|Fawad Akhter Ali (1973-2015)|
It’s 10:00 a.m. The glass door of the office opens, preceded by a beeping sound of a badge tapping the security reader. A shuffling of shoes follows. Suddenly a burly figure towering at six foot plus, knapsack hanging from his left shoulder, moves across my view. He relieves the bulky bag off his shoulder, unpacks the laptop and parks himself on his chair. The day begins.
For three years, we at The Brand Crew watched this ritual and then it stopped unexpectedly. We all hoped that in the coming days, he would suddenly roll into the office and it would all have seemed a bad dream. But he didn’t. He left this world and us, his Crew, with a void which still seems fresh. It was unexpected. He was too young.
Who is he? Fawad Akhter Ali. A gentle giant who had a personality contrary to Don Draper’s but with a zeal for advertising like any of the mad men.
The first time I met him was a little over three years ago. My initial impression was that he was too calm to be in advertising. He had spent a little under two decades in advertising and still held a starry eyed view of it. Surprising, many people younger than him seem jaded by an industry that seems to have waivered from its passion to drive creativity. But Fawad believed in the positive in everything and nothing ever seemed to faze him. A client would go ballistic in a meeting, but he would remain cool as a cucumber. His calmness would pervade through the unpleasantness. I never ever saw him lose his cool.
I sometimes found myself in a situation where I would go in thinking ‘I am going to give Fawad a piece of my mind,’ but a few minutes into the conversation I would be disarmed and feel unusually content. He had a natural therapist-like quality which made him a great listener and confidant.
In a rat race world which often feels like a cesspool, Fawad stood out as a kind-hearted person who genuinely cared about people. I never saw him use or manipulate anyone or any situation to his advantage, no matter how easy it might have been. In fact he went out of his way to make people feel wanted.
On New Year’s Day, he decided the company should give a gift to everyone as a recognition of their hard work. He convinced the partners, took the initiative of researching what to give and arranged everything. Ironically, it’s now a parting sentiment and reminder of his generous spirit. His kindness permeated in his work. He had a soft corner for social marketing. His dedication and exceptional work on Pakistan Sign Language (PSL) aimed at creating tools to help anyone learn basic sign skills is a testament of his passion to do good. It won the Inclusion and Community Award at PASHA Awards 2014. FEFS, the folks behind PSL, shared a heartfelt post with a video of him.
To do justice to his personality, I asked his close friends and colleagues to share a few of their words.
Fawad was Superman. He could do strategy, creative, client servicing, pick a fight with the client or creative, depending on his mood, without breaking a sweat. He was the man behind the HBL Mr Bean idea. Although I was the creative director, Fawad and Fawad Pervaiz were the idea creators. There was never a dull day when you had Fawad in your team. He was everyone’s best friend and confidant. An honest, intelligent and empathetic person, whom we all miss dearly. After just five minutes of thinking about the impact he had on our lives, I will change my first sentence to Fawad IS Superman.
“You look like my kid,” he said. “K. Cool, then I guess you are my work dad. Self-adopted. You have no choice,” I replied. And Fawad just chuckled and rolled back into his seat. I think that was the day he went from being just-my-fav-work-person to family. I remember walking out of a meeting, hyperventilating and as usual Fawad just looked at me and laughed. We got into his Cressida; he put on Taylor Swift and said, “Asma, time is going to pass anyway; you can either worry about things or you can do your best, because time isn’t going to stop, no matter how much you stress. So just enjoy this song for now; and when you go back give me some of the PSDs.”
“Dorothy, come back to Oz already!” That was Fawad’s patent line for me. Every email started with ‘Dorothy’ and ended with me telling him “I am never coming back.” But he would trick me into coming to Karachi and I would let him because I missed him too. On every trip I would have the same conversation with him. “You’re going back already? Islamabad is so boring, why don’t you stay for another week?” To which I would respond, “You said one week, I have stayed for six!” and his laugh was like a roar through the office, engulfing everyone. When I look back I don’t know when he went from being my nemesis from another agency to family who was just there for you without asking. Who would tell the entire office, “She may be your boss but she’s my friend” and it’s true I was his friend first.
Work hard in silence and let success make the noise – Fawad’s words to live by. To me he was a teacher, a brother and a confidant. He always said, “I want to create or be part of ground breaking advertising and marketing campaigns” – PSL being one of them. “I have decades of marketing, advertising and brand experience and I am still ready to put on more miles in a heartbeat. I love the process of creating from scratch and watching brands, campaigns and businesses come to life.”
From childhood Fawad had a passion for being creative. In our early years, we wanted to be rock stars, astronauts or scientists, but it is very rare for someone to come along and say that he wants to create and that was Fawad. He always had an eye for uniqueness and creativity. At tuitions he would be scribbling away in his notebook, sketching fancy cars and robots. He loved Ferraris and when Transformers was launched he was, I think after Michael Bay, the happiest man alive. He was a buffer and a mediator to those around him; the calmest man to work with. His motto was to just go with the flow and he lived by it. His Monday motivations on Facebook would be a treat to look at and we would all be waiting to see how he would top last week’s inspiration. He was a true gentleman and my dear friend. I was lucky to not only have known him but been a part of his life and vice versa. I pray that he is sharing his Monday motivations and inspiration with God now.
I am sure I have missed many well-wishers who would have things to add about Fawad. Please continue to cherish him. He may not be with us physically but Fawad’s spirit lives on in the kindness he has left behind. Rest in peace friend.
Amin Rammal is Director, The Brand Crew, Firebolt63 and APR.