An exclusive interview with Asim Siddiqui, CEO, Pegasus Consultancy
Asim Siddiqui, CEO, Pegasus Consultancy, shares his views in this exclusive interview to Enterprise.
As a pioneer in the events service industry, how has Pegasus maintained an edge in the booming M.I.C.E. (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector?
We started with the first international exhibition in Pakistan by the name of IDEAS. However, that association ended but since then we have been launching more innovative and international exhibitions related to different industries of Pakistan. Being the pioneers, we got to do what any leader in any industry has to do and that is to be innovative, to come up with more ideas for maintaining that leading edge over others.
It mainly depends on how you cater an event for a specific industry, particularly by understanding and delivering its requirements. You can market the first show by designing a brochure because it is just a concept; you need to possess all the right data and know the right people. But the successive shows will only be successful if the people participating in them realize the true value of their participation. So we have been able to cater to the industry and now I tell people that over 12 years, we have made all the big events possible in Pakistan.
Moreover, I have a very strong team, the company has real depth, and there are managers with more than 50 years of experience amongst us. We have achieved huge and diverse experience by going through all the thick and thin, the good and bad times. Besides that, all the year round we do research on how to improve our exhibitions. It includes industry requirements, growth factors and which segment of which industry is growing. After all, now competition has crept in. In order to maintain our pioneering status, we have to be different and stay ahead of the competition.
How has Pegasus promoted Pakistani industries in world markets?
In the beginning we created shows for whatever brands were recognized the world over; for
instance Gul Ahmed. I’ll give you the example of Expo Pakistan, the major trade and commerce event of Pakistan, is a very convenient forum for foreign buyers because they know Pakistani exports, they know the potential of Pakistan much more than we do. Such an exhibition in Pakistan provides them the opportunity to meet the industry leaders under one roof in a limited span of time. Otherwise it would take weeks of travel for a buyer to explore the market from Chenab to Gul Ahmed to Nishat Mills. Only Karachi has five industrial zones, and you cannot cover more than two in a day. So Expo Pakistan or any event in general opens doors for a number of new buyers coming from as far as South America, who would otherwise have not come to Pakistan. We saw a lot of new faces and big quality buyers. They were invited by the Government of Pakistan, the Ministry of Trade and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan.
How would you define the setbacks to the industrial structure in light of Pakistan’s current situation?
In a nutshell, high interest rates, energy crisis and the fallout of the energy crisis are known to all. It is affecting about 3 percent of the GDP. Currently I think that less than 30 percent of Pakistan is actually productive. If you look at trade and industry, 3 percent translates into a lot of jobs, a lot of missed opportunities and a lot of surplus capacity. Then we have the security situation in Pakistan and the violence, which is making trade and industry very difficult to cope with.
What are the strengths that enable you to make an event successful?
Like I said, you have to understand the industry and the leaders in the industry because without attracting them you cannot go far. The leaders in the industry always think they know it all, they do not need any more branding or marketing and that they have the highest share in the market. This is the trickiest part to get into the heads of the industry leaders. This is not done by talking to them, but through deep understanding of the industry and by positioning the events in such a way that it makes them attractive for other brands which have global outreach. It makes a big difference. To achieve this, extensive research helps in positioning an event accordingly so that it creates an appeal. The industry leaders may not support you for a few shows on the basis that what you are saying is right, but the right execution is also important.
What aspects of event management are yet to be explored in Pakistan?
The basic concept is that it is a meeting place for the market. In event management, the actual activity occurs before the exhibition takes place. But the key to success is getting the right results after the exhibition. So it is not just putting up the stalls, doing the carpets, joining electric connections or setting up nice designs. If nobody comes, then what happens? Or if somebody even comes and
“You have to understand the industry and the leaders in the industry because without attracting them you cannot go far. The leaders in the industry always think they know it all, they do not need any more branding or marketing and that they have the highest share in the market. This is the trickiest part to get into the heads of the industry leaders.”
goes back disappointed, then what happens? The event is for the industry, it is not for the event management company and unfortunately this concept is lacking in the rest of the companies where they think that their main job is to create an environment and that’s it. But it does not end there.
Do you get the necessary support from the government and the TDAP in holding exhibitions and other events?
The Government of Pakistan should get the major credit for providing the infrastructure by building the two Expo Centres in Pakistan, which otherwise would not have been built. I consider the government’s strategies to promote events at the Expo Centre to be very conducive for event managers. They realize the fact that the revenue comes from the exhibition organizers. They do provide the required level of service. Otherwise the expo centres would have been like empty bird nests, which was the situation when we started exhibitions; there were cats and dogs in the halls. So, if the private sector is so involved in putting up these exhibitions, then they are doing something right.
How does your company benefit from the Organization of Social Development Initiatives?
Pakistan is going through a very serious crisis, in terms of its economy and people. A group of my friends decided together that it is useless to sit and watch TV and criticize the government. We felt the responsibility to try and act out, in whatever manner we could contribute for the betterment of society. Mostly belonging to the private sector, we decided that job creation should be our target. But we later realized that it is not the private sector’s role but an NGO’S role to do that. So we started studying poverty in the rural areas. We feel that the problems of the young population are significant to address the socio-economic issues of Pakistan. About 2 million people are joining the workforce every year, whether they are educated or uneducated. f they cannot find jobs, they will become a menace to the society.
So with that concept in mind, we started devising ways and means on a very small scale. We are working now in four districts of Pakistan; three in Sindh and one in KPK. We have adopted these communities, where we provide them employment, microfinancing for livestock and crops, clean water and establishing affordable health services. We are also looking at a renewable energy project, we are looking after their education and have established temporary learning centres in terms of health as Hepatitis is a serious problem all over Pakistan. We have currently an ongoing camp for Hepatitis eradication and protection in Mardan. More than 20 percent of the people have been identified with Hepatitis after screening, which is a very big population. The same were the statistics in Matiari. Earlier, these people were working on daily wages, now they have regular incomes.
OSDI is a think tank and not a
charity organization and it works on a model of poverty alleviation. We are working on projects in which we are estimating and quantifying the input on whatever intervention was made and then the output. The output shows how the project made a difference to the family, how it increased their income and how it will bring them out of poverty.
We are providing the farmers with animals, seeds, better fields and training. Most of the farmers we are financing, on about 500 acres of land, have almost doubled their output. So it is like a fiveyear plan that we are working on for poverty alleviation. We know many dependencies the community would have on us. So it is very satisfying work. We have made huge efforts with limited resources though.
But now, even in the urban areas the crime rate is high, it is all because of the fact that people do not get livelihoods. So this has to be addressed and influenced and this trend has to be reversed if we want a progressive Pakistan.
In light of your successful track record, do you have a roadmap to campaign for branding Pakistan in the international market?
Pakistan was doing exceptionally well before this violence and extremism grew up. Till 2005, we were performing well and the supportive policy of the government was promoting the soft image of Pakistan. Those were the things which ‘ Incredible India’ was playing and Malaysia was campaigning as ‘ Truly Asia’, so there was a lot of debate and I was also involved in those debates on how it could be done. But unfortunately, because of 9/ 11, there was a reinforcement of views that Pakistan is a hard country. It kept becoming difficult to say, ‘ No, We are not!’
Although, there is 99 percent more good happening in Pakistan, but even if a dog dies here, it is flashed all over the world. So how to counter that image was a major issue. Now you see designers from Pakistan participating in international fairs and shows. There are so many things that we can be proud of, our women pilots, our women cadets, who were earlier competing only in general education. So they show the progression in Pakistan after which the Lal Masjid image can be easily forgotten. But it is also a fact that now we have multiple issues at hand, that we cannot collect our thoughts. For example, I was in Dubai meeting a big customer of mine. Somehow every year they refuse to come to Pakistan. I was telling them about how the industry is getting better in Pakistan, but they wanted to know about how I could comfort them about Pakistan. I replied that I have stopped doing that, as I have been saying since the last four years that it will get better. Now I have come to realize that we really have a problem. In good times, I used to say it is very easy filling Pakistan, because the industry was running so well, we had a 7 percent growth rate and Pakistan was definitely the next Asian Tiger.
I have found that the only trick is to get the person to visit Pakistan. Because, in his mind, he lives in the twilight zone, in reality when he comes here and meets the progressive part of our society, sees the industries, then it becomes very easy to convince him about the positivity in Pakistan.
Do you think we have enough international-class exhibition space in Pakistan or more needs to be done on that front?
It started from the three halls at the Expo Centre in Karachi and the Government of Pakistan doubled the capacity in a period of four years, because so much industrial growth took place. Unfortunately, today it is under-utilized. Your point of view would only be relevant to future perceptions about the situation in Pakistan. I was telling the German exhibition organizers that now under the existing capacity of the Expo Centre, exhibitions can be held with machinery from all over the world. But I can’t say now what may happen.
How does an industry or business sector benefit from a dedicated exhibition event?
Like I said, the hard infrastructure can be created by anyone; it is the software that makes the difference. As Expo Pakistan opened the doors, so if you have the Gul Ahmed and the Nishat of Pakistan standing there, but a stall next to them may be the smallest but if it has an excellent presentation, it gives the similar quality image. And combined, they attract quantity and quality buyers for Pakistan’s exports. So it is truly a magical story.
Expo Pakistan is a generalized and the only hand grown exhibition with the whole machinery of the government involved in it. So you can gauge the success that the government has achieved by working collectively with a number of organizers. Not just that, we have a whole process of how to collect buyers. Earlier there were chain store buyers who only used to buy a single product; they are now buying two or three products. Because we not only have textiles, we also have automobiles, fans and wide range of cutlery. New buyers keep joining in and we can gauge the success of the exhibition by the presence of nearly all the brands which otherwise do not participate in any exhibition in Pakistan.
Plus, it is a very good sourcing event for the industry itself. There are thousands of young manufacturers, who are not known to even advance supply chain personnel, so a good networking space is provided by the exhibition. One of the former Naval chiefs, head of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra informed me that at Kamra 30 percent of indigenization increased after they participated in IDEAS, which they were otherwise importing from abroad as they did not know that some company was making it. So if you can create such success stories, it is the only way the exhibition can be alive. So it is not a circus for people to watch, it is a place for business and new opportunities which otherwise even business leaders would not be able to make happen