Kamran Nishat

CEO, Muller & Phipps

By Wali Zahid 21.03.2011

Your one-sentence description of yourself?

Friendly. Fun-loving.

Your first leadership opportunity? When? What was it?

In 1974, when I became captain of school badminton team, captain of house and debating society.

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

Reasonably ready. I had been blessed with my father’s training.

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

Luck. Some skill.

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


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

Got married, started having kids, leading my family. At work, it was 1988 when Central Cotton Mills, a group of textile mills, where I worked in finance, pushed me to assume a role in operations.

Your ideal, future leadership opportunity?

Would like to impart the knowledge I learnt over these years to future generations of leaders on how to deal with business and life.

Is it likely to happen in your remaining work years?

Yes. Have already started as a visiting faculty at some business schools. Also, sit on boards of a few listed companies.

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

High willed. High skilled.

What drives you? (one-word driver)

Making a difference in people’s lives.

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

Absolutely. Muller & Phipps grew by 30% year-on-year in last five years – annual turnover from PKR 6 billion in 2005 to PKR 20.5 billion in 2010.

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

You pray to Allah. He helps. Good intent. Your job is to water the seeds (maali da kam paani dena).

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

Easy. You need to come out of your shoes and connect with them. Digital native.

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

That I fulfilled my responsibility towards people & community. That I left an ethical distribution company behind, which was neat, clean, honest and supplied life-saving drugs and food items with integrity.

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

My boss sits in London. I want that all the values I mentioned above – integrity et al – are respected. No conflict of interest.

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

I turn to elderly, wise people. Read classical Urdu and English literature. Read books on business and personal development. Peter Drucker is my favourite, who says: Profit cannot be your objective; it’s an applause you get. Do not go to many training courses.

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

It’s mostly on the job: observation. Learning from ordinary people.

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

There are some good programs here. LUMS’s MDP is good. PIM and Leadership Grid are worthy of mention. Overseas programs are expensive.

What would you want different about these programmes?

That these are not just bookish. Need to offer practical tips. There seems to be a disconnect as most training programs have not been designed by practitioners so there is no conviction after you attend. Questions like what impacts me or my business are not addressed. Most firms do it for the sake of it (khana puri).

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

Team spirit. Communication. Technology savvy.

What is your biggest time eater at work?

Principals could become unreasonable. E.g. when you receive a principal requesting that drugs are distributed to quacks or unlicensed drugstores.

Information overload: What is your coping mechanism?

By siphoning off. I take calls selectively. It might be that I lose some necessary calls. But this is a trade-off that we need to make.

Do you have a stop-to-do list?

Yes. A reasonable-level list. I won’t do a delegatee’s work. I also make a mental list of fighting temptations every day.

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

Nothing gets done by control in business (only military can do it!). You need to empower people genuinely. Think of a delegatee’s readiness before you assign tasks to them, but once you do, do not over-manage them. Similarly, have no barriers. Instead of having them over, go to them.

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


Faith? Is faith an inspiration for you?

Yes. My comfort factor. Shelter!

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?

Many times. The Prophet (SAW) made many rightly-timed moves: e.g. use of no sword in Makkah. He made us believe that have faith in fair dealing. He would not impose his thoughts on sahaba and would take decisions after consultation. He would connect with people based on the trust he earned. He empowered every companion that each one of them was responsible for their area of work.

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

Yes. Arrogance: ‘My way! My wisdom!’ They are cursed.

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

It’s a vicious circle. They become ungrateful. Which results in low tolerance for others’ opinions.

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

Hard work. Foundation should not be to make money. Do not trespass others’ rights.

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

Yes. Through genuine effort. And dua (prayers).