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Sometime in August 1985, Riaz Ahmed called me in Abbott office (life-before-cellphones) and asked me for Vidaylin syrup for someone. Vidaylin was Abbott brand of multivitamin syrup and was nothing life-saving. I said I would drop it whenever I passed by. In the afternoon, he again called and said it was urgent, and if I could deliver right away. I was surprised but agreed. I went to Hoechst office. He offered me a cup of tea and we sat for a while. Meanwhile, his boss, Regional Manager Center, Iqbal Khan came out of his office. We knew each other from my previous time. He greeted me warmly and invited me to join him for tea. We sat and talked about several things. Apparently, everything was normal, but something was eerie.

Few days later, RA again called me and asked me to come to his office for some discussion. This time, he ushered me directly into IK office. IK said he had a vacant position for Area Manager in one team and he offered me to take it. If I agreed he would arrange interview with the NSM and Pharma Director. I said I needed to think.

I discussed with couple of friends and my wife. I always recommend talking to your wife while taking any big decision. My reason is simple. Only wife and husband know each other’s real person. While mentors, coaches and friends will evaluate you professionally and give a sound advice, the spouse will evaluate you personally and give invaluable insight. Please understand that both advices are important and should be considered together.

Then I requested my manager for ‘discussion time’ and put the matter before him. We had an objective discussion on the pros and cons and had a tacit agreement that I could pursue the opportunity. I informed IK about my consent.

Couple of weeks later, I met the German Pharma Director HeidKamp and the new NSM Tariq Umer. The interview looked like a mere formality and I was hired. It was September 1985.

I resigned from Abbott and joined Hoechst in October 1985, exactly six years after leaving it. Life is a full circle, isn’t it sometime?

I took over Lahore Team B. The classification was based on products; the area was the same. My group included anti-diabetics, cardiovascular and few other products. Our focus was Physicians, Cardiologists (very few at that time) and of course GPs. These were the same old products and I got settled immediately.

Hoechst office was about to shift to Ferozepur road in a rented, but custom-designed premises. It was a beautiful office although the vapors of glue used for construction of partitions kept bothering us for several weeks.

Around the time I joined, Hasan Jamal was transferred from Karachi to Lahore as Regional Manager. We knew each other from the old time. HJ had started in Lahore as med rep and was later transferred to head office as ‘Assistant to NSM’. My training mate from 1975, Rana Ahmed Hafeez was transferred from Faisalabad as AM. We got along well.

Hoechst was transforming itself after a rather long, and not-so-good spell. During the time I was away, Hoechst had launched several products, but none did well, except one. Merital (nomifensine) was a new anti-depressant launched by Hoechst and it clicked. Just as it was gaining momentum, Merital was withdrawn worldwide due to adverse effects profile. Not only was it withdrawn, the entire stock had to be recalled. It was a big setback for the already low-performing company.

Hoechst had its own distribution setup and the management used it to prop the sales by pushing the stocks in the market. The Regional Managers were Heads of both Distribution and Promotion. They were all powerful, but their primary focus was distribution, not promotion. How long could you push, without creating enough pull? Not for long. Hoechst management was under intense pressure.

These were the circumstances when Tariq Umer joined as National Sales Manager somewhere in the middle of 1985. I understand the assessment of situation was not too difficult. TU started to reinforce ‘Promotion’. He started segregating Distribution and Promotion. This did not go well with the RMs who considered it as a threat to their fiefdoms. The conflict ensued.

I had no inkling of anything when I joined……


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