Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) is one of Pakistan’s first foreign investments and since 1947 has proven to be one of the most successful as well. Over the years the organisation has developed a remarkable and diverse workforce that is allowed and encouraged to realize its full potential. Pakistan Today spoke to PTC’s first Pakistani Managing Director, Mr Syed Javed Iqbal who himself is proof of British American Tobacco’s (BAT) commitment to investing in its workforce.
- As a person who has achieved so much being the first ever Pakistani Managing Director of Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC, part of the British American Tobacco group, BAT) what was that one moment in time that you can look back to that shaped your career and developed you into the leader you are today?
For a boy hailing from a small town, without any of the advantages that a prestigious local degree or foreign educational exposure offers, the turning point was getting selected for and choosing the right workplace. As a son of working parents a strong commitment to education was inculcated in me since childhood and that brought me to a point where after graduation I had to choose between offers from four different organizations. As any young man, I was gravitating towards job offers with positions based in metropolitan cities. However, my University’s Head of Department advised me to pick Pakistan Tobacco Company Limited’s (PTC) offer for a position with the Jhelum Factory. True to the traditional family dynamic I had at home, I valued the advice offered to me by my teachers and parents and went with their choice. And here we are today.
2. What do you believe sets you apart in terms of management style or philosophy from the traditional CEO? Or are you more of a traditionalist?
I often talk about how different I am from the perceived ‘CEO material’. You would typically expect an Anglo-Saxon, Alpha male, Personality A type CEO and yet here I am against all odds. All because of BAT’s commitment to drawing strength from diversity which allowed me to be as diverse, and as far from the stereotypical CEO as I was and still be an effective, successful leader.
My management philosophy is to stay true to one’s’ roots and to bring one’s’ values to work because eventually that is what keeps you grounded and sets you apart at the same time.
3. The corporate community is increasingly talking about glass ceilings and the lack of a diverse board room at most companies. For someone as diverse as yourself, how difficult was it to break through that ceiling? To be the most different one in the room or in the business and to make people see beyond the things that made you different?
The first step in that process is to reach a level of self-awareness and confidence where you believe that you can enter a board room or the top cadres of leadership without giving in to stereotypes and retaining your sense of self.
Once you are confident in your own skin, the next step is to look at what unites you instead of what divides you. As opposed to thinking about how different I was, I started thinking about how much in common I had with all of these people. They may not share my race, religion or background but we all had the same love for our children, issues dealing with the generation gap at home, ambition to grow in our careers and so on. I found that these common themes connected us across cultures and this realization helped me overcome the barrier of ‘differences’. I strongly feel that when you are good at what you do and you have the support from your organization there is no ceiling you can’t break.
4. While we are on the topic of diversity and inclusion, there is a growing awareness around diversity and inclusion and we know BAT has won accolades globally for its inclusive policies. How far do you think PTC has come and how far along the journey do you believe you are?
As Pakistan’s oldest multinational, the challenge of catching up for PTC was much greater than others. Whereas technology-based younger companies got to build as per todays’ norms, we had to undergo a complete paradigm shift and so it has taken us longer but I am confident that we are on the right track.
PTC today has female representation on its board; we have female managers working across the supply chain from factories to trade teams to quality labs who are defying all stereotypes of what women can achieve. We are comparable to any of the top organizations in the country in terms of our gender diversity policies and support frameworks.
But are we there yet? No. I believe we have just covered the first twenty yards and we have 80 more to go on diversity and inclusion. But what I am proud of is that of these twenty yards, while we may have come only 5 in the previous ten years, we have covered 15 in just the past two years and I intend to keep the momentum going.
5. As the British American Tobacco South Asia Cluster’s MD, what advantages or strengths do you believe you have in terms of South East Asian talent?
I believe our biggest strength is the hallmark passion that is distinctive of South Asians. We are emotional, passionate people and I believe we channel it very well as well. Our people deliver in the toughest of times and have shown unprecedented loyalty to BAT across the cluster markets be it in Sri Lanka, Myanmar or Pakistan.
It comes as no surprise then that we at PTC are one of the strongest exporters of talent both to the BAT Group as well to the overall corporate market. As we speak, we have over 50 employees placed in senior positions across BAT in different regions from Africa to Europe. At present, around 10 individuals who have been developed by PTC throughout are now working in senior leadership positions in Pakistan’s corporate sector like countless others before them. It gives me immense pride and satisfaction to see our talent footprint increase.
6. Focusing on Pakistan specifically, PTC is known to have established corporate management practices across the supply chain by virtue of the strength of its process. How do you feel about this accomplishment?
It is of course a matter of pride for PTC to have made such a huge impression on the management practices that the corporate sector follows in the country today. Our trade and distribution process is recognized not just within Pakistan but across the world. Our Marketing Director Sacha Cotting, who has worked in Africa, Europe and has over 22 years of experience under his belt says PTC has the best trade marketing & distribution organization that he has seen. So it is not just within the Pakistani market that our management practices are so well recognized but also across the BAT Group.
To me things have worked out the way they have because we have hired the best people who were in turn trained by the best, highly experienced professionals. It’s a legacy we are proud of at PTC.
7. Having worked in many markets across the world, what is the one area you feel all of us as Pakistani’s need to work on in terms of our work ethic?
After having spent well over a decade abroad, I feel we as Pakistani’s need to work on our tendency to procrastinate. I understand we are confident people and we feel we can deliver on the 11th hour but personally while Miandad’s sixer on the last ball was a nail-biter and very exciting, I would have rather won the match five overs earlier! Winning in the 46th over rather than in the last ball of the 50th over allows you to deliver better results and with much professional excellence!
8. You’ve talked about working on and developing the South Asia talent brand. What are your plans for delivering that dream? Do you feel that the socio-political uncertainty in the area will be an impediment to talent export?
We have been living with uncertainty for a long time in Pakistan and in the area as general. Our friends from Sri Lanka have gone through much more trying times. But these circumstances have made our people very resilient. The South East Asian talent brand therefore is known for its passion and resilience. If our people can deliver in an unsteady, volatile environment imagine what they can do in a stable environment.
Personally my plans are to make sure that we capitalize on all available opportunities to give our people the best possible exposure; not just with long term international assignments but also need-basis, short term development opportunities. While some may overlook opportunities like these, I like to capitalize on any opportunity that gets another stamp of approval on the Pakistani talent brand.
9. You are not new to international assignments given your diverse professional background. How would you say BAT has contributed to this aspect of your development?
A boy from Multan running a Global company and one of the biggest areas in the BAT Group is testament enough to BAT’s talent development focus. I personally owe a lot to PTC for consciously working on the development of its talent.
I had been posted around various Asian markets before BAT decided to send me to the most developed country in the western world; Switzerland. In spite of many other contenders for the role, the organization believed it was important to round off my experience before I was sent back to Pakistan and it is this kind of conscious, dedicated effort to developing people that sets BAT miles apart.
10. What does it mean to work at BAT? What should be the expectation?
That you will get the chance and freedom to deliver up to your full potential! I always give an example to the young trainees who join that the ground is so big; it’s up to the horses how fast or far they want to run. This company respects your diversity and I am not just talking about gender here but diversity of personality, background, leadership styles. In the BAT world there are all kinds of leaders and managers; all of them doing well in their own spheres. So you can celebrate your diversity and you can live up to your potential because this Company gives you that freedom.
Despite having spent years here, I continue to learn every day. I am amazed by the ability of this organization to teach me something new every day since I joined and on a lighter note it might mean that I am a slow learner but I have always asked myself the question; have I learned something new today and the answer has never been NO.
11. Work-life balance has been debated to death in management circles and yet it still remains an area where leaders have vastly divided opinions. Some propagate flexi arrangements, others believe remote working arrangements are the way forward while a large majority believes these policies are mere ‘fads’ that distract the employee and lessen productivity. Which side of the debate do you stand on?
I believe more than balance; it is a choice. There’s absolutely no denying that in today’s workplace, the once strong barriers between work and life have to be taken down. An employee cannot operate without the flexibility of knowing that there can be times where they can work from home, times when they can manage their work hours and compensate for overtime with a few hours taken off early. I believe this is the bare-minimum that any modern-day organization needs to be mindful of for their employees’ well-being.
However, looking at the big picture, every employee needs to know what will it take to go where. You must reflect and reach a realization as to what your aspirations in life are and then to find a balance that suits you in the nature of a job you opt for. The paths and lifestyles of an aspiring CEO willing to sacrifice personal time will always be different from an employee who wishes to lead a life where family gets priority. And you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise; your work-life balance is in your control and you should call the shots.
12. How has your family coped with the change? What is the toll that a leadership position like yours takes on the family and how are you balancing it?
On the home front, I have been extremely lucky. First with my parents, who gave me the freedom to experiment and explore in the early days of my career. After getting married, I was blessed with an exceptionally strong support system in the form of my wife who gives me the comfort of knowing that our very busy household is exceptionally managed between us and our four kids. I believe the reason our lifestyle has worked is because we have shared goals and dreams and she has helped me stay on course even in the toughest of times.
In return, I make a conscious choice to make time for my family, to prioritize a walk with the kids over another dinner with friends, to show up for all the important milestones and be an involved father, husband and son. It’s not easy, but as with any relationship, it takes effort and commitment.
13. What are your aspirations for the Company you lead today? What does the future hold for PTC?
PTC is one of the best companies in Pakistan and South Asia and has been recognized as one of the best run companies of BAT that operates in over 180 markets across the world. My aspiration is to make sure that the company is handed over as top performer to my successor as it was handed over to me by my predecessor.
The future holds many challenges for PTC as we work in a perplexing environment that is highly regulated, but the future is also exciting and full of promise because eventually the tougher it is, the more rewarding it will be.
- What is your overview of the Pakistani market?
Looking at macroeconomic indicators, the Pakistani market is definitely out of its earlier ‘crisis’ stage. We have managed to turn around our economic growth and the fiscal deficit has reduced while the issue of inflation has been addressed. However, the key here is to note what the IMF Chief has told us; they endorse Pakistan’s economic recovery but urge the country to continue key structural reforms if it wants to consolidate these gains. And on the top of the list of structural reforms required at this stage is to widen the tax net so that a level playing field is established. Currently the country collects only little more than half of what it should and that is a worrying prospect because it allows billions to be pilfered from the national exchequer and harms the tax-paying industry and individual both.
- What challenges and opportunities do you see operating in Pakistan?
Pakistan is a land of immense opportunities in terms of the quality of our people and the resilient brand of workforce that is distinctive to the country. However, operating in the country comes with a set of challenges. On a macro level, while the security situation has stabilized in comparison to previous years, we are still on the road to progress when it comes to the safety. The Company continues to incur high security expenses to safeguard its people and assets, due to the vulnerable situation. The energy crisis is another area that manufacturing concerns like ours are affected by and have to invest to offset through alternative methods. However our people at Pakistan Tobacco Company Ltd. (PTC) have made huge inroads in developing indigenous clean manufacturing systems for our factories to address the energy deficit. This right here is an example of why I see our people as the biggest strength; they have the grit and commitment to turn around any situation because of their passion to deliver.
- What do you have to say about the tobacco industry in Pakistan?
There are two industries; the legitimate tax paying industry and the illegal tax evading industry. The tobacco industry in Pakistan is at a defining stage where the legitimate tobacco industry is under immense pressure from the exponential growth of the duty evaded cigarettes. PTC and Philip Morris Pakistan are the only legitimate players in the country and collectively we have lost legitimate share from 72% to 60% in the past year alone. Pakistan faces a huge challenge of illegal trade in cigarettes. In 2015, the share of illegal cigarettes in the total market amounted to 27.7% and today it has crossed the 40% mark which shows the alarming pace at which the illegal segment is growing.
While a product manufactured by the legitimate industry will pay due taxes, ensure fair tobacco prices to the farmers and comply with the legal and regulatory requirements, illegal products run scot free. The Government is being cheated of revenues in excess of an estimated Rs.30Bn+ annually and the legitimate industry is rapidly losing volume, all the while illegal operators continue to sell a sub-standard, un-regulated and tax-evaded product in broad daylight. We strongly urge the Government to intensify law enforcement to curb the duty evaded sector. If their growth is not addressed, it will lead to further deterioration of the legitimate sector which will impact Government revenues, employment and overall economic activity generation associated with the industry.
- Tell us about your future plans? Does your company have any expansion plans in Pakistan?
The operating environment poses numerous challenges, however, Pakistan Tobacco Company Ltd. remains committed to enhance shareholder value and is confident that it will continue to do so through continuous productivity initiatives, a strong brand portfolio and its people.