Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A Passion for Shaping Minds

Sophia Khan profiles Mustafa Hussain, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications and PR, Foodpanda.
Published 06 Mar, 2024 11:09am

In the dynamic worlds of public relations and business education, Mustafa Hussain exists as an embodiment of resilience and tenacity. His journey, from a management trainee at Asiatic Public Relations to Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and PR at Foodpanda, has been nothing short of inspirational. Hussain’s story is one of humble beginnings, determination and the pursuit of excellence.

Hussain’s early years were marked by financial constraints, but his family’s continued emphasis on acquiring a quality education spurred his determination to work hard and reap the rewards of his labour. His parents and older sister’s support laid the foundation for his successful future and embedded in him the value of education as a means of progression in society.

Upon graduating with an MBA from IBA, Hussain was initially drawn to marketing but soon found himself at the forefront of the evolving field of PR at Asiatic. While witnessing the transformation of PR with the advent of social media, he welcomed the prospect of fresh approaches that went beyond the conventions of press releases, print media, television, and sponsored events. His exposure to international PR teams through Asiatic broadened his perspective and allowed him to incorporate innovative strategies at a local level, helping dispel preconceived notions about the irrelevance and feasibility of PR in Pakistan. “In those days, Pakistan was very new to this field; no one had any idea what we did. I remember in 2002, when we signed on Unilever at Asiatic, even the brand managers had little to no idea what PR entailed, although they were keen on incorporating it since the directive came from their global office.”

Most of Hussain’s success in PR can be attributed to his analytical prowess, as he is adept at understanding the thought processes of modern audiences. He recognises the pivotal role of PR in building trust through credibility, positive perception, and a strong brand message. In his opinion, the secret to a successful career in advertising is to study one’s customers, specifically the generation that will acquire buying power next. He emphasises the need to connect with the younger generation, as one-size-fits-all approaches do not work on Gen Z; the communication needs to reflect messages that are representative of their uniqueness, capture a sense of adventure, and hold meaning. “If we understand them well, we will be able to offer them the right products and services.”

During his two decades at Asiatic, Hussain was able to secure contracts with prestigious clients like Meta, Spotify, Visa, and Emirates. However, with time, he noticed that he had become so accustomed to the mechanics of his everyday duties that he felt he was on autopilot and found himself envisioning a more challenging position. “There came a time when I realised I had achieved everything I could at an agency and had nothing more to add.” This led him to transition to the client side by joining Foodpanda in early 2022. He says the decision was a bittersweet one, as he was leaving behind a company he was quite attached to and that respected his desire to navigate new challenges.

Beyond the realm of PR and corporate achievements, Hussain discovered a passion for imparting knowledge. His foray into academia was unplanned. It was a fateful phone call from an administrator at SZABIST, requesting that he fill in for a teacher forced to take an urgent leave of absence hours before the first class of the semester, that thrust him into this profession. “I received the call at three in the afternoon and by half past six, I was addressing a classroom full of students.” He fondly remembers the first class he ever taught, which was an introductory course in marketing for mature students as part of SZABIST’s Executive MBA Programme. He is currently an assistant professor at SZABIST, where he has been teaching for nearly 18 years, imparting industry-specific knowledge to his students that he has accumulated throughout his journey as a PR professional. His teaching philosophy revolves around collaboration, problem-centred learning, and a commitment to making information relatable through everyday examples tailored to Pakistani situations.

His signature course, media management, was designed to bridge the gap between academia and industry. In this particular course, he does away with traditional textbooks and relies on presentations and lectures drawing from his real-world experiences. “I want my classes to be so interesting that students look forward to attending them.” His classes do not solely focus on theoretical concepts; they involve hands-on projects, pushing students to conduct research, propose launch strategies, and execute campaigns to adequately prepare them for the rigours of a job in the advertising industry. When assessing a student’s grades, he rarely focuses on exam performance; instead, he delves into the reasoning behind a student’s approach to assignments and projects. This pedagogical approach reflects his belief in nurturing a skill set that extends beyond the classroom and will ultimately be applicable in practical situations.

He also serves as a capstone project advisor for MBA students. Companies, including Foodpanda, supply these students with projects that provide them with the opportunity to propose innovative solutions to real issues that have the potential to be implemented. Many of the projects conceptualised by his students have been executed by the commissioning corporations; for example, K-Electric’s safety awareness campaign that preceded the monsoon season in 2020.

Hussain strongly believes in inserting students in situations that force them to navigate difficulties so they develop the skills necessary for careers in advertising and marketing. His forward-thinking attitude keeps his course content fresh and engaging, as he integrates recent examples to keep students abreast of the rapidly changing world. When asked about the future of education in Pakistan, he is confident that it is headed in the right direction but laments the lack of proper career counselling, identifying it as an area that requires dire improvement as Pakistani students are often misguided.

Reflecting on the changing attitudes of students, he notes that modern students are more adventurous and prefer teaching material that stimulates them.

He acknowledges that in the past, he employed a more traditional mode of teaching but adapted his style to better accommodate a healthy learning experience by letting go of his tendency to be strict towards students – a change he attributes to his daughters. 

Hussain finds immense fulfilment in giving back to society through teaching and reveals that his students, with their infectious, positive energy, act as a source of rejuvenation during difficult periods.

In the future, he aspires to transition into a full-time professor and travel to a city he has been longing to visit – New York. In his free time, he enjoys watching old Indian films with his wife and daughters. His greatest achievement has been caring for his parents during their illnesses, and he is certain they are proud of the man he has become while watching over him. He also looks forward to supporting his daughters, both of whom are budding artists, in their endeavours and continuing his journey of self-discovery and perpetual learning.

Mustafa Hussain’s multi-layered journey between these two worlds weaves a tapestry with threads of dedication, adaptability, a profound commitment to education, and a passion for shaping minds.