A interview with Hamdard CEO Usama Qureshi

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A interview with Hamdard CEO Usama Qureshi

Imran Zakir

Usama Qureshi is one of the youngest leaders in the corporate sector with over 18 years of experience in general management, stakeholders’ management, marketing and business turnaround. He is currently serving as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Hamdard Laboratories (Waqf) Pakistan, the leading manufacturer and supplier of FMCG, herbal medicines & healthcare products.
In just one year of his takeover, Usama has transformed Hamdard into an exciting, modern and technology driven organization. Hamdard Pakistan is not only having a fresh brand outlook, perception and packaging of over 500 products in Hamdard’s portfolio but has also enhanced it after the successful rebranding of a 110-year-old brand.
Prior to his role at Hamdard, Usama was engaged at K-Electric Limited as the Chief Marketing & Communication Officer and Chief of Staff. At K-Electric, he was an integral part of the top tier team that led to a complete turnaround of the organization, receiving various accolades for playing a lead role in revitalizing K-Electric. His biggest contribution, among various others, was the successful re-branding of K-Electric from KESC, an initiative led by him, leading into not only change in brand image but also the overall perception of the organization. His role at Pakistan State Oil (PSO) was looking after the ‘fuel cards’ finance and operations unit.
Usama is the Co-Founder and Director of Oasis Energy Limited, a Dubai (DIFC) based holistic solution provider of power generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. He is also a member of the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) serving as Chairman, Standing Committee on Energy, and Director of Pakistan – UK and Pakistan – UAE Business Councils.
Q. You have the hands on experience in Energy sector but now you diversify in FMCG sector. Please brief us about the challenges you have faced by holding the command of one the largest FMCG sector organization?
A. Yes, these are two entirely different fields, but there is one similarity in both the sectors which is “Consumers”. Both markets are consumer based and we deal with the consumer directly. I personally believe that consumer insights are the key for FMCG markets.
After joining Hamdard, my biggest challenge was to clear the false perception in the consumer market of Hamdard as an old and stubborn brand. Our packaging and appearance of the products was becoming obsolete and there was a need to refresh the brand. My team and I were sprouting out energies to make a difference, we were ready to get on to the paths of modification, revamping and a complete whirlwind of change for the brand. An entirely new brand narrative was created that articulated the company’s vision, purpose, and mission anew.
We started carrying out our rebranding exercise earlier this year. From a marketing perspective, our challenge was to make our products look modern and that is what we have achieved. Our aim was to make Rooh Afza part of every household and a global brand which is, what our campaign is all about
Another huge problem was our medicines as they were quite difficult to use. To address the issue, I initiated an R&D department at Hamdard. Research started immediately on existing products, this exercise helped in developing our medicines in a better way. Along with the establishment of R & D department we are also in the phase of launching some new products because I believe that “the organizations that do not change die”.
The last and one of the major challenges other than strategies was our Human Resource. HR inclusion is an ongoing task for any modern organization. We are fully focused on updating our HR practices. In order to motivate and encourage our employees and the workforce, we have introduced a performance based reward system. We are in process of launching new ERP as well. These systems were never a part of Hamdard before.
Q. When you joined Hamdard and what are the special tasks assigned to you by the Chairperson?
A. As I have mentioned earlier, my core task was to transform Hamdard into a contemporary global corporate entity and to rebrand the organization to compete with Multinationals all over the globe.
Q. After becoming CEO Hamdard goes through rebranding process, what’s the total expenditure and did you achieve your ROI?
A. I believe that rebranding was an entire new journey for the 110 years old organization, it was the biggest step in the history of Hamdard Pakistan that was taken. The long term results that we will get from this rebranding are immeasurable. It was not an expenditure but investment on the whole. Furthermore, we did achieve the ROI.
Q. You are from the corporate world but we look at Hamdard Laboratories as a slight touch of a government organization e.g. conservative approach is seen? What changes you brought up here in order to adopt best corporate practices?
A. As I mentioned earlier, this was one of the main challenges that I faced which is also backed by research. Currently, we are working on many things here at Hamdard simultaneously. The biggest step was to re-launch Hamdard Laboratories which is followed by many meticulously thought small steps. Gor example, changing and reviving the policies of HR, developing and enhancing marketing and supply chain, introducing new software and technological advancements in the company and exploring new markets and arenas not locally but all around the globe. Furthermore, we are also working to modernize production procedures & facilities and revamping distribution.
Our main strength is consumers’ belief and emotional attachment with Hamdard as a brand whereas other MNCs and big brands struggle with trust and our business model, under the name of Waqf, supports that belief. Whatever we make, most of it is dedicated to charity for education and health.
Q. Nowadays large size organizations are going for implementation of SAP for performing various operational needs, even the supply chain management system is very important for all FMCG organizations but it is controlled by SAP. Please comment.
A. We do understand the need for SAP in our organization that’s why we have plans to implement these in near future. After implementation of SAP, many procedures will be streamlined and there will be efficient operations across the board.
Q. Is it true that Hamdard Laboratories is recognizes in masses by Rooh Afza, why major part of your publicity budget is spent on Rooh Afza?
A. Yes, it is true to some extent that major part of our advertisement budget is being spent on Rooh Afza but our herbal products, Carmina, Safi, Naunehal, Hamdard Ispaghol and Hamdard Instant Joshanda also have a significant share of advertisement.
Rooh Afza is the market leader and is one of our star products, it also has significant contribution to our revenue.
Q. Would you like to discuss about various strategic business units/divisions or products of Hamdard?
A. Hamdard has three divisions: Retail, Pharma Division and FMCG, with FMCG being the bigger arm of the business because of Rooh Afza. Rooh Afza, which is a 110-year old elixir, contributes over 70 percent of our topline. Rooh Afza and Red Sherbet are synonymous to each other; we know that there are many red coloured drinks around too, but we are the pioneers.
In retail division, we have our Matabs and consultancy clinics all over Pakistan for the betterment of society. We are also currently focusing on increasing the number of these Matabs to other cities of Pakistan as well.
We are also considering rationalizing our 500 products; about 15 products in FMCG sector, 30 are OTC and the rest are medicines. Under the Pharma Division, we have 15 to 20 star products including gripe water, Safi, Suduri, Hamdard Instant Joshanda, Hamdard Ispaghol, Hamdard Ghutti and Hamdard Honey.
Q. We know Rooh Afza has lion’s share in the country. Would you like to share your competitive strategy/edge and comparative marketing advantage?
A. Rooh Afza stands out from its competitors because the trust connection of trust with consumers while people are now more aware and conscious of their health, they prefer organic products in all aspects of life. This is the biggest opportunity for Hamdard as people keep trust in our brand.
Q. In summer demand for Rooh Afza obviously increases. How you control production operations and local market needs?
A. Rooh Afza is the drink of all seasons because of its natural ingredients and refreshing and soothing taste.
In past, we used to face shortages, but now we have comprehensively controlled it by synchronizing the production and operations with the distribution of Rooh Afza across Pakistan.
Q. Every year Hamdard Laboratories wins the FPCCI Export Trophy? Would you like to discuss about your export details as well as Hamdard export strategies with breakup of exports?
A. Rooh Afza is being exported to more than 33 countries all over the globe and liked by millions. Furthermore, since last 2 years, there is significant increase in its export and some new countries also came on board with us. We can proudly say that we are the market leaders. As per Euromonitor, we enjoy over 60% of the market for concentrated beverages.
Rooh Afza has also been receiving the Best Export Trophy Award for 14 consecutive years, from the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).
Q. Did you plan to grab the niche markets of the world other than western and Middle East countries?
A. We are already targeting niche international markets, as we are aware of the increasing number of international customers and users of Herbal medicines.
We are also planning to expand our exports to more than 33 countries including USA, European and Middle Eastern countries. We are further planning to grab mostly niche markets for our newly developed products because we have identified the need of herbal products.
Q. Recently, a conference held at Hamdard Eastern Medicine College focused on herbal/Unani medicines. Did you have the plan to boost the sales of herbal products in local and international market?
A. Yes, we are planning to expand our sales to more countries and because of the immense potential, we are going to adopt an aggressive approach in the herbal medicine industry.
We are also introducing new products in the market along with improving our existing ones. This initiative will not only improve the old and conservative perception of the brand but will also boost the sales in future.
Q. Did Hamdard believe in innovation, research and development? Please share details?
A. Hamdard was a conventional organization and this was one of those main responsibilities as the CEO and Managing Director to create and practice a culture which is modern and up to date along with bringing in new Research and Development techniques and practices. Now, this department has been set up in our organization which is a significant milestone that we have achieved. Our main focus is on innovation and value provision to our customers on daily basis.
Q. Did Hamdard believe on merit based recruitment and other fringe benefits/bonuses are not on the basis of influences and favoritism?
A. Yes, we believe in merit based recruitment and we give other fringe benefits to our employees too. We have recently started performance based system for our employees because we believe that it increases the confidence and motivation levels amongst them and they tend to work more efficiently and effectively.
Moreover, we have recently started management trainee and engineering trainee programs at Hamdard to encourage the youth of Pakistan, which is more than 50% of the total population. We want to make Hamdard the most sought-after organization for the youth to Pakistan.
I believe that a good HR is the key towards success for any organization because “You can buy the best machines of the world, you only need financial backing and muscles but what you can’t buy is a perfect HR.”
Q. Last year, Hamdard faced the counterfeit issue. Will you please discuss and give any suggestions to Government of Pakistan?
A. This a problem that we face every year, it is not only Rooh Afza that has been counterfeited, our medicines are also being copied. This has been our continuous battle, we have been very active and vigilant about it in order to get rid of these counterfeit products.
I would strongly recommend that a proper procedure must be implemented. Before exporting any product a proper approval should be a must and frequent raids should be conducted by the concerned authorities to stop the production of counterfeit products.
Q. One of the main issues facing by Pakistan manufacturing and export sector is weak IPR laws and poor enforcement? Government’s writ is not seen? Please comment?
A. Yes, it is a huge issue of our country, I would suggest establishing active IP Courts all across Pakistan, taking quick decisions for law enforcing authorities. These IP Courts should be fully functional and should have robust decision making powers. This is one of the sensitive areas in our society so this should be properly regulated.
Q. As a corporate world leader what message would you like to give to our readers?
A. The message that I always try to communicate to Pakistan is that we should always try to promote our local brands. A culture needs to be developed in Pakistan for “Made in Pakistan” products. We all should not only use our local goods but we should also promote it as we all are brand ambassadors of “Made in Pakistan” products.
We never claim Hamdard as a brand that belongs to any specific person, but it is a brand for the people and of the people living in Pakistan. It has become an integral part of every household, that’s how we are playing our role and trying to establish this culture in Pakistan.
Q. Will you please share with us about your Rooh Afza orange flavor (New Launch) with our readers?
A. Rooh Afza light (low calorie drink) has been launched recently in the market. Moreover, we have successfully experimented Rooh Afza fusion drinks/Mocktails (Orange, Apple Pomegranate and Mango) on different platforms including exhibitions and events. We have been regularly posting these drinks and other recipes on social media and other platforms too. Furthermore, we also currently are working on Rooh Afza Milk and RTD (ready to drink) category that will be launched soon in the market.