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This is an old debate with plenty of heartburn and fierce arguments on both sides. Our frame of reference is Pharma, though the phenomenon is seen in all businesses and all industries.
Seth in Urdu, as we know, is the person who owns the business and controls the money. Professional is the employee who has obtained certain qualification and certain experience to perform a function.
Ibne-Insha in his book ‘Urdu ki Akhri Kitab’ wrote,”Hamesha se unparh log parhey likhey logon ko mulazim rakhte aye hain” (Historically, uneducated people have been hiring educated people as servants). Insha jee was a great humorist who stated obvious, candid facts with ease and comfort.
Let us see how this debate started in Pharma.
When Pharma market started taking shape in Pakistan, it was totally dominated by the Multinational companies. They put up manufacturing units in Pakistan, hired and trained people in all departments and developed ways to access the doctors in all areas. There were few salespersons who traveled long distances to visit various areas. MNCs had their plants in Karachi, which was political capital, commercial capital, port city and metropolitan city. Notable exceptions were Wyeth with Plant at Lahore, and Hoechst with Plant at Chittagong, then East Pakistan. MNCs preferred to hire salespeople from Karachi and posted them in other cities, wherever possible. During late 1960s – early 1970s, Pfizer developed a mobile team which were given Volks Wagon cars. They would start from Karachi and stopped at every small town which was not visited by the regular team. This activity made Pfizer a household name along side Glaxo which had the advantage of selling the only infant formulas, Ostermilk and Glaxo milk. Glaxo and Pfizer had large range of products with all brands selling decently.
Local Pharma was in the early stage. There were several companies in Karachi and Lahore, and they marketed their brands through their sales force. Some had recognized brands like MNCs.
It is important to note that the role model to follow were MNCs and Local Pharma also followed them in whatever way they could. However, Local Pharma industry had several handicaps. They did not have trained people in any department, nor they could hire fresh people and train them. They were dependent on their own methods by and large. Now and then, someone left an MNC and joined Local Pharma who accepted it with gratitude. The relocating people were almost always from production side. Sales & Marketing rarely defected. Switching from one MNC to another was also less frequent.
MNCs were competing against each other. There were cultural differences, however. British companies like Glaxo and Beecham had certain traditions. The Chai Walla in Glaxo head office wore a traditional turban when he went up to serve tea to the Managing Director. Entire team of Beecham went to airport when the senior manager came from Karachi. American companies like SK&F, Abbott, Wellcome were relatively graceless, as expected. The competition was fair and followed rules until some people got bloodier. The ‘red ocean’ thus created exists to this day and rages higher and higher.
Local Pharma started changing in early 1980s. It can be safely said that the change started when marketing people left MNCs and joined Local Pharma. It was a very welcome happening. The MNC guys got a lot of respect and leverage in the local industry. These were ‘the Professionals’. They urged the owners ‘the Seths’ to change the style of business and management, who complied whole heartedly in the beginning.
The working of Professionals and Seths was created. It was a new interaction because there was no Seth in the MNCs; everyone was employee. The Professionals and the Seths had to negotiate new Terms of Reference.
As mentioned, the Seths were welcoming and forthcoming in the beginning and offered great deal of freedom. Some Professionals used it to do their great work and made their organizations reach new heights which they had not imagined ever. The Seth was absolutely blissful. Others did not do so well due to capability limitations or else. Their organizations suffered losses. The Seth was obviously unhappy. There were conflicts and disagreements and occasional bad taste.
The Professionals and Seths conflict started in earnest. It is continuing to this day; the tension and distrust has increased on both sides. It is damaging to both parties, but they are sticking to their positions. Almost always it involves Marketing and Salespeople.
MNCs merged into each other at wholesale rate. The opportunities shrank rapidly. A whole lot of experienced Professionals became available on the job market. The imbalance in demand and supply reduced the worth of the commodity. This also further reduced the bargaining power of even well-trained professionals.
Trust Deficit – Talk to the business owners, Seths, and they have a whole list of complaints against business professionals. The commonest is that these professionals show a rosy picture, get benefits for themselves and their favorites. They ask the company to invest on various campaigns with the promise of good returns. The expense is done, but the business does not get materialized. When the professionals team feels the heat, they leave along with their contingent, leaving the Seth with a fair loss. It has happened so many times and in so many places that Seths are not willing to trust Professionals anymore. Seths still hire Professionals because they cannot work without them, but they do not accept most of their demands, keeps a strict check and do not give free hand at all. Some of the fairly large Pharma companies are also suffering from this outlook. It has implications on both sides. The Seth does not get the best out of his staff and loses some valuable opportunities; the Professional feels caged and suffocated, cannot perform optimally, and leaves early. Highly turnover at all levels is a huge, palpable problem in Pharma industry.
Trust deficit is hurting in all places. The uncertainty compels to make short terms plans only because future is unpredictable. Short term plans in turn deliver only short-term results which are not sustainable in the long term. Growth comes in spikes and may go down again. Due to short term view, all those activities which are aimed at brand building, getting more market share, indication development, specialty development and loyal customer development are not taken up or done half-heartedly. Every short term leads to another shorter term and we are at a point where we are literally living in the day only. Living in the present is good; living in today is not good. A new breed of sellers and buyers has evolved who deal for now only. The arrangement is like a coin machine; insert the coin and it runs, coin time finishes, and it stops. Ethics, morality, values and true professionalism has seriously deteriorated.
The solution to this problem shall come from two factors. One is transparency. The Seth and the professional must learn to be transparent and truthful with one another. It will build trust between the two and the work environment parameters shall improve. Two is mutual respect. The professional has to respect the entrepreneurial acumen of Seth. After all, it is the Seth who toiled and built the business from scratch. The Professionals can learn a few things from Seths. The Seth should respect the learning of Professional who has given his or her prime life to learning professional work.
Look at Siamese Twins, who are conjoined at the hips or back or head. One cannot move without the other. Same is the case between the Seth and Professional. One cannot work (at least beyond a certain point) without the other. It is better to pursue peaceful co-existence so that both can survive honorably.
To be Continued……