Saad Amanulah Khan has gained renown as one of Pakistan’s corporate icons, particularly for his transformational leadership at the helm of Gillette Pakistan which has witnessed exponential growth over recent years. A catalyst for corporate excellence, a committed philanthropist and a prolific writer, he talks to Blue Chip about his successful career at leading multinational P&G, his views on Pakistan’s economy and his passion for fostering value-driven entrepreneurship in Pakistan.
As a prominent corporate leader in a leading multinational, what factors have contributed to your success?
Saad Amanullah Khan: “If I look back at the last 25 years of my experience, there were a few principles that I have followed throughout my career. The first is the passion to always do my best at everything, whether it was studying, working, helping a friend or an NGO, I would always put my best effort forward. Over time one creates a reputation and people start depending on you for your passion and sincerity. Secondly, throughout my student and long professional career, whatever I did, I did with discipline. So these were two factors: passion to be the best and discipline. The third factor which I now feel was my biggest key to success was value-driven behaviour: I was always very transparent both in processes and with people. I think this has helped me get where I am today.”
You have gained extensive experience in leadership roles, what qualities do you feel are essential to be an effective leader?
SAK: “I think it’s about focusing on people. To be a good leader you have to be able to inspire people. One of the best ways to inspire people is to have strong capabilities and be a master of your discipline. For example, if you are the finance head and you are not an expert in finance, there is no way you can lead that department. So you need to make sure you continuously enhance your capability and stay updated. My success in Gillette and P&G has everything to do with my team; it is only because my team was inspired and motivated to do their best. The basic job of a leader is to hold their hand in difficult times, coach them and empower them. That does not mean that you spoon-feed them, you delegate work but you have to be there to break down barriers. My people are extremely inspired and they know if there is a problem, they can come to me and I will be there. As a leader you cannot be there all the time because there are so many fronts, particularly in the FMCG industry. My job is to have a very clear strategy, to make sure my team are at all times crystal clear about their objectives and goals.”
What strategy did you employ to ensure the rapid growth of Gillette Pakistan?
SAK: “I work with the end in mind always. When I took over Gillette Pakistan, I created a vision called Mission Dugna Tigna (Mission Doubling and Tripling). I saw that Gillette Pakistan was a great company which was not doing very well prior to P&G’s global acquisition in 2005. In Pakistan Gillette was a public listed company making a flat $8-9 million for last six years. When I took over in 2007 I could see there was something wrong. I set a vision for doubling and tripling rather than growing incrementally which would have taken us a very long time to grow into a sizable company. We spent two to three months trying to figure out the right strategies to deliver this kind of disproportional growth. Over the last five years we have gone from $9 million to $18 million, so we have doubled. The success is because of my team and I am very proud of them. I think the relationship between the boss and the team should always be very open and transparent, as a leader you should be approachable at all times because you are the person with the most experience.”
You have played a very active role in the American Business Council, what are your views on enhancing business relations between Pakistan and the United States?
SAK: “The United States has always been a very important partner for Pakistan going back to the 1950’s. As far as Pakistan is concerned, the country needs to grow economically, and in order to grow economically it has to enhance its trade, especially exports. Unfortunately Pakistan has suffered a lot due to its protectionist policies: as a result of very high duties it was difficult to trade with Pakistan. With America, we do not need their aid – we need their trade. I am a very strong believer that aid spoils a country. I believe that Pakistan has got enough economic resources like its amazing human resources, agricultural resources and mineral resources ¬– we are just not utilising them properly because we are too dependent on aid. I think our relationship with America should be focused on enhancing trade, technology transfer and using their help to lower barriers among their partners such as EU to help Pakistan grow its industries and making them more productive. I am a supporter of trade with India as well. We cannot function by not trading with our immediate neighbour. Through the creation of protective barriers, you actually enhance inefficiencies in industries and then they can never become exporters. When I was in the American Business Council (ABC), one of the most significant things I did as President was to create a very strong dialogue with the US mission in Pakistan. I have seen a change in the US mission as they are interested in putting us in touch with American businesses and increasing ties between US and Pakistani businesses. Obviously our security situation is not very positive, but again so many multinationals are here and majority of them continue to do very well. Look at the performance of the Karachi Stock Exchange which is also very encouraging. Opportunities are not being exploited properly and efficiently in Pakistan. I feel we should open our borders, allow trade to come in, this will make us more competitive and let our homegrown companies to grow. If you look at India, their one company “Reliance” which is the second largest company in India and is bigger than all the companies in Pakistan put together plus 50%. To me this fact is mind blowing. Imagine one company being 50% larger than all the capitalised companies in Pakistan. So the purpose of a business chamber is to help local companies grow and prosper and to open avenues to other countries. One of the things I also started and led at ABC was the annual “ABC Economic Summit”. We have had two, once when I was Vice President in 2011 and the second when I was President of ABC in 2012. First was focused on how to make the private sector more vibrant while the focus of the second summit was on trade beyond our borders. Those are the sorts of things we should be pursuing to help Pakistan grown economically.”
You are a founding member of the National Entrepreneurship Working Group, how can entrepreneurship be fostered in Pakistan?
SAK: Large scale economic growth in Pakistan will have to come from entrepreneurs; it has to come from small and medium industries. Recently I have founded another organisation called the “Pakistan Innovation Foundation” to drive innovation because for entrepreneurs innovation is the cornerstone of success. How do we make entrepreneurs succeed in Pakistan? First of all we need an ecosystem. Business chambers need to work with the government to ensure that regulations are conducive for new entrepreneurs through removing obstacles in opening new businesses and getting licenses. The current security situation is not very good but entrepreneurs are those people who can find opportunities in difficult situations. The fact that a lot of multinationals are not coming into Pakistan is a great opportunity for local entrepreneurs to take advantage of the opportunities available. We want to link up different entrepreneurs with each other and have an open door policy where entrepreneurs can come to us and we with our links can help bring down their barriers. For example, I am also on the board of a special advisory committee for USAID which is focusing on improving the effectiveness of the Small & Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA). SMEDA should be helping entrepreneurs through training sessions, identifying the key challenges for start ups and creating policies because when an entrepreneurs comes in, he may have an idea as far as innovation is concerned, but he might not have the financial or marketing skills or the ability to commercialise the idea and that is where the existing ecosystem comes in. Mandate of the National Entrepreneurship Working Group is exactly that. For example IBA, LUMS and Iqra universities are all doing amazing work on this front. So I think we all have to work together on this.”
You have been very active in philanthropy, can you elaborate on your work with HOPE and the Agha Khan’s Patient Welfare Committee?
SAK: “As I grew in my career I realized that one must also give back to the community. HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education) and Aga Khan Hospital were my first two NGOs that I got involved with. I am currently on the board of nine NGOs. The role I am trying to play is twofold. Firstly, I want to help raise funds for them, raise their awareness in our civil society and help organize fund raising events. The other is to guide them to keep transparency, to ensure there is no nepotism, to ensure adherence to corporate governance and auditing rules. I don’t belong to any NGO or personally run it, but I want these NGOs that I support to be sustainable because they are putting our poor and needy children in schools and giving free medical treatment to poor patients.”
As Chairman of the ABC Taxation Sub-committee, what are your views on improving Pakistan’s tax model?
SAK: “At the end of the day, just to put some facts on the ground, the best way to look at our taxation is from the tax to GDP ratio which is about 8%. Usually the figure for most countries is about 20-30%, India’s is at 15-16%. We are at 8%. Why is that? There is no discipline – nobody pays taxes from top to bottom. The situation is far worse because the 8% figure is just based on the organised economy, there is a huge unorganised economy. Indirect taxation is not a fair taxation system as poor people get hit more than the rich people because everybody is paying the same amount of tax. The real problem is that the richer people are not paying taxes. Some sectors such as agriculture sector, real estate sectors and our stock markets are not properly taxed. Taxation will never be fixed unless the government and our politicians become the real role models. Secondly, we need to control corruption as a lot of taxes are evaded because the taxes which are collected do not end up being utilised for the people. We need to bring discipline into this country as taxation is vital in helping the country develop its infrastructure, transport, railways and energy supply. In the ABC Taxation committee, we raise issues and anomalies in the taxation structure. For example, the first thing we push for every year is to expand the tax net and to lower the tax burden on the poor – instead tax the rich. I believe with the current culture, taxpayers should be incentivized. Taxpayers should be treated better than non-taxpayers. This can be achieved by giving taxpayer a special card through which they can get preferential treatment like a special line at the airport emigration or at NADRA or even discount on passport or driver license fees. They are given a sense of prestige to be tax payers. Interestingly, in the last budget former Finance Minister Dr. Hafeez Shaikh announced a taxpayer card which I strongly feel came out of the American Business Council’s proposal.”
You are also a respected author and lecturer, what drew you to writing and teaching?
SAK: “I realized as I was reading history books that history is remembered the way it is written, not the way it actually happened. We in Pakistan do not write much. If you go back into the history of Pakistan, when you talk to the people who lived through these events like my father, sometimes they give you very different perspectives which you have never read about before, because facts can be twisted. I am a very strong supporter of books and libraries. I also started writing because I feel I have so much to say.”
You have been a role model for so many people but who have been the role models in your career?
SAK: “I don’t think I could state one person. I have had many bosses who I have learnt a lot from. But my real role model was my late father Air Commodore Amanullah Khan who passed away 10 years ago. He lived his life based on a set of strong values which he never compromised despite consequences. I am also inspired by our Quaid-e-Azam – what he said he meant. That is what we lack in our society today: we say something and do something else.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I have changed a lot over time. I am a very different person today to the person I was 15 years ago. A lot has to do with life experiences and the philanthropic work I am involved in. On the business side, I have created a very strong network of people. I am pursuing two projects with two different friends. One is to create sustainability within philanthropy; we are still working on the model where we are trying to work on creating an impact investment fund like Acumen Fund. You need to create some sort of return, and a business model around a social issue otherwise it will not be sustainable. Our ultimate goal is to create a sustainable endowment fund ideas for healthcare and schooling. The other is based on the whole-value driven ethical behavior idea. I sincerely believe that ethics is missing from our society and without ethics and honesty nothing is sustainable. Why do you think P&G just celebrated 175 years of existence and is present in over 200 countries? It is because they have a very strong ethos of Purpose, Values and Principles (PVP). It is very easy to say but is very difficult to live. I want to infuse the value-driven business model into new businesses and small and medium enterprises.”
Saad Amanullah Khan joined Gillette Pakistan in March 2007 as Chief Executive Officer. Before joining Gillette, Saad has worked in P&G for 20 years with assignments in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In P&G his last assignment was Deputy General Manager and Finance Manager P&G Pakistan. Saad graduated from the University of Michigan MBA graduate program in May 1987. Saad also has two engineering degrees. Saad is active on the social responsibility front and is the founding member of the Agha Khan’s Patient Welfare Committee He also is the President and founder of Helpers of HOPE, a committee to collect fund for the HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education). He is also on the Executive Board of Jinnah Hospital Patient Aid Foundation, Naya Jeevan (affordable health insurance), Lettuce Bee Kids (Street Children Rehabilitation), plus advisor to Teach for Pakistan, NOWPDP (handicap project), FESF (deaf school) and a few more. Saad also conceptualized, led and delivered Rs 1 billion from USAID to the Bolton Market victims in a total efficient and transparent form. Among other activities Saad is an active member of the American Business Council (ABC), a past President and currently Chairman of the ABC Taxation Sub-committee as well as member of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) Executive Committee and Chairman of their Intellectual Property Rights Committee.