Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The People’s Person We All Love to Talk to

Published in Jul-Aug 2022

Zeenat Chaudhary profiles Syed Jawaid Iqbal, President and CEO, Corporate and Marketing Communications (CMC).

As I enter the CMC office, a tall, well-built gentleman wearing a beige button-down (pen in pocket) and khaki trousers is standing outside his office waving at me with a welcoming smile. Jawaid Iqbal’s – or ‘JI’ as he is affectionately called – avuncular and warm demeanour immediately puts me at ease, and after some deliberation over whether to sit by the coffee table or his desk, we decide at the desk (since his phones – and other paraphernalia – are easily accessible from there).

Before I can say anything, JI dives into conversation-mode – showcasing his decades’ worth of experience as a PR professional along with the characteristics of a true people’s person – by asking me questions (it’s always refreshing when an interviewee is genuinely interested in the interviewer) and then kicking off the interview on his own (always helpful).

As I look around the brightly lit room, I cannot help but notice that his office seems to have a history of its own. The central wall is covered with black-framed pictures of moments from his professional life; copies of SouthAsia magazine are stacked on his desk; dark brown, vintage chairs and tables and soft-looking black sofas furnish the room and indicate that the occupant is quite used to hosting a plethora of guests. I’m not wrong because I later learn that JI has had quite the client portfolio as he has worked and acquainted himself with not only corporate giants like PepsiCo, Unilever and P&G, but also with well-known personalities such as Benazir Bhutto.

Keeping in mind his over 50-year career, I ask him about a highlight from his career or personal life. Surprisingly, instead of recounting a glamorous work incident, he chooses an anecdote from when he was 18 years old and “fortunate enough” to meet the then-President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan. “He had written a book called Friends Not Masters: A Political Autobiography. A couple of weeks before I met him, a local newspaper had published a picture of Regal Chowk in Karachi, where books, including his, were being sold on the footpath for much less than the stated cover price. The photo caption read: ‘Sadiq Saddar Ayub Khan ki kitaab Karachi mein chaar aanay sair bik rahi hai.’ So when I met him, I said I had read the book and a certain part was great. He replied ‘Acha acha, wo kitaab jo aap ke sheher mein chaar aanay sair bik rahi hai’. It was so embarrassing – I will never forget that; I felt so bad… as if I was responsible for the entire country’s unethical deeds. We do not respect our people at all.”

Following this story, I began to see that JI harbours a fondness for politics that goes beyond his clients or his work accomplishments. For instance, later when we are talking about how he set up SouthAsia magazine, he brings up knowing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, whom he initially met in order to attain a declaration for the magazine.

“I developed good relations with him and expressed my desire to publish SouthAsia (called Third World at the time), especially following ZAB’s involvement in the Third World Summit. In those days, a declaration was a license to publish and it was very difficult and expensive to obtain (read: rishwat was needed).”

Through his people skills (I would say he is a charmer, but according to a 2003 interview, he does not believe he is one, rather he is “to the point”), he won over ZAB and obtained his declaration for the magazine within 48 hours.

JI began to work on the magazine as a side-stint while at R: Lintas (now MullenLowe Rauf Group), which was his first job, where he stayed for eight years.

I ask him how he joined R: Lintas. He laughs, preparing to delve into another story. “I went to R: Lintas only to find out that the job of copywriter I initially applied for did not exist anymore. However, when I met my mentor, Mr Rauf, he told me that my extracurricular activities and skills would be better utilised in the capacity of an account manager. To which I promptly replied that I was very sorry but I was weak at maths and so would not be able to accept this position’… I thought it had to do with accounting! Mr Rauf laughed and explained what an account manager does and my career took off.”

He resigned from R: Lintas to start CMC after SouthAsia magazine had begun to gain momentum in the early eighties. Here, he leans back and furrows his brow. He takes a moment to talk about how important it was to him to have used the knowledge – and critically not the clients he dealt with – he gained while working at R: Lintas to start his own business. He emphasises the fact that very often employees create their own agencies by “stealing clients” (I gauge this is a major pet peeve).

Returning to the origins of CMC, it started off as an ad agency but quickly pivoted to become a PR company, because in JI’s opinion at the time there were only about two PR companies and they primarily focused on having press releases published and making appointments for clients. JI felt there was a lot more to PR that Pakistan had not been exposed to.

“Press releases were the only known PR activity then and it was mostly government departments that used PR rather than the private sector. As I had an advertising background, I knew where and how advertising efforts can get stuck and how PR can push the message from an indirect source.”

Other than introducing new PR techniques, one of the unique offerings of CMC was to train the personnel of the foreign companies operating in Pakistan in terms of understanding Pakistani culture and dealing with the local media.

JI is clearly an optimist by nature. However, one topic that clearly bothers him is when the subject of Pakistan’s negative points comes up. He is resentful of the fact that despite the great potential Pakistan holds we have so far failed to materialise it, be it in the form of better governance, individual responsibility or work ethics.

JI’s family moved a great deal during his childhood due to his “very imandaar” (trustworthy) father who worked as a government customs employee, and which he says gave him his grounding in integrity, empathy and people skills. From Pishin and Chaman to Mirpurkhas and Sukkur, he attended 27 different schools and grew up around people from all across Pakistan – “the real people” as he says. It helped him understand and get along with different types of people.

Eventually, his family moved to Karachi where he completed his schooling and gained a degree in law. However, due to financial constraints, he could not become a barrister and instead focused on finding a job, as his father was retiring. He regrets not having been able to study abroad but he has ensured to make this possible for his children. He is clearly a family man and personally I think he is also a great ‘work dad’. I come to this conclusion when he talks about how important it is not to be “selfish” when a good employee wants to leave the company and that a good employer should always pave the way for their employees to grow outside the company. “When I see a former CMC employee heading a department in Engro, it’s daulat (wealth) for me! Take Quatrina Hosain. She was ready to move on and wanted to do something more fast-paced. I called up the then-editor of Dawn, Mr Ahmad Ali Khan, and helped her land a job there. She went on to become editor of The News, Bureau Chief of AFP and more recently, she was MD at PTV. I can proudly say that I take products and produce brands! There are 18 to 20 young men and women who are former-CMC heading corporate divisions across Pakistan, and that makes me so proud.”

JI is also Chairman of the Board of Directors for National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA) and in this regard his objectives are to promote Pakistani music and theatre. When JI is not busy trying to help the nation, he enjoys reading biographies and interviews (he highly recommends reading Interview with History by Oriana Fallaci), listening to music and spending time with his friends and family.