The second edition of Management Conversations organised by Nutshell was held last Saturday in Karachi. The turn-out was high, which was expected, as the speakers featured a mix of political as well as corporate personalities, including among others, Prof. Dr Ata ur Rehman, Founding Chairman, Higher Education Commission, Azhar Abbas, MD, GEO News, Asif Jooma, CEO, ICI Pakistan, Nadeem Hussain, Founder, Tameer Microfinance Bank, M. A. Mannan, President, TCS Holdings (also known for having turned UBL around), Marvi Memon, Minister of State & Chairperson, Benazir Income Support Programme and Naeem Zamindar, Country Head, Acumen Fund.
The theme of the conference was Compete in the Age of Disruption, and from the start, the word disruption figured prominently. Time and again delegates were informed that Facebook is the world’s largest media company and Uber, which doesn’t own a single vehicle, is the world’s largest transport company. Another statement repeated many times was the fact that this was a time of change and digital is the future.
All conferences carry the risk of speakers using too many clichés and failing to add anything to the pool of knowledge, except stating the obvious. Another danger is that speakers or panellists, rather than add value to the conversation, are intent on selling their own services or expertise. This conference too did seem at times to be stating the obvious, although perhaps this was more a function of the fact that in Pakistan we tend to lack know-how about crucial topics.
Was there any learning on offer? Yes, there was and participants were able to gain knowledge and tips throughout the day. The conversation between M. A. Mannan and Huma Baqai was interesting. Conversing on the topic of “Leadership in Times of High Expectation”, Mannan offered a vignette about how the people who were slated to be fired from UBL were, in fact, the people who turned the company around. He underlined the basic truth that leaders need to be open to ideas from their staff and need to get close to them in order to motivate and drive them to success. The panel on Customer Experience placed the focus on technology as a way to meet customer expectations. Fair enough, although local companies need to be wary of making technology the goal rather than focus on better customer service and customer experience.
It was heartening to hear Shazad Dada, CEO, Standard Chartered Bank Pakistan, remark that he expected at least five people to come up to him and complain about his bank’s service after he left the stage. Irfan Siddiqui, President & CEO, Meezan Bank, rightly stated that companies need to take care of their employees first in order to expect better customer service from them.
Apart from the formal discussions, the last panel on digital disruption focused, as expected, on start-ups as the future, Azhar Abbas spoke about how people crave sensationalism and the dangers posed by social media in diffusing information and stories that are mostly unverified.
His statement that the media should be more responsible, might have been taken with a pinch of salt, given that many people believe Geo is a leader in terms of creating sensationalism. However, he made a valid point when he said that advertisers, in their quest for eyeballs, are also responsible for fuelling sensationalism.
Marvi Memon spoke about leadership and asked the corporate professionals present to walk the talk and exercise their CSR responsibilities by buying handicrafts produced by the 5.3 million women under the Benazir Income Support Programme.
For many, the best session of the day was the one by Waqi Munim, Founder & CEO, Courageous Minds, on how to unleash the human mind. Munim, a corporate professional who rose to the highest levels at P&G, and is now a motivational speaker, spoke about conditioning and how small events can become ingrained and have deep seated implications in our lives. He highlighted the need to remove fear, negativity and complacency as obstacles to success.
The sub theme of the conference was about conversation with great minds. At the end of the day, as Munim said, the mind with which you need to have the most important conversation with is your own. If your own mind is prisoner to doubts and negativity you can’t be a leader, let alone a great one.