Articulate, insightful, intelligent and – despite the criticism often directed his way – extremely optimistic, was my initial perception of Junaid Jamshed when I first met him a few months ago at the launch of Jazaa Foods, his FMCG enterprise.
His journey, first as a pop music icon with Vital Signs in the late 1980s, the change of heart and image that brought him back into the spotlight as a religious scholar in the late 1990s, to the dynamic businessman he is today, has been intriguing to say the least. Given the increasingly diverse product launches that he brought to the market recently, this was perhaps the ideal time to find out exactly what is it that drives Jamshed.
He comes from a family of decorated armed forces officers, a fact he shares with great pride; it was therefore expected of him and his two brothers to follow suit. Weak eyesight kept him out of the Air Force, so he joined the Pakistan Army, but once he began dabbling in music, the rigours of army training became too time-consuming to handle. He quit and enrolled at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore in 1985, graduated as a civil engineer and started his first job. That career switch, however, also turned out to be temporary. When Dil Dil Pakistan was released on August 14, 1987 and became a chartbuster, it propelled Jamshed and his band members Rohail Hyatt and Shahzad Hasan to instant stardom. Pursuing a full-time engineering job was no longer feasible and Jamshed plunged headlong into the world of pop music, a first for anyone in his family. With a predominantly female fan following, he made, what many considered, another surprising decision; he got married at 26.
On learning all this, I couldn’t refrain myself from asking Jamshed – who sitting across the sofa in a tastefully decorated drawing room at his house in Karachi – what makes him take such massive risks? He always takes a moment to gather his thoughts before responding, “I grew up wanting to be an F-16 pilot; studied premedical in school; enrolled at an engineering university; pursued my passion for music and later gave it all up in my quest to be a better Muslim. I also had a family to support and that prompted me to look for ways I could earn a halal living and that led to my first foray in business.”
Before I could ask why he chose to start a clothing business, he says that his extensive travels during his Vital Signs days exposed him to the latest fashion trends from across the world. Since looking good constituted a major part of his image and there was a dearth of local designers, he often ended up designing his own clothes. Relying on his sense of fashion and “instinctively knowing what looks good”, is what encouraged him to try his hand at fashion design.
A survey of the local markets made it evident that there were no quality options available for people who wanted to wear a smartly-cut and tailored shalwar kameez. As he was undergoing a personal metamorphosis during this time and was in the process of changing his wardrobe, he felt the absence of a shalwar kameez brand even more acutely.
As soon as an opportunity came his way a few years later, Jamshed instantly decided to act upon it without delay (his signature personality trait). Along with his partner Sohail Hamid Khan, J. was launched in 2000, with the idea of creating custom-made khaddi shalwar kameez suits for men. The design philosophy for J. was simple; his own sense of style reflected in every article they designed. The risk began paying dividends and within a few years, J. expanded its portfolio to include a women’s line as well, supplemented by the launch of Almirah, a high-end ensemble brand. Initially, his involvement with both brands was extensive, with each design and print personally reviewed and approved. However, given the rapid expansion that J. experienced, professional textile designers were hired and Jamshed’s role became more strategic in nature. He is quick to point out that the one thing every J. store will always have are clothes in earth tones and whites, as these are the shades that appeal to him the most.
Expecting to be sermonised, I hesitantly asked whether the thought had crossed his mind that going into women’s clothing or any other business for that matter, would raise eyebrows about it clashing with his ‘religious’ persona. He smiles and reminds me that “people often forget that our Holy Prophet (PBUH) was a very skilled and accomplished tradesman. Islam does not prohibit engaging in business, as long as it does not violate its tenets.”
In fact, he attributes his unprecedented success to implementing Islamic principles within each one of his businesses; a case in point was the Returns and Exchange Policy and loyalty card schemes that J. initiated. In his opinion, these policy decisions gave instant credibility to the brand, which in turn led to customer loyalty and retention.
What I find interesting is that despite never having studied marketing, Jamshed seems to have a flair for transforming a ‘Big Idea’ into a lucrative product that resonate with the target audience. He invested in MeatOne, the first time a halal, packaged premium-quality meat brand was launched in Pakistan, believing that if people are given the option of buying hygienic meat, they will do so. This year alone, with an unrelenting focus on quality and innovation, he entered the food business by launching Jazaa rice, the cosmetic industry with halal makeup, and the personal grooming category with J. Fragrances.
Reminiscing, he says it was his mentor, Shoaib Mansoor, who instilled in him the importance of delivering value to people and keeping them engaged; not only in terms of his fans during his music days, but the team responsible who put his shows together as well. He seems to have carried those values with him. Perhaps that is why he commands unquestioned loyalty and respect from the people he works with; in his absence (as I discovered when dealing with his team) he is reverentially and fondly referred to as ‘Sir JJ’.
As our hour-long conversation draws to a close, I brought up the media backlash he and his family had to face when a few of his controversial statements came to light. Fully prepared for an evasion, the directness of the response left me surprised.
“I have, like most other people, made mistakes. I have also, unlike most, sincerely apologised and repented. My family has remained my strongest support, personally and professionally.”
Irrespective of his personal or religious views, the popularity of J. which has transcended geographical boundaries, and the unexpected success (in the local and international market) that Jazaa rice, J. Fragrances and MeatOne have achieved is a testament to the fact that Jamshed’s success deserves recognition. Given his indefatigable optimism, market foresight and risk-taking nature, no one should be surprised, if in the coming months, we come across yet another innovation from ‘JJ’.
Ayesha Shaikh is Business Development Executive, The Dawn Media Group. firstname.lastname@example.org