Being considered for promotion so early was unusual in those days. The medical representatives worked as MR for long time, some became first-line managers and retired, some retired as MR. I used to meet several colleagues who had been MR for over 20 years. Only a fraction grew and reached the head office to hold some national position. Marketing was non-existent. Promotional Strategies, Campaigns and even Materials came from parent offices in Europe or US and were copied or implemented as such.
Working was organized. We were required to make monthly, weekly, daily work plan. There was a Master List of customers which was formally updated at least once every year. Daily report submission was required. These basics were followed by all MNCs. Some added more. Customer information was also recorded and preserved. If there was a change of a person in a territory, the new guy could pick up almost from where his colleague had left. It helped MNCs to build layer upon layer of constant contact, promotion and business which continues till today. There was a lot of follow up on working, even more than business.
MNCs invested in people development, insisted on organized work and focused on customer relations. Local pharma recognized it later and several companies have posted excellent growth. Sustained growth is well -nigh impossible without these parameters.
I started in Rawalpindi on July 1, 1976 and reported to the Area Manager. He was a middle-aged person with over 20 years of selling and management experience. He warmly welcomed me as I was the sole MR in his team. My namesake, Asrar Ali Khan, joined but left rather quickly. Feroz Katariwala came from Karachi as MR a short while before I was transferred. So, for one year, it was mostly me and my AM.
I took over Jawed Mirza’s place in Rawalpindi who was transferred to my territory in Lahore. JM did a fine job and was promoted to AM. I did poorly and lost.
JM later joined Roche and reached the position of Director Marketing from which he retired. He is very intelligent, hard-working, street-smart and focused. The last we met few years back, he was working for a Karachi based company.
I and the AM would meet every morning at the distributor, followed sales, had a cup of tea and left. Outside, we would sit again in some nearby restaurant to have more tea. Restaurants used to be generous and kept refilling the teapot. Mostly, we sat till noon and then decided it was too late to work, and went home. Met again in the evening in some restaurant to start evening calls and lingered on. Then it would be late, and we went home again. It became an inexorable practice while we were together in the headquarter. I still wonder what did we talk about? We had a big age and experience difference and hardly had any common interest. I look back and understand my AM was ‘highly disengaged’. I didn’t know then and though I knew it was not right, but I didn’t do much to contest my AM.
Few months later, my AM was transferred, and JM came as my AM. Working changed, but JM decided to quit only after three months. And my previous AM returned. He met me and made a memorable comment ‘Asrar! now, I am going to be a manager with more power’. I didn’t know what he meant, but we went back to our routine with a vengeance. Obviously, we started losing business which made the head office unhappy.
I do not blame my AM. He was a good guy with many qualities. He had good relations with most key customers and could give big results. Something had put him off and no one tried to understand and correct. Today, we put a lot of emphasis on ‘employee engagement’ and hopefully do not lose on good people. Time for soul searching.
In June 1977 the head office physically landed at Rawalpindi and hit hard. I was not fired but I was transferred to Bahawalpur immediately.
I lost the first opportunity of my career big time but did not gain much wisdom. I decided however, that I shall change my work practices.
I have understood that experience alone may not be enough to inculcate wisdom. Why would we go wrong in the first place if we had better sense? Mentoring is essential. A mentor helps to analyze the experience and extract good learning from it. Many careers go astray due to lack of mentoring. Self-mentoring is possible, but in later life when we have enough accumulated wisdom already.
On 5th July 1977, while General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Bhutto and imposed Martial Law, I took the train and traveled to Bahawalpur. Believe me, my poor performance was not the reason for that Martial Law…….
My take home from this part is : A mentor helps to analyze the experience and extract good learning from it.