Saad Amanullah Khan, CEO, Alamut Consulting, talks to Slogan in this exclusive interview.
Saad Amanullah Khan
Tell us a little about yourself?
My life’s purpose has always been to use my skills and uniqueness to help others. This purpose evolved over time as I always, since I was a kid, wanted to help the underprivileged so that they could get ahead in life. My focus in my professional as well as personal life has always been to help others succeed in their lives.
I studied to be an engineer and ended up completing two B.Sc. degrees, one in Systems Engineering and the other in Computer Science. Later, in 1985, I went to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and got an MBA in finance. In 1987, I was hired by Procter & Gamble in the finance department based in Geneva, Switzerland. I was later transferred to Jeddah to set up a finance operation at P&G and to handle six Arabian Peninsula markets. In 1994, on my urging, I was transferred to Pakistan as their NEW &INANCE -ANAGER 7ITH MY FATHER BEING quite ill during those days, I decided to burn my boats and not leave Pakistan in order to take care of him, despite the fact that I was twice offered senior positions in Brussels and Geneva.
I continued to rise at P&G and became Deputy General Manager in 1999. In addition to Finance, I handled the Human Resource, Legal and External Relations departments. In 2007, I was made CEO of Gillette Pakistan, a company that was globally acquired by P&G in 2005. After leading it for 7 years and putting it on a solid growth path, I finally decided to take early retirement in 2014 to fully follow my passion of making an impact on the social and entrepreneurship front.
During my 20 years at P&G I helped acquire their first manufacturing facility at Hub, Balochistan, set up the Legal and External Relations departments, got the laundry plant investment approved from the parent company, launched 5 categories (laundry, diaper, feminine napkins, colorants and toilet soaps), assisted in the P&G buyout of its JV partner in Pakistan and drove a major distributor buy-out and restructuring.
At Gillette, a company which was 16 years old with sales flat as a pancake (around $9 million for the last six years), I led the creation of an inspiring company Vision called “Mission Dugna Tigna” (meaning in Urdu Mission Doubling Tripling) and established long-term strategies and measures under this powerful theme. In the next 7 years we turned around the Gillette business, led scores of commercial innovations, fixed sales and supply chain fundamentals, drove a culture of ‘can do’ and ‘win-win’ and improved profitability as well as top line growth. Gillette Pakistan became the fastest growing Blades & Razor market in CEEMEA Division for three straight years (CAGR 2010 to 2014 was +27%).
You bid farewell to a lucrative corporate position to launch an NGO. What was the source of your conviction?
When I Turned In 2010 ) Had A Personal Realization That I Wanted To Follow My Real Passion Which Was To Positively Impact Lives Of Normal Pakistanis. Already, As Ceo, I Was Very Active On The Nonbusiness Front, Especially Supporting And Guiding A Multitude Of Social Enterprises. I Was Part Of Nearly Two Dozen Ngos, Including Five In Health Care, Three In Education, Two In Helping People With Disabilities, Five In Youth/start-up Mentorship, As Well As A Solar Energy Start-up, Public Interest Law Association Of Pakistan, Pakistan Innovation Foundation, A Leadership Academy, Street Kids Rehabilitation And Of Course I Am Karachi. I Love To Touch Lives, Help The Youth Find Their Footing And In General Help
the needy and people at the grassroots to reclaim their lives.
Did you feel you did not fit the big company mould?
Haha! I always used to say I am a jigsaw piece that does not fit the corporate world jigsaw puzzle. I was very active in the corporate world, I was twice voted as the President of the American Business Council (ABC). I was also twice voted to the executive board of the largest foreign business chamber in Pakistan, the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI). In addition, I spent my private holidays and weekends in helping NGOs and individuals at the grassroots with advice, raising funds for them and providing mentorship.
How was your general experience in the corporate world?
Frankly what I am today is because of my association with amazing stalwart companies such as P&G and Gillette. Corporate in general are great grooming centres for the young, hard working and dedicated graduates. My roughly 30 years in corporates were very fullfilling and taught me a lot about leadership, strategy development, goal setting, change management and many other aspects of running and building a successful business.
Where did you enjoy your job the most – at P&G or Gillette?
That is a very interesting question but an easy one. P&G, where I spent two decades of my business life. It was my alma mater, a kind of school, college or a university that I attended, which taught me the real-life fundamentals of doing business. I learned, made mistakes, practiced, took initiatives AND GAINED WISDOM 7HEN IN 2007 ) TOOK over as CEO of Gillette, that was a great opportunity to test my learnings in action. Here I was able to use my two decades of experience at P&G and use it to turn around Gillette, a company in dire straits – I applied all the concepts, learnings and ideas that I had learned at P&G.
How are you applying your corporate experience to your present activities?
The reason I took early retirement in 2014 was because I felt I had spent enough time and energy in the corporate sector and it was about time I took this experience and learnings and applied it to the social sector, to deliver a multiplier impact at the grassroots where people were stuck in the poverty trap. My three decades of experience was invaluable and priceless in this new role. Everything I do today, whether it is to help improve governance of a social enterprises, or help fix strategies of start-ups or NGOs, or give youth career or life advice, it is all built on my experience of working in the corporate sector.
Do you use any of the concepts you learned at P&G in your present work?
Yes, I Constantly Apply The Amazing Experiences That P&g Has Given Me In Different Jobs, Assignments And Projects Across The World. The Whole Concept Of Vision Setting, Coming Up With Winning Strategies, Setting Goals And Measures, Deploying To The Organization, Tracking Progress And Delivering On These Objectives In A Structured And Organised Manner Are The Most Valuable Learnings From P&g. I Have Captured These Concepts In My Book Which Was Published In The publishers Under The Title “it’s Business, It’s Personal – From Setting A Vision And Delivering It Through Organizational Excellence”. I Have Also Captured Many Organizational Excellence Concepts Such As Leadership, Inspiring Culture, Embracing Change And Many Personal Insights Which Helped Me Be Successful.
I am a very people’s person. I like to inspire people, groom them, train and enhance their potential and then help them by breaking down barriers so that they can deliver their projects with excellence. I am a strong believer in walking out of your comfort zone, to hone your leadership style so that people trust you and follow you with passion. I have always counselled everyone to constantly raise the bar and to set stretch goals because, when people think big, that in turn brings personal growth and turns them into strong leaders. After I left P&G, the next 5 to six Finance Managers at P&G were all people I had hired, groomed and trained who continued to help keep P&G on a solid growth path. To me the true testament of my management style is the legacy I leave behind where the people I left behind continue to do well after I am long gone.
Are you a good decision-maker?
I think this question is better answered by looking at one’s past record in senior leadership roles. I held the Deputy General Manager and Finance Manager portfolio of P&G for 8 years during which P&G grew at an average CAGR of +50% (cumulative annual growth rate). In my final 4 years as Gillette CEO (the first few years were hit by the 2008 global economic crisis), Gillette grew at a CAGR of +27% behind my “Mission Dugna Tigna” which has now more than doubled Gillette business and continues to inspire employees to look for stretch ideas.
Do you believe in innovation?
I Consider ‘innovation’ As The Cornerstone Of Success Of Any Business Enterprise In Today’s Fast Paced Global Environment. You Cannot Win By Doing The Same Old Thing Or By Copying Others; The Consumer And The Market Has Become Very Sophisticated And Competitive. You Have To Be Creative, You Have To Innovate And Come Up With Novelty Ideas Which Will Beat Competition On A Sustainable Basis. This Is Also Why, In Early 2010, I Founded The Pakistan Innovation Foundation (pif)) With Dr. Athar Osama. This Is An Apolitical, Private Sector-driven Donor supported Platform Which Focuses On Driving And Creating An “innovation” Eco-system In Pakistan. Today Pif Is The Only Organization Giving Innovation Awards Across 12 Business Sectors And 3 Special Awards 7e Carry Out Hackathons To Help Identify Solutions For Our Problems And Reward Innovators 7e Are Also Pursuing Stem Education For The Last 3 Years And Encouraging Schools To Include It In Their Curriculum.