The best-seller “Jack Welch and the GE Way” is the story of the innovative leadership of Jack Welsh, Chairman and Chief Executive of General Electric (GE) USA, one of the largest global corporations having diversified products, from 1981 to 2001, who transformed the company into a highly productive and profitable organization. The motivational but controversial book provides management insights, highlighting strategies, practices, and values that can be used as leadership tools. Having spent almost five decades with the public and private sector in Pakistan however I firmly know that these sets of principles and values do not work here since corporate conditions and intentions in the two environments are poles apart. In other words, top managers in Pakistan are born under a ‘lucky star’.
My career having come full circle, rising from the first tier of junior executive to the highest position, I retired as Chairman and Chief Executive of the same corporation, at that time a group of seven industrial and engineering companies in the public sector employing about 6,000 professionals and workers. Conventionally, this position of BPS-22 is assumed by a bureaucrat or an army general in service or retired. For a professional, and that too from a modest family background, it was certainly an exceptional, difficult and unusual feat to accomplish. Indeed, Allah has been very kind to me.
Besides the abundant support of my family, I was lucky that the two organizations I served in the initial years largely influenced and sharpened my knowledge, skills, vision and character, thus having shaped my future. It is said that one never forgets first love and first job. That’s true in my case too. After graduation from the Engineering College, University of Peshawar in 1964 I joined Shahnawaz Limited at its head-office in Karachi. It was my first interview for a job and I was selected along with other two engineers against advertised posts, without any religious or sectarian bias.
That was the golden period of industrial development in the country and jobs for engineers were aplenty. This was the beginning of my successful career and I fondly carry with me memories of working there. One of leading industrial conglomerates, Shahnawaz Limited was among the 42 families having industrial concentration and economic power in Pakistan until the 1970s. The group has owned textile mills, sugar mills, food-processing plants, and engaged in other industrial and commercial activities. Admittedly, working environments there were ideal, like in any multinational company at that time, if not better.
The discipline was exemplary. There was no time for gossip. All executives were required to be formally dressed with a tie, if not in suit, in summer too. All the staff were in uniform. Officials were encouraged to obtain cars or motorcycles from the company, which was the sole distributor of a number of famous makers of vehicles and two-wheelers, on instalments without charging any profit, interest etc. Secrecy and efficiency were hallmarks of the organization. Checks for monthly salary, which was a guarded secret for others, were sent to individuals under sealed envelopes, as well as periodic increase in individuals’ pay and perks, and also related to other administrative matters. Various management systems and human resource policies were in vogue, and effectively implemented.
Regular weekly inter-active meetings were held among executives from different departments, and it was a coordinated teamwork. Managers (head of the departments) were to type confidential memos etc. using their portable typewriters, instead of their secretaries, whether related to business or management affairs, keeping only one copy for their personal record. Our department was responsible for supply and installation of plant machinery for flour mills, paper mills and a variety of engineering goods mainly to the private sector across the country. Foreign engineers representing various global companies were stationed in Karachi and Lahore offices for technical and commercial support to management. Thus, my career as a manager was crafted there.
Many decades ago, when there was no concept of “equal opportunity employer” in Pakistan, this progressive company made it mandatory, in 1965, to induct in addition to lady secretaries, at least a woman executive, whatever area of expertise, in each department. During my stay there, the customary peon system in various departments was done away with, and a centralized pool of peons was created. Likewise, personal guests were not allowed any more to see officials at their desks or cabins, rather a guest room was developed for the purpose on each floor of the building. Serving in-house lunch to executives was turned into a self-service facility. Two-time tea was now served to executives on trolleys at a fixed time every day, instead of individuals’ demand at any time during the day. Interestingly, all this transformation took place within just two years of my stay with the company.
When resigned, I, a junior executive, was directly asked by Chairman Shah Nawaz, in a special gesture, to tell me: ‘this is a family; you are a family member, and none leaves the family. Yes, your grievances, if any, will be duly addressed’. Thus, I was offered, if not satisfied with my present job, training with an engineering company in Italy where from plant machinery for Shahtaj Sugar Mills was being imported. The offer however could not be availed since I had already firmed up plans to go to the USA. I completed about one-year technical training with Walker Neer Mfg Co in Wichita Falls, Texas, manufacturer of oil & gas field machinery, and received membership of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME).
On return, I re-joined Shahnawaz Limited, but only for a couple of weeks. Personal circumstances compelled me to join the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) head office in 1967, for my posting at the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) at Taxila, which proved to be a long-lasting relationship with the prestigious engineering industry. More than thirty senior and junior engineers were recruited or transferred from other PIDC companies for 12-6 months’ training in China, mostly without any job assignment during the interim period. The HMC had just started development and construction of its infrastructure, and I was assigned to supervise civil works, dealing with contractors, consultants and the Chinese technical team. Meanwhile, a program for abroad training was launched. Whereas others proceeded as per schedule, three engineers including me were somehow dropped by the Chinese side hours before boarding the plane.
To me this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was then given practically all jobs related to under-construction factories and housing colonies, from civil works to fabrication, from purchase to administration & human resources, and from planning to execution to monitoring of progress dealing with the PIDC head office and Ministry of Production. Living at the project site, it was almost a 24/7 job for me. Later, I served as Staff Officer to CEO Brig Ishtiaq Aziz, who was an administrator and engineer of high caliber and a person of great personal qualities, in addition to my technical job in various positions until 1976. This was excellent on-the-job training, despite the fact that management was a one-man show. HMC achieved many milestones during this period.
When working conditions at HMC became uncongenial, I joined, in the 1980s, Noon Group of Companies as General Manager and was on the Board of Directors of Noon Sugar Mills, Noon Pakistan Ltd, and Pioneer Cement Ltd. I re-joined State Engineering Corporation (SEC, successor to PIDC) in 1986, served HMC as General Manager/Deputy Managing Director, before moving to the Corporation in Islamabad as its General Manager/Director, and also CEO of State Engineering Projects Co (SEPCO) and Member Board of Directors HMC, while I also served as officiating Chairman SEC and CEO Engineering Development Board (EDB). Privatization and divestment of all industrial units, such as HMC, Heavy Electrical Complex (HEC), Pakistan Machine Tool Factory (PMTF), Pakistan Engineering Co (PECO) and Spinning Machinery Co (SMC), was in advanced stage when I took over as Chairman. The Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) was being implemented at a large scale. There was insecurity and despondency among officers and staff while labor agitated fiercely as there were not enough jobs elsewhere. There were liquidly issues too though the companies earned profits. It was indeed a challenging job to steer the companies in these difficult times, and to keep industrial units and the corporation operational.
On completion of the 3-year tenure as Chairman that coincided with my attaining the superannuation age, I retired in 2001. But it was not the end of my professional career. Later, I served on the Panel of Experts of Private Power and Infrastructure Board (PPIB) and was on the Board of Directors of PPIB, National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK), and HMC, besides working as a consultant to Andritz Hydro, Austria, the global energy leader. However, my long experience as Member (Part Time) with the dynamic and efficient Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) as Member (Part time) during August 2010-August 2018 has been very pleasing and memorable.
It is sad, though understandable, that whatever management rules and values I learnt in the private sector through my varied experience I couldn’t apply in the public sector, and vice versa, notwithstanding various constraints of environments and working conditions. But then, in the words of author Michael Josephson “What will matter is not your success but your significance”.
The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation