East India Company Executives

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The most coveted slots in the job market for a long time were those of foreign companies working in Pakistan, these were in banks, oil companies, pharmaceutical industry, etc. The companies paid well and had a wide range of both visible and hidden perquisites (perks), their training whether in management or botanical folds was in keeping with international standards, they gave an opportunity for travel and posting abroad and lastly, in a society very sensitive to status, they put the individual into a class apart, indeed giving him a choice of elite clubs in the pay package as a status symbol. There were not so many jobs on offer 40-50 years ago, the competition for every slot was very fierce, the job opening depending not only on merit but the clout the family had. In contrast our young men and women now have greater choice, both at home and abroad. Corporate Pakistan really came into being with the advent of PIA as an international airline par excellence under Air Marshal Nur Khan. Local companies in business and industry gradually began to come good with respect to job satisfaction when compared with foreign entities. Taking the early 60s as the base-line, the most sought after jobs in order of priority were with foreign companies, the civil service, PIA, the Armed Forces and then in the medical and engineering professions. The litmus test for job priority preference is that a large number of doctors and engineers opt to become civil servants, but many young civil servants have opted over the years to become executives in foreign financial institutions or other companies.

Casting aspersion on their merit in a sweeping manner would be unfair, but a fair percentage of the young people who managed to get the few slots available in foreign commercial entities in the early days of Pakistan and uptil the mid-60s were mostly sons of serving civil servants or influential landlords, etc. In these days slots for siblings of military officer were rarely available. Since the foreign companies needed to shore up their influence by having such people on their payrolls who had ready access to people with influence, and those who had influence needed their siblings in very lucrative jobs, this was a mutually acceptable proposition, it does not need much imagination to conclude that both sides got a good bargain. Unfortunately this mutual satisfaction came at a high price, influence was used to gain maximum advantage for the foreign entities at the cost of the country. By this time PIA became the jewel in the crown, it took over 20 years of nepotism to turn a merit-oriented airline into a disaster waiting to happen. By the 70s jobs multiplied, more and more deserving young men (and an occasional woman) found employment with foreign and local corporate entities. Merit over nepotism became recognized as necessary for selection, the market competition became very fierce, these companies needed good executives to work efficiently and competently, both in the domestic and international field. The requirement of hiring only those with potential for influence pre-employment faded but those who had got jobs on merit having also influence post-employment became an additional qualification. A rash of young men and women became very much visible on the social circuit. Many had studied in colleges and universities abroad and are now paid handsomely to work for their foreign masters locally in Pakistan. By the 80s a new generation of Pakistanis, more self-confident, assertive and belonging to a wide spectrum of society started to be selective about their jobs, whether with local and foreign companies. With local companies run much more professionally in keeping with international standards, provided the money is right, there is now an inflow from foreign companies to Pakistani entities.

This turnaround of executives may have come a little late for Pakistan. Most of those who have retired in the past 10 years or are about to retire are the ones who were selected mostly on influence rather than on merit. Their continued employment once their fathers had left position of influence in the administration was because of their in loyalty to the foreign companies they served. Most continue to serve their companies even in retirement, using their contacts in the administration (colleagues/subordinates of their fathers) to obtain advantage for their foreign masters. The executives of the East India Company used to serve only the interest of the company rather than that of the country, thus was the first real multi-national created. That ended in 1857 when the British Raj took over, it was only the end of the beginning.

Our military rulers believe that since these executives have been in an international environment and have reached senior executive posts, they are the managers who can turn the country around. Given that they can manage a well-articulated system, will this remain true when they come up against organized chaos? Their modus operandi is usually far removed from the prevailing practice in administration and while they may try to change the style in keeping with what was prevailing in the system they had served, they are a light years from what the genius of the people requires, a man-in-the-street solution. They rarely take pains to understand the psyche of the masses and as such cannot relate to their needs and requirements. Furthermore their loyalty may be suspect directly proportional to how much they may have been compromised in the matter of transferring profits of the foreign companies abroad. One must be cautious here, we certainly cannot include all executives under the “East India Company” label, that does not obviate the necessity of verifying their conduct with great caution, to ensure that their loyalty has not been subverted. Should our country take such a chance? And are we in a position to take such chances?

A great number of such executives have been outright failures professionally in the corporate entities they have served in but their raison d’etre was the exercise of influence at the right time. Experience has shown that put in charge of any corporate entity they proceeded to hire “cronies”, “contracted” at very high salaries and “perks”. This “team” that owes loyalty only to the man who hired them and no one else. They care two hoots about long-serving locally hired executives and ride roughshod over them at will, adding pain to anguish and causing severe morale problems. Before one knows it the organization they are supposed to serve is the one being systematically looted and/or subjected to outrageous expenditures. There have been many heads of organization who have been competent, and they have recruited people of competence and integrity, for the sake of morale, longevity requires we should select people from among the institutions itself. While down-sizing the companies the “imported” executives have increased the expenditures instead of controlling them. In at least two recent cases, one recently thrown out of NDFC and the other still ruling the roost as a member of the senior hierarchy in PSO, these executives have started their new professional “life” with the changing of wives, putting the expenses of these “musical wives” on the corporate entity they now serve. If the man has integrity and competence, he will deliver what the country expects of him. To accomplish his aims, he will use a carefully selected team that will do the job that is assigned of them.

One should not blindly put faith in those who have served foreign corporate entities, particularly those who have just retired or are about to retire, these are mostly expended ammunition with baggage that Pakistan cannot afford. Most of them were selected due to influence more than merit and their competence and integrity has to be carefully evaluated. After this generation has faded away a better crop of retired executives will be available, almost all of whom were selected on merit and have risen on competence. For the time being while one may not be able to avoid selecting “East India Company” types, but one must exercise extreme caution to ensure that their souls have not been mortgaged to foreign corporate entities and that they have the necessary spark to instil life into the system.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.

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