Mr. Shoaib Baig (Chief Operating Officer – United Snacks (Pvt.) Limited)
EVOLVE: You have a very impressive profile when we look at your career journey. Isnt it an interesting case study of a professional who started his career as a finance and audit specialist who transformed into a versatile marketing professional?
Shoaib Baig: I dont think my example is an isolated one; there are various instances where professional moved from specialized function to overall business management. After 35 years of corporate exposure, I do not consider myself as specialist since the diversified experience make you a business professional instead of expert in a particular field. There are numerous examples where people move from a very specialized area to overall business, thus becoming a generalist who can take birds eye view of overall business and take decisions leveraging his versatile experience.
EVOLVE: As a true business professional, you have played lead roles in almost every discipline of business administration e.g. banking, finance, retail management, business development, new product development and marketing operations etc. Which of these specialized fields you enjoyed the most in your entire career and do you consider these are instrumental for being a most successful COO in various renowned companies?
Shoaib Baig: It is interesting but difficult question to answer. If you ask me what is the most interesting phase of my professional career, then my response would be my first eight years in banking. I consider myself fortunate that I started my professional career with an international bank established by great Pakistani banking guru, Agha Hasan Abidi. Bank of Credit & Commerce International provided me an opportunity to work in more than 30 countries which helped me in working in different cultures. That period was instrumental in enhancing my Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ as some people call it) which enabled me to undertake challenging assignments later in my career path.However, I would like to highlight here that Coca-Cola provided me an excellent learning platform for international exposure of best practices in FMCG/CPG industry. In Coca-Cola, the basis of learning is sharing of knowledge within the system. They used to say; if you are facing some issue today, somebody within Coca-Cola system of more than 200 countries must have faced it earlier and must have found some solution. Coca-Cola was a great learning experience for me.
EVOLVE: Based on your knowledge and experience as Chief Operating Officer (COO), what are the major internal barriers for product development and innovation for catering consumer tastes and demands?
Shoaib Baig: Based on my experience of being chief operating officers of three FMCG companies, I would say that new product development is major challenge due to highly competitive market as well as rapidly changing consumer preferences. When you head overall operations, you need to take care of both internal and external stakeholders as well as their priorities. You have to strike a balance among conflicting goals. The recipe for success is to come up with a product which market demands while rationalize your internal goals. Sales team may ask for massive discounts while CFO may be seeking maximum profit by way of higher prices. As head of business, you need to bring rationality in the thinking of all stake-holders either through positive engagement or, at times, outright confrontation. This is possible only when you exhibit highest degree of understanding of the issue on hand as well as maturity to bring different stake-holders on one page.
EVOLVE: Does your organization believe in social development and what social responsibility your company aspires to in the citizen development and reforms sector?
Shoaib Baig: Fortunately, I have been associated with companies which have been quite active in CSR initiatives. While the main objective of any corporate entity is considered to be creating value for shareholders, this traditional thinking is being challenged these days. Only recently, Business Roundtable (BRT), a Washington-based non-profit association consisting of CEOs of top companies, declared in most categorical terms that businesses owe to other stake-holders as well (suppliers, employees, community) in addition to shareholders with no prioritization (meaning all are at part). Coca-Cola and Pepsi as well as United Snacks despite being local company have been quite active in the area of social responsibility. Controls over water usage, sponsoring schools in poor areas, induction of management trainees with different economic background are few examples of such responsible behavior.
EVOLVE: How does your organization analyze the competition for devising counter strategies for brand augmentation, product innovation and pricing?
Shoaib Baig: As I mentioned earlier, we are living in a very competitive world where consumers preferences are changing rapidly, hence fast pace of innovation becomes essential. In this age, the continuous innovation is must for your survival. Therefore, you have to keep a close look at your competition for any new initiatives they may come up with including new product, improved packaging, innovative business model or the like. We make use of formal tools to gauge competitive activities and use that insight for our counter strategy. Nielsen Retail Audit, market research both through internal and external sources, outlet data, brand health indicators and similar pointers help us to understand the market dynamics and adjust our portfolio accordingly. When I was working for Coca-Cola or Pepsi, our national in portfolio.
However, the scenario is different now when I am working for a local brand and competing with an international brand. In order to be competitive at the market place, we have introduced many local flavors of potato chips in accordance with taste buds of Pakistani consumers. As regards pricing, the Me Too strategy seems to be rational and workable.
EVOLVE: There are few companies commence to contribute towards the development of youth in Pakistan; Are these companies not on the frontiers of breaking our social and cultural norms and transforming the society in general?
Shoaib Baig: In a country like Pakistan where two third of population is under 26 years of age, the developing youth is essential if we want Pakistan to be developed. On this front, the signals are quite mixed; on one hand, most of the companies are not doing much for development of young professional and, on the other hand, the youngsters themselves are generally not very motivated to make them worthy by acquiring new skills sets in corporate world. Additionally, we need to differentiate among different segments of young people. In the absence of vocational training facilities, most of young people acquire classroom-based educational certificates/degrees which may not be of practical utility. That phenomenon put enormous pressure on corporate world to make new entrants economically value contributor. Unfortunately, the corporate entities in our country are very loath for capability building of young people; on hindsight, I feel that I should have done more in this respect. In Pakistani organizations, very rarely we find robust management trainee programs, formal counselling protocols and mentorship programs.
EVOLVE: How important is distribution network for success of an FMCG? Are their risks involved in devising new distribution strategies?
Shoaib Baig: Once Board Chairman of an FMCG company asked me to share my thoughts about major issues of his business. Since I was familiar with the working of the company, I told him in most categorical terms: there are three major challenges your business is facing i.e. distribution, distribution and distribution. This phenomenon, unfortunately, is relevant for most of FMCG companies particularly in our country. There are many entrepreneurs in Pakistan who think that they simply need to focus on production since whatever they are going to produce will be sold. This is very dangerous assumption. No wonder, we see heaps of unsold stock both at companies and distributors warehouses.
A successful and robust distribution network can be built only if all the stake-holders share the common vision including senior management, sales associates, third party distributors and retailers. There has to be feasible profit proposition for all stake-holders involved in the value chain. Most of FMCG companies in Pakistan, including MNCs operating here, rely on small size distributors to cater the market from Karachi to Peshawar. Other than few exceptions, all companies are reluctant to try corporate distributors (or mega distributors as commonly known) due to wrongly assumed high cost. If companies start evaluating cost of doing business through small distributors, they will find huge, mostly undetected, cost resulting from fake claims, non-passing of trad promos, fake entries to reflect high secondary sales for claiming incentives and practice of not giving any system-generated invoices, to name just few.
Unless FMCG companies design and implement collaborative distribution model, they cannot penetrate in the market either through increased numeric or weighted availability. The sponsors/owners need to understand that the planned bottom line cannot be guaranteed if topline is being compromised due to issues emanating from sub-optimized distribution network.
EVOLVE: You are good public speaker, coach and trainer on variety of business subjects. Isnt it a high time to embark upon establishing a training institute where young professionals can groom their professional skills and learn from your experiences?
Shoaib Baig: You have touched a subject which is very close to my heart. The capability building of human capital is pre-requisite if we want to embark ourselves on development journey. Other than MNCs operating in our country, most of companies pay just lip service to training and development of associates. This is a multi-faced issue starting from absence of any meaningful liaison/connection between academia and industry, absence of meritocracy in our social fabric, gruesome focus on profitability without any regard to human capital.
EVOLVE: What message you have for the readers of EVOLVE magazine?
Shoaib Baig: Let me quote what Albert Einstein said: Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.
Mr. Shoaib Baig
Chief Operating Officer – United Snacks (Pvt.) Limited