labor pool, there is no such thing as a days honest wages in the environment we operate in. Every one wants to amass more for doing the minimal viable output. Over time just pushing the minimal viable output, you are destroying value as opposed to creating value.

This is what happens when labor is cheap, we become cheap, in our intellectual ability to think straight and in rationally trying to solve problems. What we are creating or enabling is an entire work force of shoddy, below par, marginally qualified individuals who will spend a life time thinking and believing the tools and methods they use are by far the right ones. This happens because of acceptability by us the end user/consumer. In our plight to just solve stuff and not be dragged in to the mechanics of things happen, we have just given up, given up on demanding fair service for fair wages paid. Sooner rather than later we will drown under the weight of this short cut work force. As a starting point we are already disadvantaged by our economic disposition, over time we will be a society of large labor pool of untrained, un reliable individuals who would at best be utilized for repetitive tasks.

Lets shift gears and look at scenario two, the white collar labor pool. What’s shocking is, the “its not my problem attitude” that is far more prevalent , doing the right thing isn’t any ones prerogative any more. Across industries, clients, national , regional and multinational companies where I’ve had the opportunity to interact with folks from various age groups, its been a rude awakening. The amount of time spent on office politics and Facebook redirected to attitudinal change would result in a 10 basis point change in output for most organizations.

At the offices of a large conglomerate that fancies it self as a top employer, a brand of the year(what ever that means) and draws lineage from the best of breed corporations I witnessed the following. I walked in, at the reception, the receptionist looked at me, whilst continuing to take a personal call on their mobile phone. I stood by the reception, a few minutes later they waved me to sign the guest book and asked me, albeit not so politely to put my ID Card next to the register. I continued to follow the instruction. A good 8-9 mins in, she saw that id come to see the CEO of the company, by this time I was waiting in the adjacent area.

She came up to me and apologized, then called some one “upstairs”. “Upstairs” sent an equally dis-interested person, also chatting on a mobile phone who asked me to follow them. I was asked to be seated in a well appointed neo colonial waiting area. A third person, the CEOs executive secretary came to greet me. We walked passed a hallway, purportedly of this Billion $ enterprise where a row of laptop wielding corporate types were sitting, mostly atop desks, chit chatting, the common theme was that every single laptop had finger stains across the farm of laptops. That’s the first thing I saw, its left a mark on me as the first thing I recall about this organization. Its this lack of this ownership where no one cares. Yet in my mind this leaves a lasting impression. I shared this with the CEO, their response was “oh, the cleaning staff comes in again at 3pm”.

My simplistic view was, If you cant really take care of a company asset provided to you, as a shareholder can I trust my money in your hands? Should I? But millions of us do every day no less. Look at the stock exchange, where else would one invest? The question of intelligence and growth becomes secondary in my opinion. I cant look past the fact that supposedly rational people engage in irrational behavior. We have become so reliant on some one else to do the job for us, that we even refuse to under take the basic corporate hygiene items into consideration. Some one who is so disenfranchised from the get go, can they really ever become any thing but a short cut worker?

Given the scenario of a labor surplus pool, even for white collar jobs, we rarely care about the outlook we have or present. Some how I’d expect the opposite, where people would try harder to excel and project a far more professional outlook than that is prevalent today. When I walk in to an enterprise I want to see positive energy at the reception, that vibe should carry across. You should be treating your employees the way they want them to treat your best customer, slowly its becoming evident that this problem is systemic. It starts at the top. Its more about attitude than any thing else.

Just because we have a lot of people and we can put a lot of people to solve a task, it doesn’t really mean that we need to, or that they will produce a positive outcome. We need to be matching problems with right solutions as opposed to using the labor arbitrage we have and hoping some thing eventually sticks. We need to get efficient in identifying which short cuts make sense and do away with the rest. If we don’t we will be far worse economically than wed like to explain to our kids one day. Not like its not evident why, but some day our kids will ask us. Lets make sure we do a course correction today than wait to be a completely dysfunctional society and before its too late.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little

                                                                                                        Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)

M.I.T (Millionaires in Training)

I was going through a list of self made millionaires/billionaires in Pakistan and its interesting and perhaps noteworthy that a negligible amount are from this generation. The reality is, “daddy or great grand daddy” earned most of the current money within the coffers of the current generation. So then really, these kids/young adults are realistically Millionaires in Training (MIT). Substantially different from the other MIT that encourages and creates entrepreneurs and creates real and true wealth.

Looking a bit deeper, the entrepreneur syndrome is pervasive no less in the second generation M.I.Ts. I scoured the web for profiles of at least a few dozen-second generation M.I.Ts, without fail every single one of them lists “entrepreneur” as the central theme in their glorified profiles. An other interesting fact is that most of them started their career at twenty some thing with a Director of “something” role. That’s what wealth buys you, a seat at the table. But there is no reason to apologize for a noteworthy lineage of wealth.

My simplistic view is as follows, if you had 10M$ available to you, for arguments sake and you went and licensed a popular casual dining/fast food chain that you’ve seen from your various privileged child hood trips abroad you are not worthy of calling your self an entrepreneur, you can no less call you self an opportunist of the first order and some one who understands business dynamics really well. That, I will give you. You deserve the praise that in a stable of a few dozen similar individuals with equal or more cash than available to you, you were the first to realize an opportunity existed and you beat most if not all to market with bringing established brands to your home country. But that doesn’t make you an entrepreneur or a business wizard. That just makes you some one taking the easy road to glorified business success.

What really should be happening is the deployment of these funds available, into enabling Micro and SME type transactions. Wealth creates more wealth, but the deployment of this wealth(by M.I.Ts) into under served and upcoming segments with local and regionals solutions is what’s needed. Then these M.I.Ts would make a real difference and create true wealth independently and leave a lasting impact.

If they continue to invest in Sugar Mills, Processing Plants, Textiles, Tanneries, Power Companies to name a few, they will never be able to impact areas that need both capital and strategic partners which these M.I.Ts can prove to be, at a concession stand ticket price in most instances.

The focus should be to move away from capital intensive, or industrial businesses to more localized, impactful ideas. Become seed stage investors and help cultivate the entrepreneurs whom they invest along with. This is the only shot these M.I.Ts will have towards true greatness and in redeeming themselves as titans of industry. If they continue down the generational path they have historically they will just be “Mr. X’s Son/Daughter” of “XYZ Fame”. Time to change the rules of the game and re invest in the country (a little differently) that made their father and forefathers wealthy, but slightly adjusting their own outlook. Since the industrial and agriculture space creates a bulk of the jobs, by no means is this an invitation to stop doing that. The idea is for diversification. So you ask how do you seed the thought for this diversification?

It’s a good question, when you as an M.I.T have been classically conditioned to think about one thing since you opened your eyes, its difficult to have an other perspective. The first realization is the fact that you need to diversify and look else where. Like an Alcoholics Anonymous success criteria, the first step is to recognize you have a problem. This can only come from within. What comes after that can be achieved much like AAA meetings with support from others and a network of supporters.

In the corporate world such supporters. more and more coming from the outside. In the form of Chief of Staff roles that work with these M.I.Ts and established CEOs alike. The Chief of Staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the Chief Executive. Often Chiefs of Staff act as a confidante and advisor to the Chief Executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas. Ultimately the actual duties depend on the actual position and the people involved. Given the inexperience in many ways of the M.I.T breed of CEOs propping up, this could be a saving grace in many ways. But for this to happen, the M.I.Ts need to move past the “saith” ideology of “saith” knows best.

It is some thing the M.I.Ts should look at. Bringing one on board without sacrificing egos, that they are incompetent or working their way up the ladder. This is the buffer that is missing in Pakistan. The smart M.I.Ts will recognize this quickly, the same roles exist in some ways in the form of Board of Directors that their parents have deployed and whose counsel they seek in matters of business. This is the one true shot the M.I.Ts have in creating their own working mechanism and define how they would do business and it really wouldn’t hurt to enlist some smart folks who would help them in the journey.

Its always easy to spot the smart M.I.Ts from the crowd, they are realigning them selves to have smart plays in new business domains relying on expert advisors and Chief of Staff personnel to setup their own family offices and build their own business frontiers. It does help to have a fully funded bank account, to bank roll the ideas, ventures and companies that will help them define their own legacy.


Are we there yet?

This is the question TCS should be asking it self. Given the market size, its operating experience in Pakistan and the scale that has made it ‘case study worthy’ at Harvard; nothing notable besides a spade of layoffs has put TCSs in the limelight recently. That and hiring an ex-banker to lead its re aligned strategic holding company. At the face of it, some change any change, with a positive glow would make sense. But nothing besides an ad campaign and billboards that say “hazir” void of even the basic contact details of TCS like a phone number or URL have shown up.

TCS is/was poised for a lot of things, namely a large play to vertically integrate its logistics and warehousing to squash the other players in the e-commerce space, by owning the last mile logistics and delivery along with years of distribution experience. It seems, TCS has executed many uncoordinated strategies and like others of a lesser corporate/technical pedigree slapped around a quick and dirty “online site” without thinking through the end game.

There is a sheer market advantage to being in business since 1983, having about 2000 locations within the country and 5000 people to support a phenomenal business. A few easy steps would have ensured sustained top and bottom line growth in a space that could be dominated for years to come. TCS was an innovator, a one of a kind hall mark in Pakistani business that created things like Sentiments express, way before it was fashionable to send roses on valentines in Pakistan via courier. They had the pulse of the industry/country and always sensed it a mile out. So what happened? An outsiders view in would lead one to think that they became fat and happy. It happens to the best of us.

While this was happening at TCS, local, regional, international players all sizing up the opportunity of a 200M people population have jumped in to the space them selves. Their success in diversification/online e-tailing and distribution is varied. Not for the lack of trying but for the lack of the missing pieces. There is still no real online payment solution in Pakistan, there is still lack of trust buying online, there is further the dilemma of distribution and warehousing, the last mile where in exchanging goods for a fee from the client.

TCS would be on top on all of these fronts, had it only tried. They are as trustworthy as a brand gets in Pakistan (many years ago I was at a DHL center in Karachi and a middle aged woman walked in and said “bhai is ko London TCS karwana hay” )so that their first check mark. TCS also has its own delivery network and warehousing hence its own people making deliveries and collecting payments thus that’s three checks in one, So why haven’t they leap frogged in and left every one biting the dust? For one, lack of vision. Its not just them its every one around them.

Lets explore this phenomenon. Go to any mid/large sized Pakistani enterprise, ask the CEO to meet their Head of Strategy and or IT, you’d be shocked at the response you get and further shocked once you meet the typical Heads of IT. If the conversation already hasn’t gone to, “Zara IT walay ko boliyae ga, (please call the IT Person)” there may still be some hope.

The average IT Leader in Pakistan hails from one of 4 areas, A Bank, An FMCG, Pharma or at best a mix of all plus some Saith experience thrown in for fun. With a potentially solid operating background but 0 to imaginary exposure to real  e-commerce , technical proficiency and web 2.0 style agility. It’s pretty much a lost cause when it comes to scaling and building technically competent sales, delivery and distribution channels. Yet by owning the newest smart phone and attending every conference in Pakistan and Dubai on (tech) some how the perception and industry worship is evident for the old guard in this space. Typically followed by the Sahab title at the end of the name.

This old guard is doing a dis service on many fronts, first by literally holding back organizations and subsequently the country as they try to enforce their limited know how on to problems much larger than their own comprehension. Secondly by systematically weeding out and not hiring people smarter than them selves and marginalizing the talent pool. Last but not least putting out products and services that come pre-packaged (at a pretty decent price tag) and slapping them with their own logos. Eventually the owner operators of firms will figure it out, hopefully not before its too late.

Lets re-direct our focus to TCS once again. I would like to see them position them selves as a worthy competitor and eventual acquisition target for Amazon.com. It’s a matter of time when Amazon comes knocking to Pakistan, that journey may be a few years out, but they are most certainly in India and they will come across the border.

The population density demands it and soon their shareholders will too for neglecting a market this size. Rocket Internet feels the same way, with nothing besides a marketing budget and an army of “Western oriented, 20 some thing marketing minions” they don’t have a lot going for them. But if TCS continues to disappoint, they have will every thing to gain. They have started consolidation wars within various channels where they were afraid they were loosing ground and on some not so honest to goodness advice from their minions.

TCS, you are almost there, I want to see Pakistani companies in the league of the best of the world, but you have some course correction to do. Don’t let traditionalist general managers run e-commerce and give strategic direction without having ever operated in the space before, take a leap of faith, don’t hire people you know and don’t put people in charge who come from the old guard. The Leadership should be asking some very hard questions, around break up value of the business units, the potential of an IPO , structuring for tax efficiency managing revenue leakages and things of that nature, way before any thing else. Last but not least, PR-Marketing-Branding need to be refreshed, the brand recognition is almost as good as Shaan Foods but its economic value hasn’t been cashed in nearly as much as Shaan. More on Shaan an other day, right now the task at hand is to really force some critical thinking at TCS not on just an e-commerce play but a host of other things. Advice is always free, so whilst we are at it some valuable services for TCS to consider:

  • Merchant to End client Delivery (Think Mall presence to collect, package and ship goods directly typically to overseas Pakistanis)
  • Using its expertise to get in to the food delivery business, using the same infrastructure to start with test markets in the evening.
  • Ebay-like store fronts for home based and other vendors to showcase via TCS and ship and collect cash on delivery via them.
  • Using its presence across Pakistan to be a true grass roots level survey company and data collection entity.
  • Hiring strategically at every level within the organization and taking hard decisions without emotions when it comes to right sizing

I neither have all the answers nor the course correction strategies, but as a fan of where the company started and how far it has come, only a well wisher who’d like to see this TCS in the same league as a company that’s shares its name across the pond.

Anatomy of an FMCGs Marketing & Sales function

It has been a very enchanting learning experience to interact and analyze FMCGs and the people who work within. There are 2 basic types of FMCGs operating in Pakistan. The foreign & the local. Today we will look at the anatomy of the foreign one.

Pakistan is a country with over 120M potential clients , where; by being armed with Nielsen style ratings and data along with structures similar to the Vatican and the Pope   the old guard and the new are marching to conquer the largest pie of the bread basket in the country.

It’s simple, they dip into their roster of either Swiss, Dutch or American bag of goodies apply some content marketing & sales strategy tips from India, Bangladesh, Srilanka and/or UAE , mix it with some good old fashioned ego , lo and behold you have the starting point for strategic marketing managers, brand managers, digital advertising pundits and sales executives at the average Foreign owned Pakistani based FMCG.

For good measure you ensure you only hire from the top 5 Institutions of higher learning in the country, further for diversity you ensure you develop a process that is forced to select socially mobile and financially upward candidates in their early and mid twenties. The idea being that they maintain the image of the company as progressive. In most instances the salaries on offer don’t even come close to the fuel consumption in daddy’s SUV that these 20 some things use. These 20 some things are victims of their own success (family’s social financial success) its not their fault, they are being groomed because they fit a profile and a check box for NA 250.

With minimal exposure and the reinforced belief that they now work for a leading FMCG corporation a few things happen, they are on track, typically to develop a god complex directly proportionate to the brand and its total sales plus its total marketing spend. As if, it were directly proportional to their novice ego and attitude. In reality they get planted in to a decent global brand, with massive production marketing machinery at the helm, they are just put in the driving seat of an auto pilot jet. If they were marginally trained they wouldn’t need to do much more than keeping up appearances.

This was great and worked in the semi digital, print, tv age. In the age of the Internet, the only thing digital and sales strategists in Pakistan know or are aware of are Facebook and likes. Cursory analysis based on data shows, that the top 20 brand for the top 5 FMCG players pay to buy likes from non-authentic users. The quest in the early years was to have a Facebook page with a million likes. The question to ask is, does any one go to NYC and buy a shirt that says I LIKE NYC? or do they go to NYC and buy the shirt that says I love NYC?

So we went through the like phase and craze, now the talk is shifting to digital engagement, mobile engagement and second screen. If we were to get a genie that allowed us a glimpse of the network traffic from the marketing & sales departments of these FMCGs we could probably attribute these buzz words to the searches being conducted to look cool and aware of the situation. Since we don’t have a genie, we have to rely on interactions, market sentiment and the thought process of the people in charge of these brands and their sales strategies and funnily enough their LinkedIn profile and other social interactions scattered around the web. So how and on what terms do these folks operate?:

  • The belief that no one ever got fired for hiring the biggest baddest global agency (so lets play it safe always)
  • Most of these Brand/Sales people have spent some part of their careers at one of the agencies thus a natural disposition to lean a certain way. *(Ensure future employment or a referral to an agency’s customer in Dubai or Malaysia)
  • Every body knows some body who has a friend in an agency who knows some body whose really plugged in to digital. Plus they recently came back from ____________( insert country here). Truth be told they probably worked at agency as an intern in the Western hemisphere but clearly they know how to market them selves and they ran into the CEO/CFO/COO/MD of the firm some where and come highly recommended because the dads play golf or the moms belong to the same gardening club.. You get the picture. Not all employees were created equal.
  • In this business its about who you know and how well you know them(and if you are already past the embarrassing stage of agreeing to figure out what their share of the total marketing spend is going to be, for going your way). Once past that, the agency of record is at least guaranteed a tenure equal to the person on the receiving end of the transaction. Take the total number of FMCGs and then list their brands, then list the number of tier 1 and 2 agencies with foreign affiliations, you can roughly see that there is enough room for every agency to sponsor employees within brands to develop a pretty decent book of business.

The flip side of this coin has Audit, Governance, Corporate Excellence, Ethics etc that each of the FMCGs & their hand books provide an annual refresher on, whilst in the real world more than half of the work the way its awarded to agencies and consultants  would never make it past the RFP stage. If it was purely linked to merit as opposed to whom you know and how well you know them. Clearly not every one is playing this game but a vast majority of industry and particularly the FMCG Marketing and Sales functions who make large scale whole sale spend decisions are surely guilty of indulging. You say, but every one every where else is doing it, so what if the ego maniac brand managers get a few Dubai trips out of this? I say, we are being anti competitive and we are teaching these 20 some things that its ok to act carelessly with their shareholders money, in the end its not their money to spend, its fiduciary and moral responsibility to spend it correctly with the best intent.

Given the vast majority of the professional schooling is around them understanding how valuable they are in the ecosystem and what it means to be a large scale advertiser, they never end up learning the raw business tenants of marketing or sales, in both cases majority of their leg work is done by slaves at the respective agencies or consulting firms, who will gladly do this outsourced thinking for their clients against a guaranteed retainer. Seemingly a win win for all.

The CEOs of these organizations are generally happy as they came from a similar pedigree and background, they them selves are typically a few years short of retirement and they aren’t going to fix a system that’s generating billions of rupees of top line every year. They want to be remembered as the CEO that was a great leader not a reformer. Clearly it doesn’t matter.

With this vote of confidence every sales person and marketer then becomes a subject matter expert from packaging design, to consumption numbers, to activation data, to market segmentation to competitive analysis & go to market strategy. Wow that’s a mouth full, but its true, the ego translates to a serious know it all state. That’s where the ever-pleasing agencies and consultants and corporate finance yes men come in. They say yes, what is being preached is like a gospel from the Vatican so it must be pure. What every one fails to see that the reason for the success of these brands are the brands them selves and their global/regional heritage and recognition and presence in Pakistan for years. It most typically has nothing to do with any of these sales marketing types. Perhaps if you completely eliminated them you would arguably do better by placing an AI machine that took decisions based on historical data or some real data for a change. Once again not all sales and marketing folks are created equal, its because of those un-equal ones still being in the fold that some semblance of real work does get done.

Next comes the reward phase, constant in house recognition, foreign meet and greets and regional learning sessions. Eventually throw in a regional rotation, job function change, keep the employee over seas for a few years then bring them back , reintegrate as one with a successful tour of duty and now destined to eventually run the corporation/function.

Repeat the cycle enough times and you are ensure that you keep on churning out similar people for the leadership fraternity. No one person in any of these organizations can change this, but it is a travesty to see our brightest minds get sucked in to this game. The really smart ones will break through over time and use this to catapult into global roles with other true global multinationals, not their plagued local counter parts. For most of the ones who remain, they will go through a 15 – 20 year rotational cycles split in to a few boxes, first they will go to an agency, then to a competing FMCG, then to Industry and then eventually back to FMCG most likely a local one where they may end up as the outsider who can teach the local FMCGs to engineer breakthroughs. Hopefully local FMCGs don’t fall for this, they are doing a host of things better, smarter and more well thought out than their foreign cousins. Onward  and forward.