Published in Nov-Dec 2021
With over 60 years of HR experience between them, Talat Sheerazi, Group Human Resources Director, Bukhatir Group, and Fariha Salahuddin, Chief Human Resources Officer, ICI Pakistan Limited, launched a virtual talk show in January 2021 called The Other Side (TOS). Broadcast on Instagram and Facebook, TOS aims to become a thought leadership platform for Pakistanis by showcasing local success stories and guiding people in their careers. While Salahuddin started her career in the financial sector with ABN Amro (where the two met) and has worked for Citibank, GSK and Unilever, among other companies, Sheerazi has worked with companies such as British Airways, BP and GSK.
ZEENAT CHAUDHARY: How did you start The Other Side (TOS)?
FARIHA SALAHUDDIN: I happened to be in Hilal Park in Karachi chatting to Talat on the phone about the fact that despite having been in HR for so long, nothing in the field excited us anymore. The fact that although Pakistan’s average age is 22, our young people do not have enough thought leadership platforms to glean inspiration or value from... our local content is mostly made up of what? Political and morning shows and TikTok videos. As a result of this conversation, we decided to create a thought leadership platform aimed at giving young people, as well as a wider audience, meaningful and free advice.
TALAT SHEERAZI: We wanted to do something that went beyond our run-of-the-mill jobs. We wanted to create a platform where we could give people advice. One that could be run with me in the UAE and Fariha in Pakistan. We decided to select accomplished Pakistanis from different fields and showcase them. This helps to build a positive image of Pakistan as well as helping people in their career development.
ZC: Why call it TOS?
TS: I don’t think we spent more than two minutes on the name! Basically, there are always two sides to an argument and the idea was to capture both sides of the coin.
FS: Talat, who is great with creative writing, came up with the name. If you had asked me, it would have been something like ‘Ask HR!’ Thank goodness we didn’t go with that.
ZC: How do you determine the content?
TS: Our audiences actively engage with us and we let them guide us. We also look at what is trending in the HR world in terms of corporate leadership and culture and ask ourselves what it is that people want to hear more about.
FS: It is also intuitive. Talat and I are still in the industry, so we know what topics need to be raised. Both of us read a lot and are curious by nature.
ZC: What are the criteria for selecting guests?
FS: They all are self-made, passionate and humble.
TS: Anyone who has a great story to tell. We love stories and movies under the ‘against all odds’ umbrella. People doing something unconventional; for example, a man doing something most men would not.
ZC: Which guest(s) have been the most popular with your audience?
TS: People like stories where people win against the odds, but we do not base our selection upon the number of people who watch a video. We capture stories about people no one may have necessarily heard of before.
FS: Before an episode is released, Talat and I have an informal chat (which we upload) and these conversations receive a lot of traction. The two live Q&A sessions we did on resume building and workplace bullying did really well also.
ZC: What would happen should you run out of success stories?
TS: TOS is not only about personality interviews. If we do not find an interesting story, we do a Q&A or a live session about various issues.
FS: We are not married to a process. Recently we did a session on health and fitness – and there is a lot more we can do in other directions.
ZC: TOS has over 7,000 followers on Instagram. How did you generate this awareness?
TS: It was all organic growth; otherwise we would have had more. But we are happy. We want our audiences to stick with us because they are genuinely interested in our programme and in intelligent conversations. It is not about numbers or being the most popular show. We want to build a strong base for TOS, which could later convert into a source of work for us as executive coaches perhaps, or as an HR consultancy for Pakistani organisations.
FS: Our ambition was simple: to build thought leadership and put local stories out there. For us, it is a way to give back to the community.
ZC: How has TOS evolved since you launched it?
FS: We like what we do – there is no fixed formula – and so do our followers. We do not spend a lot of time thinking about where we are going to take TOS. My gut says it will continue to evolve, but in what shape and form I can’t say.
TS: Because we have busy, senior-level jobs, we are not obsessed with every detail. It is simply something we like to do and want to offer to people. Sometimes, we receive queries regarding company consultations, so this could be a stepping stone to becoming life/career coaches later. We are playing it by ear.
ZC: Does TOS appeal to a global audience?
TS: Our content is global. People working in Dubai or the Gulf region face the same issues as people in Pakistan do. Women the world over experience the same issues when it comes to balancing their home and work lives, dealing with discrimination and so on.
FS: Our first priority is to be a platform for thought leadership in Pakistan.
ZC: Given your careers in HR, what is the one piece of advice you would like to give?
TS: We have worked hard to get to where we are and it has taken many years. We have been through great and not-so-great moments, companies and bosses. Young people want everything immediately. So firstly, there are no shortcuts in life; you have to work hard. Secondly, have a positive, upbeat attitude; the one behaviour everyone looks for when interviewing people is a good attitude. You can teach aptitude, you can teach someone about HR, but you can’t teach attitude.
FS: When we were selecting the first clip for TOS, we argued for 30 minutes on WhatsApp about where to trim the clip, but eventually we agreed. What this says is that there are common values that bind us together; people have differences, but you try and find a common ground. This is a brilliant learning; it builds character. If there is a disagreement, you do not necessarily have to be negative about it. Deal with the issue upfront or raise the concern, but with the intent that iss ka kuch karna hai rather than grudgingly saying “okay whatever.” Perseverance is important.
ZC: Speaking about perseverance, one often hears that people have vision but lack execution. Is this true?
TS: If you have 10 ideas and you are really lucky, you will be able to execute one or two. You have to be ready to lose out on an idea or for an idea not to work. When I was at BP, they had a process called ‘After Action Review’. After wrapping up a project, we would discuss what worked, what didn’t and how we could do better next time. The learnings would then be shared with the organisation. We need to talk about what goes wrong – was it skills, resources, a wrong idea at the wrong time? We don’t do enough of this as organisations both in Pakistan and abroad. Those that do it are more innovative and more likely to excel.
FS: The people on our show excel in their fields, yet they have had their share of failures. Being prepared to fail and having the courage to do so is important.
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