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Towards the end of 1983, it was finalized that I would go to Lahore as District Field Manager. I was called to Karachi for DFM orientation. Later, I came to Lahore and took charge of the team on January 1, 1984.
My team comprised of 5 med reps; 4 of them were new in Abbott and new in profession. They had just returned from training. One person had worked in Quetta for one year and had been transferred to Lahore. New Team and New Manager? Could work only in Abbott, thanks to their systems and discipline.
I had half of Lahore region, the other half was managed by my counterpart, Ehsan Elahi (now late). Our Sales Manager was Shakil Ahmed who had worked with MSD for long time before switching to Abbott few years earlier.
Ehsan was a good salesman and effective manager. He switched to Sami Pharmaceuticals probably around 1986/87, and quickly became National Sales Manager. Sami was Karachi-based but as an exception, Ehsan was allowed to stay in and operate from Lahore. Ehsan was the Mastermind behind the formation of Ipram Pharmaceuticals. Ipram was running parallel within Sami without their knowledge. The discovery later led to removal of Ehsan and many more people. Sami was not as big at that time, but it survived this huge shock and grew even faster.
I met Ehsan several times while he was working in Sami. He had some big ideas, but I had no inkling of what he was doing. He was an intense kind of person and was quite talented. I can say he could do something big even in a straight manner. May he rest in peace.
I and my team gelled together quickly. All of them were hard working and tried to do their best. We did well.
Six months down the road, three of my colleagues said they wanted to discuss something important with me, preferably out of office. We met in a restaurant over a cup of tea and they put their quandary on the table. They said they wanted to resign because they did not like the system of Abbott. It was straitjacketed and harsh and they felt stifled. They were talking to me because they feared that three resignations at one time would create problem for me, and they did not want to see me in difficulty.
I thanked them about their candidness and consideration about me. I told them they could leave if they felt so strongly about it and I would handle my situation. But I asked them that we examine the causes of their discomfort and see if we could do something to improve the situation. They came up with the issue of memorizing the entire detailing in every cycle and reproducing it fully to customers. They said the customer found it inconvenient to listen to long, memorized detailing and showed it. It affected their effort to build business relations with customers because it did not give room to articulate the sales talk. They had some other complaints which were about the overall working, including seniors’ hard behavior. As a solution, we agreed that memorization will continue but they could experiment with using their own version in sales calls without hurting the integrity of message. The meeting ended well.
Later, we found out they were using the same memorized detailing, but without the pressure to do so. The reality did not change, but the feeling did.
We worked together as a close-knit team. Around August, I had a severe viral eye infection, which I mentioned in an earlier blog. I was off-work for six weeks, but everything went well with the team.
Late 1984, I started attending TOPS sessions along with other managers. TOPS management module was for us and TOPS selling module was for onward training of med reps. These were very interesting, mind-stimulating and engaging session. Saleem Farooqi was the main trainer. SF was completely convinced of TOPS and was practicing it already. He was very passionate about the subject and it added to the effectiveness of training.
TOPS was not implemented in full spirit at that time because it appeared to conflict with some existing practices. The reconciliation between what to keep and what to change did not occur quickly. However, we, the DFMs, imparted training on TOPS to our team. I loved it and I also found that I had a flair for training.
Much more of it was to come later……