Reshma Abdullah: cracking the code at PIA

Reshma Abdullah with her prized selfie

In January 2006, I attended a three-day workshop Essential Skills for Managers with Wali Zahid. It was a life-changing event. As part of the workshop, I also got my Team Management Profile from Australia. It was a rare insight into myself and since then I have been dodging psychometric tests!

This was the time I was working with NCR Corporation’s premium flagship project, Pakistan International Airlines Contact Center, managing the operations.

An acute sense of distrust towards public sector

It was my first experience of working with a public-sector organization and I had zero clue about the culture, norms and getting things done in a purely government organization. I came from a corporate environment and had an acute sense of distrust towards public-sector organizations. My own organization was progressive, fast and demanded highest level of integrity.

I was very aggressive; had very low tolerance for bureaucracy and wanted everything now! On top of all, being a female wasn’t of much help!

The secret to knowing secrets

During the course of three days I learnt so much. Starting from the icebreaker Wali so cleverly designed that by its end I was talking to all course mates and probably knew all their secrets too. Till writing of this piece I am reaping the rewards.

I can now flawlessly start a conversation with seasoned bureaucrats, CEOs, top guys, everyone in my own team, customers and potential employees. Sometimes, I don’t even say a word but get what I want! Most of the times I have full picture whereas people in the target organization have only bits and pieces.

Art of pacing

They just don’t know I have been trained by Wali in the ‘art of pacing’ around people and situations. I am proud of connecting all those dots which are invisible to others.

I am now apt at reading what others are not saying but silently conveying. It amazes me how I get things done which seem uphill and impossible but the pacing has become my reflex and has served me well. It has made me very confident and in someone’s words, a Smooth Operator.  I still use ‘reverse-thinking’ technique which I learnt in this course and, yes, it always produced results.

On numerous occasions I have shared my learning with different teams though not as good as Wali but it has always brought out the best in trainees. The most fun comes from the reverse-thinking projects.

Wali walks the talk

Wali has been one of the few who just don’t only design and deliver training courses, he practically shows people how to, and himself uses the approaches and techniques. After the course, I have turned many times to Wali and he has been always very supportive and encouraging, very generously sharing materials, advice, suggestions.

What I learnt in the course, Wali was actually using that on all the trainees because he read me correctly, paced himself, connected with me and is still teaching me. He helped me bring out my real self and gave me the solid foundation of the confidence I had needed then and will always need.

The story doesn’t stop 

The story doesn’t stop here. Later, I sent two of my lieutenants to Wali’s famous Train The Trainer (TTT). One of them had very good product knowledge, was a very good employee in all the sense but was not good at people management. Due to his product expertise I desperately needed to use him as a trainer and we were rescued by Wali. My colleague came back a changed man after Wali’s Train The Trainer. He became not only an ace trainer but produced several ace trainers.

Wali, a big thank-you for transforming me and my teams. Remember, I still want to attend your TTT just so I can show off!

Reshma Abdullah currently manages Pakistan International Airlines Global Contact Center, a fully outsourced facility to Teradata Pakistan (formerly a division of NCR Corporation). Her core area has been Customer Services Operations. Previously, she worked with several local and multinational organizations.


  1. Good read I must say but seeing the current situation of the center you manage, I highly doubt the level of skills of people running the show there.

    I’m not sure if this comment is ever going to go live but just in case it gets lucky can you please shed some light on your achievements as a Manager of your department? I mean from 2012 onwards? And let’s just have a healthy debate

    1. Mr Khan

      Thank you for the feedback. It would help if you give specific’s of “current situation at center”.

      I wouldn’t call achievements but certain steps were taken to ensure that recruitment standards are maintained and not all who use certain pressure groups are entertained. Proper QA systems in place, access levels and KPIs upgraded, defined and documented. A bigger QA and training team which is constantly being hijacked (read hired) at different organizations. A proper assessment process for any internal movement.
      Team members though are young in age and experience but have energy to excel with continuous grooming which cannot be achieved quickly and its a long process to bring the best out of young people that is number one reason that other airlines continue to hire our employees including new Pakistani airlines, Emirates and Etihad.
      Attrition remains number one challenge due to external factors (cannot share due to professional reasons)
      We continue to face obstacles and at times harassment despite the fact that end user and even international station’s positive feedback but that’s part of working with giant government institution.

      It should be very clear that I am not PIAC employee nor my team is hence we will not be able to comment on any PIAC related concern you might have or wish to discuss.


  2. Thanks for your reply

    Recruitment Standards

    Being very closed to PIACC since the last decade, I’m of the opinion that so called “recruitment standards” have surely gone down. For instance, I happened to call PIA last week and for some reason I started my conversation with one of your representatives in English. English off course is not our 1st language but that being said, for a reputed multi national company, well-known for managing outsourced functions of big corporations – the level of customer services skills/language fluency (and by that I mean ability to at least comprehend what a customer has to say)/Industry knowledge etc were all found lacking. Lacking to an extent that I had to hang up on her and redial the helpline. My experience was not all that different the second time around but luckily for me, I read between the lines and figured out myself that my flight is delayed and they guy I’m talking to right now doesn’t have a clue about it. Now, I wonder why would Etihad or Emirates be interested in such a talent… I can understand that being trained at your center for a couple of years, companies mentioned above hand picks the right talent for their needs – that totally makes sense but then there is a thing called “employee retention plan” or something similar?

    Pressure Groups

    I have never seen a guy being re-hired after being terminated, then transferred to another department (which is considered somewhat of a promotion in your setup), who has all the liberty to do whatever he thinks like doing and on top of that, enjoys brilliant relationship with a “particular” supervisor – All because he has some connection with the current ruling party. I thank God that not many people who can influence politically are interested in joining your place or else it would have been turmoil.

    QA & Transfers

    Before I go on, I would like to tell you and the readers that I am writing this never ending story all in good faith and wants it to be taken positively. Just like I said earlier, this could be that platform where we may have a positive debate for the betterment (of at least something).

    The QA you’re talking about was one of your real good moves BUT only when it got initiated. Later on, 80 percent of the movement (from other departments to QA) was either based on favoritism or “I don’t know what” (as per my understandings). Again, I don’t want to target any individual here (and that’s why I am not taking names), the current in charge of QA is a prime example of being promoted without a proper/public assessment tests. I hate to go on but on but this is very important, QA stands for “quality assurance” – a department that is responsible for checking the quality of product and make the overall services better. Now, I can only wonder, a guy who can’t speak/write 2 lines of Basic English is sitting comfortably on a chair of “QA Head”

    I have just realized that this has gone very long…there are some more points that I want to clarify but I’ll end it here for now.

    Hope to see a positive reply.


  3. Mr Khan

    Thank you for taking out time to share candid feedback with intention to improve. Really appreciate it.

    I will not get into debate or argument or constructing a defense but if you have been or are still close to PIACC in any capacity then your visibility of challenges, problems and positive side is incomplete and one sided.

    It is human nature to feel negative about candid feedback however incomplete information is also dangerous

    Once again thank you and I would like to clarify that my story was about how Wali trained us and how it brought positive change in our professional lives.

    Regretfully I will not further indulge in the inside story of my organization on public forum which is unique in all senses and is a nexus of how two big organizations can work together for good or bad.


  4. Hi,

    I understand that but I hope there is a platform where you can show me that other side of the picture.

    Thanks again for your response.


  5. Mr Khan

    Unfortunately only authorized officials from both organizations can question/check/monitor using official platforms.


  6. Wow Mr Jibran let me first congratulate you for cracking up the inside story of PIACC secondly I think there is no need of Quality Assurance Department as the Guys who resigned / Or Fired from PIACC can take an excellent on call test of their fellow colleges and can paste it on any social website or on any public forums like these …it is my humble request to kindly share some of your great contributions towards the betterment of organization which you proudly said “Being Very closed Too”.

    I personally think (With No Offense) by any means it was not a healthy debate where one is talking about the training methods of Mr. Wali Zahid and second one revealed an UN told story of PIACC  my friend there are many methods of getting rid of the frustration (like joining the AZADI MARCH ) instead of saying negative things about the organization where you earned your bread ..Cheers..

  7. All right. First of all, with all due respect It was not easy comprehend what you tried to convey through the first para of your comment….but no big deal, I now know what you meant to say after going through your comment a couple of times.

    I tried to highlight some of the facts, which I couldn’t understand working there in a very polite manner. When Reshma explained that certain things can’t be made public, I fully understood that. I think you need to go through the whole thread again and let me know if you find anything hard to understand.

    I never said anything bad about the place and I would never. I just have certain conflicts with the people in-charge there & I guess they don’t mind it, so why do you bother?


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