Leading a single company is an uphill and daunting task, yet Syed Mazhar Iqbal is successfully spearheading two very different companies. He’s the Managing Director and CEO of Pioneer Cement, and also CEO of Haleeb Foods, a dairy producer based in Pakistan. By virtue of his ability to efficiently manage differing roles, he is also the current Chairman of the Pakistan Dairy Association.
Along with sheer hard work and dedication, it takes a lot of patience, perseverance and tolerance to lead and turn an organisation around. This is Syed’s second tenure leading the business. “I initially headed up Pioneer from March 2010 until June 2018. I inherited an overdue bank loan of around US$67.4 million, which was a lot of money for a medium-size concern,” he recalls.
Syed was initially hired as CFO towards the end of 2009, just as the existing CEO was retiring due to health problems and the incoming CEO withdrew his candidacy at the last minute. “I took this leap of faith despite knowing the company’s financial health. I was confident in my abilities and the stage was all set. There’s been no looking back since,” he reveals.
Under Syed’s leadership, Pioneer was turned around from huge losses to a healthy profit; in fact, it has seen the best years it’s ever had. “In 2011, we made just a meagre pre-tax profit of US$970,000 from the preceding year’s loss of US$11.6 million. During my journey, the best year was 2017 where the company reached its pinnacle of US$53.9 million pre-tax profit,” he says.
Syed’s success during his first tenure at Pioneer Cement is the same format he brings to all his roles. Leading from the front has always been his strategy in creating business success stories and this is what he has displayed time and again. It’s no coincidence or luck that 2017 was Pioneer’s best year; it was Haleeb Foods’ best year on record too. So the question is how does he do it?
I believe in empowering the people and getting magical results, no matter what company it is.
“I would simply say by following a two-pronged strategy: by investing in efficient solutions and systems, be they manpower or infrastructure, and by reducing costs,” he reveals. Syed is a chartered accountant who believes in this simple recipe for success.
“I go for value for money. I invest in things that can bring value long-term.” Converting losses into profits and weaknesses into strengths are the hallmarks of his leadership. Syed does not shy away from improving the smallest inefficiencies and wastages, which can have far-reaching results in the future.
He believes that doing this while empowering human capital is the perfect enabler to allow Pioneer to expand its capabilities. However, perhaps the biggest efficiency Syed has brought to either of his companies is an investment in people. “The right qualifications must be there, but is the passion there? The right attitude, teamwork and, above all, transparency – these are all things I really emphasise,” he explains.
He is open and honest about recognising the achievements of his team because without them, he believes he wouldn’t have seen such success. “We work together in a very collaborative manner with no boss–assistant dynamic,” he says. “We are all a team working together for a common goal. Continuous improvement and an honest feedback system are what prevails. I believe in empowering the people and getting magical results no matter what company it is.”
However, it’s not just his team – he attributes his success to the company’s other stakeholders and partners too. “I know that a win–win partnership with all stakeholders, be they suppliers or vendors, has the ability to go a long way. This is very clear to me and is evident from my style of working,” he reflects. This approach has helped Pioneer Cement make it through the bad times, and those suppliers who have stood by the company are now reaping the rewards. “They’re growing with us. They are part of our team,” Syed points out.
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