Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2015

Wisdom, laughter and fond memories to last a lifetime

A tribute to Agha Azfar Ali (1961-2014).

"Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company.” – Agha Azfar Ali posted this saying by Hazrat Ali (AS) on his Facebook page on August 16.

I ‘liked’ it then, not knowing that one day, I would be writing a posthumous article about him. I now realise how aptly the quote matches his character.

This is one article I never imagined I would be writing, and I do so with a very heavy heart. However, writing this makes the unimaginable real, and the sad fact finally registers – Agha is no longer with us and the void he leaves cannot be filled, let alone expressed, by mere words.

I worked closely with Agha for approximately five years and in this short period, along with many other things, I learnt two extremely important skills; the fine art of diplomacy and the magic of relationship building.

Agha was a master troubleshooter. He knew how to figure out solutions to the knottiest of knots, which for other people would be like mines waiting to detonate. For Agha it was a walk in the park – or at least he made it look easy with his serene smile that never wavered.

He possessed a unique moderating style that moved problems towards solutions, never a stalemate. Meetings that began on a sour note ended amicably when Agha was there. It seemed effortless, but if one paid attention, one could perceive a naturally gifted negotiator at work.

I have witnessed him turning enemies into friends with a perfectly timed phone call.

It is almost as if he held a different key for every person and situation – keys that would unlock and release their potential as partners or turn difficult circumstances into opportunities. With his legendary negotiating abilities and a reputation for adhering to the highest ethical standards, Agha is indeed a stalwart of the Pakistani advertising landscape.

In an advertising career that spanned over two decades, Agha was associated with the leading multinational agencies of Pakistan – JWT and Ogilvy. During this period he worked with various multinational and local clients, gaining their respect through his friendly nature and hard work.

Agha was part of Ogilvy from the start of its operations in Pakistan in 2007, and an integral part of the company until the middle of 2014 when he decided to settle in Canada. He possessed tremendous amounts of integrity and in the time.

I spent with him, I never saw him make a decision based on improper considerations. It was therefore no surprise when Ogilvy chose him to head their operations in Pakistan in 2009. He was instrumental in obtaining and sustaining an impressive roster of clients.

Agha was a dedicated team player who understood that human resource was a creative agency’s biggest asset and he made sure every person in the agency felt a sense of ownership towards it.

Today Ogilvy is an award-winning and leading advertising agency of Pakistan, with the strongest client portfolio. The credit for this achievement goes to Agha and his contribution to the business; which is why I find it even sadder that Agha passed away in the year that Ogilvy Pakistan was crowned with Campaign magazine’s Agency of the Year Gold Award for Pakistan. He was extremely happy. He said he never had any doubts about Ogilvy being the best communication solution provider for clients in Pakistan.

Agha has left nothing short of a legacy in the area of client management. He genuinely cared about benefiting the client and what others saw as cold business connections, he perceived as human relationships that thrived on mutual trust and respect. For him, financial considerations were less important than making sure that all stakeholders were comfortable working together, because that is what results in good work.

I have come to the end of this article and although I thought that writing about his death would help me come to terms with it…

I am still finding it very difficult to do so. No words can adequately express my sadness and I am sure all his colleagues and friends feel the same.

Agha touched a lot of hearts.

I pray to Allah to bless his departed soul with eternal peace and give his family and friends the strength and support to bear this irreparable loss.

As someone described beautifully that the measure of a man is “Not – How did he die? But – How did he live? Not – What did he gain? But – What did he give?”

Agha gave us wisdom, laughter and fond memories to last a lifetime.

He was truly an amazing human being. He was a sweet man.

He will always be missed.

Asim Naqvi is CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan.