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After the Mega Quiz, Ali Shabbir came to training office and informally announced who would go where. It was customary in Abbott and other MNCs not to post med reps in their hometowns. He mentioned that I would be posted at Sukkur. I reminded him that during interview, he had indicated that I would be posted either at Lahore or at any of the places where I had worked previously; Sukkur was not one of those. He was not very pleased, but he went back. Later, he decided that I could be posted at Bahawalpur if I changed my group from A to B. I gladly accepted. I had further two weeks training and another big quiz. Finally, I was appointed at Bahawalpur to replace Sher Muhammad who was being transferred to Rawalpindi. I reached Bahawalpur on November 1, 1981, two and a half years after I had left the city.
They say that if you lived in Bahawalpur once, you would come back to live there again. So, I came back. Bahawalpur had not changed. It had slightly enlarged though. The medical college and the teaching hospital were almost the same. Most of the senior doctors were the same. I settled immediately.
I worked with new zeal. We had six weeks promotional cycle. This time I was covering the entire Bahawalpur division, namely Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalnagar and Bahawalpur districts.
Bahawalpur was a friendly place to work. The customers valued the visits and responded favorably.
Abbott had comprehensive system for controlling field work. I don’t know who designed it, but I do know that it was most effectively run by the Marketing Services Manager A.R. Valliani. ARV was dreaded for his minute observation and follow up. Nothing seemed to escape from him.
Valliani was Bohemian in appearance; couple of shirt buttons open, big gold chain dangling from the neck, and chain smoking. He spoke fast and smoked faster. He had a small department which prepared tour programs of all the med reps and recorded the tour programs of all District Field Managers. It was a complicated task considering the team size and that med rep of two groups should not be in the same upcountry town on the same day and that the DFM visits should also be arranged to cover all areas in cycle. They also kept the Master Customer Lists. Any change in MCL had to be formalized by submitting an ‘Addition/Deletion Form’. They would monitor if the visit frequency was being followed or not and kept a tab on unvisited customers. They also checked if the Physician Samples’ distribution was in line with the recommended one. There was no computer. All work was done manually. But the moment anyone made an error, S/he would promptly get a memo. All med reps were required to send Daily Work Report to head office by post office mail daily. Any default, and the memo will arrive. After third default, the person was asked to send daily report by ‘registered mail’ every day. ARV followed himself.
For every violation or discrepancy, Valliani’s secretary would send an inter-office memo, signed by Valliani. The IOMs running number used to cross 3000 by the year-end. And all of it was manual, on a typewriter. I have never seen a more organized, efficient and effective Marketing Services department in any other company. All credit to Valliani. He appeared hostile and harsh, but getting closer, he was very refined, well-mannered and caring person. I heard that he passed away few years back. He gave sleepless nights to many, but it was for their good. May he rest in peace.
I may say that the success of Abbott had a lot to do with its discipline. It was one of its kind and no other MNC did the same thing.
Abbott was a highly structured, inexorably systematic company. You fell into the system, and everything would run smoothly; you got out of sync, and everything would go awry. As I understood the system, I could see the pattern and even predict about certain things. Abbott however, did appear to stifle innovation and creativity. The work was pre-programmed. Follow the given plan, visit the doctors, reproduce the memorized detailing, come back.
Two factors favored such robotic approach. One, product range of Abbott had several similar products. The memorized detailing ensured that integrity and authenticity of message remained intact. Due to this, Abbott was able to generate largest number of prescriptions in Pakistan. Two, Abbott sales staff had reasonable knowledge, even better in some respects, which they comfortably communicated due to memorization.
I did very well, and in late 1983, few months shy of two years working, I got the information that I would be promoted at the year-end. It was said that either I would go to head office or become District Field Manager.
It looked like I might finally be getting the first promotion……