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Khalid Alvi- Leading From The Front

Khalid Alvi- Leading From The Front

Khalid Alvi is without a doubt the most renowned name in the Marketing industry of Pakistan. A living legend, who so many people aspire to. He started his professional career in 1991 after graduating from IBA with an MBA degree in marketing and finance and in the course of 30 years he has played a pivotal role in the success of many FMCG giants such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Unilever. Currently, he is the CEO of Etika Holdings, a beverage manufacturer and bottler in Malaysia.

As a marketer myself, I wanted the first issue of Boss Women Pakistan to be a tribute to our Marketing Industry, hence it seemed natural to reach out to Khalid Alvi who also gave us the Khalid Alvi Marketing Next, A Facebook page that has over the period of years has turned into a small community.

When I reached out to M. Khalid Alvi I was frankly very nervous. But within 5 minutes into our Zoom session, I felt like I had found the mentor I had been looking for. It’s not just his powerful words or well-rounded arguments, it’s also his humbleness and positivity that surprise you.

Here is a summary of our discussion about everything from his interests, women’s evolving role in the corporate sector, marketing trends, leadership goals, and much more:


Describe yourself in three words

Ambitious, compassionate, needle-moving.


What do you think has been the consistent factor which positioned you differently and led you to be where you are now?

I think it’s important to first define what success means to you. Once that is established then comes your goals and objectives which should be very crystallized and focused. And finally, you need to have a defined plan accordingly.

Even when I was a student, I was very goal-driven. I never believed in taking shortcuts in life, the impact of a shortcut is not long-lasting and as a result, working hard has been a part of my DNA.  However, this does not mean I don’t appreciate working smart, it’s the combination of both hard and smart work integrated with your values that give you the results you want.

But at the end of the day, I think I have also been very fortunate. I am a firm believer in divine intervention, I have innumerous blessings, the biggest being that I have been able to take care of my responsibilities. I am very thankful to my parents who instilled the values I have in me, and the Invisible hand that guided me in the right direction every time.


Your career seems seamless, but have you also ever faced career difficulties like many of us do, and what would be your advice on how to deal with such situations

I have had good bosses and bad bosses, some late promotions, and few personal disconnects in workplace relationships. I have been through difficult times too, like most people. And based on my experiences I have one piece of advice to give: “This time shall pass”.

Just believe in the divine invisible hand and continue to remain thankful even during the hard times, actually even more during the hard times.

Don’t make hasty decisions due to a setback. Make sure to not join a company, but to join a boss. Even if you land in a big company, your progress is dependent on your boss as in the pool of people you can otherwise be lost. Finding a mentor, working for the right person, someone who lets you grow can be the biggest blessing. On the other hand, if you are working for someone who is narrow-minded or a small thinker, that person will never reward you hence it’s better to move on as it’s not worth your time. The right boss will take you places by giving you the exposure you need.


Which person has influenced you most in life

My father. He started from scratch when he migrated from India, his biggest assets were his honesty and truth. Materialism doesn’t mean anything to him. And to date, I consider him a lot richer than myself due to the values he has been holding close to him.


How do you wind down when you’re not working

Music is my passion. I sing, I play the harmonium, Sitaar, Tabla, Drums… I am also in the process of learning raag. I love creating music and playing instruments. Apart from this, watching television with my wife is also part of my daily routine that is very important to me.


What does being an effective boss means to you

There are three things, if as a leader I can do these things, I would consider myself successful.

Firstly, placing the right people on the job, I want my team to be better than me in the role they need to perform. Secondly, to align them in a way that they help each other, and work together in harmony, and thirdly, make them deliver their 110%.

As a CEO, my responsibilities are towards the shareholders, environment, compliance, ensuring that laws are abided by, and always acting in the best interest of all the shareholders, employees, and the company.

If you compare the times when you started to Today, do you think things have changed for women considerably

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Yes, they definitely have. Although the situation varies from country to country and even company to company, the cultural shift is happening however at a different pace in different places. Hence I can’t comment on a globalized level but in the context of where I have worked, the needle has moved forward. In addition to that, I think the ambition level of women has also changed, women were conditioned previously to embrace the typical roles. But In certain ways that are changing now. Independent thinking is catching up, which is why women are coming out more and claiming their rightful place. In Multinational companies, it is more apparent as the availability of resources and accountability is more apparent, and I think the local Pakistani setups still have a long way to go.

I have been in Malaysia for a long time and I find this society very religiously tolerant and hence you see a very balanced society that is secular in spirit. Women are in majority in the workforce and an equilibrium shift is happening at a quick pace.


What measures do you think we need to take to make it easier for women to find comfort at work

In my view it’s a process that will take time, it’s deep-rooted in our mindsets, the government has a vital role to play by creating regulations and laws that encourage women to join the workforce. These could be as simple as babysitting facilities, flexible working hours, etc.


Considering how Covid 19 has impacted the world, as well as how digital is the new way to do business, do you think working remotely should be adopted permanently

I don’t think there is a universal solution for this. It depends on the nature of the business and it also varies from department to department. Some industries can easily operate digitally such as the banking sector. During these times organizations, abilities along with systems have been tested so everyone now knows where they stand, however, conventional wisdom cannot provide a simple answer.

What is your message for all the Marketing professionals looking up to you out there

Every Marketer should ask themselves what their next step is. If one eventually wants to move towards general management then cross the boundaries and get involved in supply chain and finance etc. don’t restrict your knowledge to one area of the business. Think of your job as if you yourself are running a business. This will encourage you to equip yourself with financial understanding. Get comfortable with the Supply chain. Understand how business plans are developed and work. Even as a Marketer when you look across channels you are better able to deliver results that matter to the management earning you respect.

Marketing scenarios are changing very quickly nowadays, new tools are coming constantly hence relying on what we already know isn’t enough anymore, you need to keep on learning.

A marketer is the brand custodian. The enterprise value is based on brand value. Hence it’s the marketer’s responsibility to achieve ROI that can get the management excited about the marketing dollars being invested in the right places.

Inherent brand building skills and the velocity that goes behind creating a brand needs to be understood by a marketer and then explained to the management. Some marketers don’t package their plans correctly hence marketing budgets end up being the first once slashed in difficult times. I am proud of our marketers, and I think there is no shortage of capability. I can’t comment on work ethics, but I can see some good work coming out and I am very hopeful that we will continue to create more local quality brands in the future.

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