Irfan Siddiqui

President, Meezan Bank

By Wali Zahid 31.03.2011

Your one-sentence description of yourself?

Focused. Hard working. Conscientious.

Your first leadership opportunity? When? What was it?

In 1981, when I was appointed Head of Finance at Adia, Abu Dhabi, UAE, at age 40. I was managing 12 chartered accountants, who were quite senior to me in age.

Were you ready for it? (H, M, L, no)

No. Was thrust into this position. The repercussion was: it was short-lived. Only two months.

What was your readiness factor? (luck, will, skill, network)

Top-brand CA qualification. Let’s call it the CV factor.

How did you perform then? On a 1-5 scale?

5.

Your all-time most significant leadership opportunity so far (if different from this)?

Meezan Bank. It started from just an idea. Now, out of 35 banks in Pakistan, it’s 10th largest.

Your ideal, future leadership opportunity?

I have never planned for future. I just work hard with honesty. And leave the rest to God. Things happen then.

Is it likely to happen in your remaining work years?

Doesn’t apply.

Today in your current role: Where are you on Wali’s Will-Skill Matrix (high, medium, low)?

High willed. Medium skilled.

What drives you? (one-word driver)

Tall-order vision statement like: making Islamic banking first choice. Value innovation.

Candidly speaking, have you been happy about growth numbers in the past decade?

Very happy. Largest growth of any bank in Pakistan.

In an uncertain and ambiguous world, how can you make sure that your plans are achievable?

You plan. You have route preparedness. Then leave it to Allah. Keep changing processes over time.

How easy or difficult is it to manage the Gen Y/Millennials (people born after 1982)?

Easy. If you provide them a vision. Impossible for those who don’t keep the ‘end in mind’.

Your legacy? How do you want to be remembered? In your industry? In your organisation?

Never applied my mind to this thought.

What would you want to see in your leader (i.e. your leader to do)?

Will like them to be big-picture people. Guide on strategy. Measure by results.

Your learning: where do you turn to for learning – both daily routine, and time-off for courses?

This is an area of my shortcoming: I am a bad reader. Don’t take time off for learning. But I am a keen observer and have an eye on competition.

Are there sufficient opportunities for C-level learning here in Pakistan or in the region?

Lots of seminars and conferences

Learning and development of your team – what opportunities are available here? Your rating of these programmes? (1-5 scale)

Plenty of opportunities available in-country. These are good.

What would you want different about these programmes?

Need to be closer to practical issues. Have more takeaways for workplace.

What are three core competencies or skill areas you would want your team to develop for this year? Next three years?

Job knowledge (Shariah-compliance). Marketing skills (better than average bankers). Ability to instill command/trust among customers to the extent that they their word at face value.

What is your biggest time eater at work?

Half the time is spent in super-clerical activities. You need to do this in order to understand the organization. As they say: ‘God’ is in the details!

Information overload: What is your coping mechanism?

I don’t use a blackberry, and very conservative with emails. The result is: I am saved from a lot of unnecessary cc’s. Only important info comes my way.

Do you have a stop-to-do list?

No. Mine is a glorified clerical job. You need to reconcile with this. Life will become easy.

How can we give up control (and do more empowering)?

It’s like creating a balance. I micromanaged the auto consumer leasing for two years and managed smallest tasks. Slowly, I started weekly hindsight approvals and let go of the area. Still today, I personally interview all branch managers (BMs).

What kind of personal or social networks do you use to enhance your presence and the chances for success?

I am very poor in networking. I go to no clubs or social or business luncheons.

Faith? Is faith an inspiration for you?

Yes. 100%.

Ever thought that how could the Prophet (SAW)’s personality be a guiding factor for you in doing business, making decisions, empowering others? If yes, in what ways?

Being a Shariah-compliant bank, our work depends on this. We look at his lifestyle and take inspiration from him.

CEO derailment? Have you seen colleagues derailing/going down? What was the cause?

Yes. Modesty starts disappearing. Become too focused on personal interest/personal objectives. Lose sight of balance.

Any other cause of CEO derailment in our part of the world?

(skipped)

Your messages to new generation of leaders: What leads to success?

Working harder and smarter. Grass is greener on my side, Alhamdulillah.

Your messages to new generation of leaders: Can you create your own luck? How?

Yes. Through hard work. Allah will accelerate help and become catalyst.