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Some interesting experiences with my colleagues in Abbott.

Abbott had two groups of staff. One, who absolutely believed in the system and in the leaders, who built and ran that system. They never questioned and always did as directed. Generally, they had started their career with Abbott and been there long time.

Asadullah Rana was one of the old guard and Abbott veteran. He was Sales Manager of group A when I came to Lahore as DFM in group B. He was a tall, hefty person with a loud, thick voice and was known for being stern. He was very hard working and gave his best to the company. During a TOPS session in Karachi, we had an interesting discussion in a small group in the evening. I and my SM, Shakil talked about the importance of having ‘sense of belonging’ to the organization. We said that the organization should take steps to inculcate it in the employees so that they worked better and longer. AR was adamant that sense of belonging had no place; “you worked and get paid, why do you want to have sense of belonging?” The discussion did not reach any conclusion. It was surprising because AR himself had deep association with Abbott. Many years later, when he had left Abbott, we met on a flight from Lahore to Islamabad. AR suddenly said to me, “Asrar! Do you remember we once had a discussion on sense of belonging?” I said yes, I remembered. He sighed and said, “I realized much later that you guys were right about it”. I understand he never imagined leaving Abbott in his life time but had to, and it hurt him.

There were several others of the same group. Tariq Rehman later went into institutional business. Shahnaz Pervaiz went to Karachi in Training but left later. Couple of them left Abbott but did not like it outside and came back quickly. Abbott owed its early growth and success to these devout men and women, but many of them left after long years of service in hurtful situations.

This leads to a very important management problem. You raise an army of great workers in a certain system, but they are not trained to adapt to newer thinking and methods. As the organization changes, you realize many of them do not fit anymore, or they realize they do not have a future any more. Either way, it is time to part ways. And either way, it is bitter and unpleasant. When organizations change course, they must make effort to change the course of employees also, before letting them leave.

The other group was later or lateral entrants. Owing to different or multiple exposures, they did not entirely agree with everything. When a question was raised, the usual reply was that the system had worked very well for the company. Basically, it meant that the end justified the means. What if they had tried a different system? The jury was out on that question.

These were growing in number with the growth of the company and they were developing pressure for change. NM was still in full control and kept everyone in line though.

Dr. Pervaiz Hamdani joined as Medical Director in 1985. He was young, charismatic, and had post-graduate degrees in Pediatrics and Psychiatry from abroad. He attended the launch meetings of Epival (divalproex sodium – anti-epileptic) and presented the medical conditions of epilepsy. It was a brilliant presentation and he swayed the entire audience. He spoke so well that the other speakers lost their shine. NM watched intently and grimly. Dr. Hamdani did not last long in Abbott Pakistan. He got a position in Abbott International and left Pakistan.

Our Society was also changing in many ways. The mass employment of Pakistanis in Middle East during 70s catapulted the economic and social landscape. Martial Law enforced in 1977 by General Zia created further divisions and pressures. But it also brought a semblance of economic growth. New industries were established, and new job opportunities were created. Number of young graduates who came to join Pharma Sales started dwindling. These guys went to other more lucrative options and thus the pipeline of Pharma Sales gradually dried up. Due to paucity of available talent, the recruitment standards had to be lowered to make hiring possible. Most companies stuck to hiring science graduates with biology background as long as they could manage. Then it was science, any subject, then it was non-science, then it was commerce degree and finally, even intermediate qualification was also accepted in some cases.

The shortage of talent and diminishing training affected Pharma Sales in many ways……

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