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Jan 22 - 28, 2001

In June 2000, Sabir Sami took over as Chief Executive and Managing Director of Reckitt Benckiser Pakistan Limited (previously known as Reckitt & Colman of Pakistan Limited). Sabir graduated from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in 1988 with major in Marketing. After a brief stint in Pepsi International in Lahore, Sabir joined Procter & Gamble. He worked for one year in Sydney, Australia, after which he was appointed a member of the start up team at Procter & Gamble Pakistan.

In 1995 he joined the CocaCola Company as Regional Marketing Manager for South West Asia, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. He was later transferred to Vietnam to support CocaCola entry into the Country. Six months later he took over as Marketing Manager, South Asia region comprising of above mentioned countries and Singapore, Malaysia, Indo-China and Brunei. Sabir was then seconded in 1998 to Regional CocaCola Bottler as Operations Marketing Director for the same 10 countries. In 1999 he was made General Manager, CocaCola Beverages Pakistan Limited, heading the bottling operations for Southern part of Pakistan.

PAGE: How did the merger affect operations in Pakistan?

Sabir: It was a global phenomena but the merger did not have such an impact here because Benckiser did not have any operations in Pakistan. However, it will have positive and long lasting impact on Reckitt's Pakistan operations. It is mainly due to the difference in corporate culture prevailing at Benckiser and the mind set of people working for Reckitt at the time of merger. The result is, those who are accepting the challenge and achieving the new and desired level of excellence will survive and those who cannot adjust to new job specification will find it difficult. At least five senior managers have already been replaced. The commitment to deliver the desired results have made age and experience a redundant criteria. For example, at present a 29-year young man is working as Regional Sales Manager overseeing the operations of roughly 120 distributors.

PAGE: What is the visible change in the Company policies?

Sabir: The crux of redefined strategy is: enhancing sales, improvising marketing strategy, optimizing costs, creating work culture and getting ready to launch new products after consolidating our position in the market. The change was overdue but the merger has expedited the process of change. The products being produced and marketed by the Company are strong brands. In the absence of any clear marketing strategy these brands have lost the charisma. In order to cut down paperwork and to make reporting effective and timely the management pyramid has been reduced — from entry to the CEO level. I am involved personally in each endeavour and now the plans are more realistic. In case of any deviation of actual results from plan we do not try to rationalize but instead explore the reasons and learn not to commit the same mistakes in the future.

PAGE: What are the main products of the Company?

Sabir: In terms of share in total sales of the Company, the products can be divided into three categories: Household (50%), Pharma OTC (40%) and Ethical (10%). These products were being manufactured at four facilities owned and operated by the Company. However, to achieve better quality standards and higher cost competitiveness we also opted for co-packers. As a result of this, one of the facilities we acquired in the past had to cease operations. We offered an attractive package to the employees and most of them accepted our terms. Unfortunately, a small group dragged us in a legal battle. Since this issue arose before I joined the Company, I have tried to lend a sympathetic ear to this group and offered them my willingness to reach a mutually acceptable solution. The objective was to help these people in getting on with their carrers and also reduce or minimize the cost they are incurring on legal services. Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach a settlement thus far.

PAGE: What is your message to policy planners?

Sabir: They should not make their decisions in isolation. The MNCs and TNCs operate globally and the investment in any country is driven by the return on investment (ROI). It may be true that country risk and project risks are also considered and the ROI is adjusted accordingly. The prime objectives of mergers and acquisitions is to achieve synergy, cost effectiveness and economies of scale by reducing the number of manufacturing sites. While Pakistan may not witness any substantial investment by MNCs and TNCs in pharma industry, the concept of co-packers will be a more practical approach to retain the market share. Therefore, the local investors will play a bigger role. However, their investment in the sector will also be driven by the ROI.