Safety & Security Today had a conversation with Isphanyar M. Bhandara, CEO of Murree Brewery,
Safety & Security Today (S&ST): Can you please tell us about your educational and professional journey?
Isphanyar Bhandara (IB): I went to St. Mary’s Lalalzar, Rawalpindi and later shifted to American School, Islamabad. For my high school studies my father sent me to the United States, which was quite a good experience. For my further studies, I came back to Pakistan and studied at Sir Syed College, Rawalpindi. Later I did my Master in Business Administration from the School of Business and Commerce, Islamabad. You will note that apart from a short stint in USA, my education has been in Pakistan, which proved to be an asset as I am doing business here.
S&ST: Your father M.P. Bhandara (late) left his legacy. What values have you and your company carried forward from him?
IB: We are carrying forward all the good values which my father left for the Company. Apart from inheriting the Company and other material things, we inherited an honorable name and I believe that is the biggest asset of Murree Brewery. We have a clean reputation among the business community, banking circle and the Government. This is the biggest asset our company has, we take great pride in this and will remain with us.
S&ST: Talking about your personal life, tell us something about your hobbies and passion.
IB: Talking about passion, it actually takes a back seat when one is encountered with the realities of life. As a businessman, one has to be a realist and pragmatic in day to day life. About my hobbies, I like vintage cars and have a decent inventory of few of these. I like to occasionally take a drive in these which gives me a kind of special pleasure. Certainly, I love to show these to my friends.
S&ST: After taking over as CEO, did you bring any changes to the company?
IB: While mostly the traditions of quality and business ethics have not changed, we have done some organizational changes and upgraded few systems. Such changes are indispensable as we have to be in step with the latest technologies and management systems. We have continued with our strong brands but the only addition I brought to the company is ‘Murree Sparkletts’. I introduced it in 2011 and my initiative has been very successful. ‘Murree Sparkletts’ is a very popular name in the category of carbonated water.
S&ST: Murree Brewery is 161 years old brand that has gradually expanded in the Pakistani market. Can you tell us about the challenges you had to face after taking over as the CEO?
IB: Challenges are always there for any businessman. One has to brace for facing these challenges with a sense of resolving and professionalism. With times, these challenges also change and affect the business. My father had his own challenges, I have mine and in future, may be after 50 years there may be altogether different challenges. I took over in 2008 after the demise of my father and was not fully prepared to take on the reins of business. My father was very dominating, both at home and in the office. I found it very difficult to fill his shoes as he was the one who always guided me. His absence forced me into a situation where I had to learn the hard way to make the decisions all alone.
S&ST: You were a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan. How have you been able to assist the minorities in Pakistan?
IB: Unfortunately, I have not been able to work for minorities the way I wanted to. We talk a lot about minorities, we conduct seminars and there is ample coverage in media, however, at the state level, minorities do not get the same attention as they should. There is increasing insecurity among the minorities due to incidents of violence and discrimination. Just see what happened at Sialkot few months back. Extremists went berserk and killed a Sri Lankan while the police and security staff were unable to prevent it. I feel that our policing system should be strengthened and judiciary made effective to be able to punish the culprits who kill in the name of religion. The state of Pakistan should be the mightiest and stronger than all non-state actors.
S&ST: Generally, minorities anywhere in the world are confronted with multi-dimensional issues. How would you comment on this?
IB: Yes, you are right. I do not deny this. Muslims are facing serious discrimination in the West and USA. India is the most relevant example of intolerance and violence towards minorities where they face genocidal threats. We, in Pakistan, need to further improve the way minorities exist in our society. Both, society and the state have to play their role in making them feel secure and prosperous.
S&ST: Murree Brewery’s industrial setup is based in Rawalpindi for decades and it has a historical linkage with this city. The city was well planned and had good civic amenities but gradually it is losing its charm due to traffic congestion, unplanned urban growth and pollution. Your views on it?
IB: Development comes at the cost of the environment. The city has to grow, roads have to expand and infrastructure has to develop. Our population has grown disproportionately resulting in stress on existing infrastructure. This needs to be controlled and urgent policy implementation is needed. While we develop Rawalpindi, we have to take due care of its heritage and the environmental risks.
S&ST: How would you comment on the safety and security situation in the country and particularly in Rawalpindi/Islamabad?
IB: The existing overall security situation in the country has improved considerably. Few years back our main cities were targeted by terrorists every now and then. Thanks to the military and our security forces that terrorists are marginalized and made ineffective. Our economy can only grow if the businessmen feel secure and there is stability in policies.
S&ST: Many multi-national companies have entered the Pakistani Food and Beverage industry. How has it impacted the local businesses?
IB: It is a good sign that investors are looking towards Pakistan and new industries are being set up. It is good for the development of country and it provides job opportunities as well. A lot of companies have entered the Pakistani beverage market and it’s good to have healthy competition. The only point I would like to mention here is that both Federal and Provincial governments should provide level playing field to old and new companies. There shouldn’t be any discrimination and government should not favor any particular group. Just to give you an example, recently a company was given clearance by the Provincial Government to starts their operations in Balochistan. To our astonishment, the sales of Murree Brewery products were put on hold and the other company kept on selling their products in the market.
S&ST: We were hit with a Global Pandemic in 2019. What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face from a business perspective?
IB: There is no doubt that the Pandemic crippled the world economy and almost all businesses around the globe were affected. Pakistan is no exception. We, at Murree Brewery, cared for our employees while the Company went into survival mode. There were no layoffs or reductions in salaries. We have recovered well and it is due to our resolve, best HR policies and innovative strategies.
S&ST: Your message for the youth of Pakistan.
IB: The youth of Pakistan must understand its potential. The most crucial and pivotal message that I would like to share with the youth is that there are no shortcuts to success. The youth have to work hard. We, as a nation, need to overcome the self-centered nature of our thought process and need to think beyond personal interests. The youth must develop the best work ethics and habit to overcome challenges rather than getting overwhelmed by them.
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