When Tribesmen Came Calling: Building an Enduring American Business in Pakistanby S. Qaisar Shareef
Setting up an American or Western business in emerging markets comes with unique challenges. However, considering the growth potential of such markets, particularly in consumer businesses, those who persevere will be well rewarded.
There was much we learned in my more than dozen years building such businesses for Procter & Gamble in the emerging markets of Pakistan and Ukraine. My experiences are narrated in my book When Tribesmen Came Calling. From these experiences I have picked eight areas that were particularly important to our success. These are shared below in the form of “thought pieces” or stories from the trenches.
I think there will be much learning here for anyone contemplating taking their business into emerging markets.
August 14, 2017
I breathed a sigh of relief. I had withstood one of the toughest tests to date of operating in Pakistan. It was a real defining moment for me and for the company. Many people had told me that, sooner or later, we would come up against a barrier that could not be overcome while fully adhering to our principles. I felt proud that I had just overcome such a barrier. It wasn’t comfortable, and I felt threatened at times, not knowing if the gunmen waiting outside were just a bluff – as it turned out they were. We were never again visited in this fashion by anyone asking for help to get gold medals for students or for any other cause. At this moment, I felt that P&G could operate successfully in Pakistan.
S. Qaisar Shareef concluded in 2011 a career of nearly 30 years with Procter & Gamble, a major American multinational consumer products company. During his career he spent a dozen years living and working abroad as country manager in startup ventures in emerging markets in Pakistan and Ukraine. He also worked in a global role for several years while based in the company’s Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters, a role in which he interacted with businesses in almost all regions of the world. Emerging market subsidiaries that he led over the last two decades continue to thrive today, despite difficult geopolitical circumstances in these regions.
In When Tribesmen Came Calling, Qaisar narrates his experiences in successfully building American businesses overseas, sharing with the reader many learnings about how business success was achieved in these difficult markets in spite of the many barriers to success, and exploring the interplay among business, economics, culture and politics.
While working to build his company’s business in Pakistan and Ukraine, he was witness to historic political events that continue to shape these countries to this day. He tells these stories in an engaging and informative way – as only an eyewitness can. He believes above all that at the core of what made P&G successful in these markets was the company’s determination to stay true to its longstanding global business principles, while deeply respecting local cultural sensibilities.
Working to build P&G’s business in these markets was not easy, and success was never really guaranteed. P&G’s focus on the long term, and the deep cultural understanding subsidiary management had of these markets, was key to establishing these enduring businesses.
Qaisar often found himself caught up in the many geopolitical events that were shaping these countries – whether the extremist violence in Pakistan that led to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and ultimately drove Pervez Musharraf from power, or the turmoil in Ukraine as it struggled to emerge as an independent, post-Soviet republic in the late 1990s.
Through it all Qaisar manages to tell the engaging story of working for an American company as an expatriate in the country where he grew up. When Tribesmen Came Calling is full of insights about how extremism in Pakistan has continued to threaten its people and impact the region and beyond, even as the business he helped establish continues to thrive.
When Tribesmen Came Calling: Building an Enduring American Business in Pakistan by S. Qaisar Shareef, is now published by Blue Ear Books. For a limited time, you can purchase it in hardcover at the special introductory price of $14.95 plus shipping: