Winds of change blowing on Islamic finance

A distinct trend emerging in the global Islamic finance industry is the rising number of professionals opting out of the corporate rat-race and entering entrepreneurship. 

The question is why?
  • Does this have a correlation with lack of talent development in the industry?
  • Or with the lack of Islamic finance being used by other industries?
  • Or a lack of professional standards where technical competencies are concerned?
  • Or a lack of vision within the industry?
  • Or the lack of convergence between Islamic finance & the Halal industry?
  • Or simply the lack of tangible progress?

Food for thought for  later as the global Islamic finance industry is, indeed, getting affected by all these issues and needs to address them quickly.

From the professional perspective, to get an insight into what’s driving professionals in the industry to trade-in a secure pay-check for the uncertainty and flux of entrepreneurship, I met up with Mr. Shakeeb Saqlain— CEO of .

Here’s the interview published in Business & Finance April 2015 issue:


Manage Change Before It Manages You

Just as shifting city and home and moving to a new place has its initial period of anxiety, a change in business direction or in leadership in the organisation, brings about a period of anxiety, uncertainty and a plethora of questions within an organisation.

Change in any form is uncomfortable for us humans. We are creatures of habit and habit breeds its own sense of comfort and discomfort. Take for example our daily work day routine. If one of the items in our daily ‘routine’ goes out of whack, we get irritated and at times, are at a bit of a loss.

Business activities are managed by humans and thus when an organisation implements a change from what it had done; it brings about a fair bit of response. Some good, some not so good and some downright harmful to the business. The ‘enthusiasts’ (or early adopters) latch on to the big picture that the changed direction portrays and willingly start to move forward in the new direction. The ‘yes sir/no sir’ (followers) goes into a ‘wait and watch’ mode to try gauge which way is the wind blowing. Lastly comes the ‘resistant brigade’! A group who clings on desperately to yesteryears and falls back on the achievements of the past years.

Each of these three groups have an impact on the brand and its’ experience: 

1.   Enthusiasts: In their eagerness to contribute to the new, changed business direction, the enthusiasts rush into action without deeply evaluating the long-term benefit of the actions to the brand and the ability of the brand to deliver on the changed direction. Often more manpower and resources are taken up on these changed new actions if they are not evaluated for effectiveness. Enthusiasts often times end up working long hours alone leading to quick burnouts when operating at very high stress levels due to continuous delivery demands of the added new tasks.

2.  Followers: This group’s indecisiveness and inability to ask for clarity leads them to either do the work activity wrong or to take too long over it and thus deliver well after the timeline is past. In effect, making the task inefficient.

3. Resistant Brigade: Often the largest group, these try to push back through the “this is how it was done” process with the intention that if continuous resistance can be applied by using defunct processes and bureaucratic red-tape  then the enthusiasts would either burn their fire out or leave. All the resistance group succeeds in doing is wasting critical time and damaging the brand image through their inability to move forward.


How do we bring groups 2 & 3 around to see the positives in the new strategic direction or change that the organisation is undertaking:

  1. Transparency:  Line managers have to understand the change and explain, at length, how that change is beneficial and tie it back to the individual roles of staff and their function with regards to the effect it has on the brand’s identity.
  2. Top-down Leadership:  Senior management has to have in place, a support team selected from rank & file to ensure successful delivery of key projects that would aid in bringing the required change. This team should be empowered with the required authority in order to put in place new processes to enable change to take hold.
  3. HR in the Forefront: HR needs to be at the forefront in terms of providing senior management the right team, skills and competency wise, in order to help deliver required changes. Internal talent development becomes a priority for HR and is the starting point for staff performance evaluations.
  4. Deadline: An end target date for achievement of certain critical projects needs to be up in front. Critical projects that affect the brands’ reputation should be selected from the pool of projects that is in active stage and be project managed through specific project teams.

Following this 4 steps approach would enable an organisations’ leadership to bring about groups 2 & 3–followers & the resistance brigade— by having them involved in the critical projects, with each individual having a specific task aligned with their respective job-function.

What’s the benefit in doing this?

  1. Easier management of key projects to achieve success leading to revenue growth and establishing the desired brand reputation.
  2. Having in place a core team, a second line of command so to speak,  across critical functions upon whom senior management can depend to take the brand forward.
  3. Having in place efficient processes that aid in forward planning of daily work.

What I Learnt in 2014

2014 has been a catalytic year for me in more ways than one. Professionally as a senior corporate executive and leader the lessons have helped me better myself. Here are my top five learnings:


Visual Courtesy:
Visual Courtesy:


#1 Leadership

Top of the list is leadership as that’s what provides direction, growth and self-development.

Lesson #1 in leadership was getting to understand and use my own emotional intelligence to read the climate and culture of my team in order to earn the respect of being their team leader and providing guidance that is valued, appreciated and most importantly recognized.  As a leader why is it so important to recognise and accept emotions? It’s because as humans we are emotional beings and our emotions impact on our behaviour which in turn affects our business actions.

Lesson #2 was the value of authenticity, as a leader, from my team. Being one’s self in action and thought and asking the team to identify how we could step up our game a notch brought about higher engagement. It created strong bonding and camaraderie to the extent that famous quote “All for one, One for All” (from The Three Musketeers)—was our team motto. Authenticity helped me in understanding and using the team culture in guiding the team to achieve their stretch targets with a smile on their faces.

#2 Culture

“Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” Peter Drucker.

For an organization, culture is defined by the actions of its leaders, its people and the processes.

The lesson I learnt here was an eye-opener! One can be extremely competent technically but what is important is the ability to present one’s point-of-view keeping in mind the recipients’ cultural perspective which frames receptivity.  Technically one can be the best of the best by any parameters but what gets one ahead is the ability to manage both upwards and downwards. In order to have this skill, understanding the culture at play is very important.

#3 Advocacy

Employee advocacy is, perhaps, the least visited or viewed area among Asian organisations. One wonders why when business is by the people for the people. People are the only asset that organisations today, can use to create competitive advantage for themselves.  Providing peer and social recognition of an employee leads to a massive increase in commitment from that employee leading to advocacy that impact positively on the bottom-line. Yet the lack of specific employee engagement strategies emerging from the business plans leaves one wondering about the value an organisation gives to its employees. Is that why we see entrepreneurism on the rise?

#4 Growth

Having being involved in business strategy and its related initiatives in the corporate world for over two decades one key learning I have is that there is a direct correlation between business growths with individual growth. Alignment and line-of-sight between an individual’s goals, functional role and the business goal of the organisation is critical in obtaining commitment with accountability.

In the year past, by achieving this alignment within my operational team, it enabled the team to channel their passion into key initiatives thus surpassing achievements with flying colours. 

This brought into focus the importance of the marketing and human resource functions working closely together in order to map both, individual career growth and the organizations’ business growth.

#5 Profit or Social Responsibilities

For as long as we can remember the basic purpose of business has been to make profit. There is a major amount of literature on this topic on the public domain. Given the changing consumer behaviour, as a result of the financial crises and increase in technology usage, businesses have had to re-look at the profit-maximization model that had been in use. Trust, word-of-mouth referral and most importantly brand experience  that delivers a tangibly perceived value is the order of the day.

Managing a NPO doesn’t mean not achieving the profit target. Without that sustainability is in question.

For me the value of managing the business and marketing functions of an NPO is in the fact that one can put key social responsibilities as primary objective and through the achievement of those goals achieve the profit targets. This is what makes the functional role so very interesting and different from a pure profit-only organization.


I would be happy to know of your top five lessons of 2014 as well as your observations on my lessons.

Wishing you a very Happy & Prosperous 2015.




Ensure you know your purpose in business

Following up from exercise choice carefully, here’s my top 10 steps of  ‘purpose that help in answering the  ‘why are we in business’ question. The outcome of using this model is in having a transparent, engaging and involving work culture.


Identify Business Purpose

1. Articulate a clear sense of purpose:

Revisit ‘why’–  The “why” are we doing this business OR “why” are we going into this business.  This is the question which needs to be identified and answered with clarity. You see how the ‘choice’ you make starts affecting the outcome?

The articulation of purpose brings forth the business mission. The business mission should then be evaluated for the impact it    would have on society. This would come about from the product or services it intends to market and how it affects the consumer. This social aspect of the business’s mission would be the heart and soul of its brand identity & experience. It’s the raison d’être of the brand.

2. Create a workforce committed to your purpose:

Articulating the business purpose does two things:
(A) Provides the framework for the brand experience to be in place.
(B) More importantly, articulating with clarity the business purpose creates employee engagement on the business mission i.e. employees working together for a common goal.

3. Define how the purpose is delivered i.e. ‘how we do things around here’:

People, by nature, like to belong to groups. In order to form such a group it’s necessary to provide employees a clear value system and a common cause. These, usually, are the organisational values that lead to behaviour and become the guiding principles of how business is to be done.There are three critical factors in detailing these values:

  • ‘The understanding of the business unit in what’s the social benefit of the business’
  • ‘The understanding creates certain believes which need to be genuine and strong enough to withstand stress & tension when tested’
  • ‘And they need to be translated into practice’

4.  Manage the intangibles that the business purpose would bring up:

Financial profitability is only one dimension of the value provided by the business unit.    Other factors which add to the value of a business include:

  • Strategic Clarity: A clear strategic direction based on practicing the values articulated i.e. ‘walking the talk’
  • Leadership: A strong leadership at the top in order to champion the brand values and represent the brand identity to the stakeholders (in this case any and every one that interacts with the brand in any function)
  • Employee engagement: In order to have the brand represented and projected correctly
  • Competitive Advantage: Identify and develop a strong competitive advantage based on the brand value and
  • Delivery: Deliver, consistently, on brand value through brand experience

5. Develop a clearly articulated governance policy that would reflect the business purpose:

Ethics, adherence to specific regulations and standards should be clearly articulated and proper process flow and directions provided for employees. Special focus should be kept in the functions of investment management, compliance, competitive differentiation, reputation management and customer intelligence management. Taking preventive care at the start would automatically create a work habit that would ensure very negligible slip-ups in governance.

6. Create your brand’s personality based on its purpose:

In the end, a brand is represented by its employee. Thus, it’s critical that the personality that’s projected be reflective of the business purpose. To this end, critical personality behaviour traits should be identified and documented as ‘must-have” for potential employees.

An organisations’ employees project the brand in order to earn trust from the stakeholders.

Trust comes through managing and delivering, time and again, consistently. Having trust leads to a ‘preferred relationship’ which in turn leads to transactions over and over. In order to generate this trust, the personality projection has to be one that is liked by the stakeholder. It may be the way the employee speaks, looks, mannerisms. Small things, but things that immediately create a “like or dislike” choice in the stakeholders’ mind. ‘Perception, after all, is belief’.

7. Listen with  purpose and involve people:

In gaining trust one has to learn to listen not just hear!

If a brand does not have its finger on the pulse of stakeholders’ opinion it doesn’t have a feel for its brand health. Listening, using the variety of mediums that are available, to hear what the stakeholders are saying and thereby get into a dialogue with them and involving them in the brand’s purpose is very important in order to have continuous growth. The more engaged the people are the more involved they would be.

8. Manage risks that are identified from the business purpose:

It’s strange that ‘risk management’ is still in the purview of the finance departments. But financial risk (though the most common is, actually, step two in mapping overall brand risks). Ideally every quadrant of the brand’s activities should be evaluated and potential risk identified. Then marketing and finance jointly, should approach evaluating both the financial and brand reputation risk.

A part of risk management is to ensure the brand’s reputation stays positive. Business leaders have this responsibility and need to ensure that the brands activities protect its reputation from foreseeable risks. By identifying and managing risk,
preemptively, you can head off financial risks.

9. Leverage social change that fits your business purpose:

Businesses tend to think good corporate responsibility is about managing the footprint of their brand on society. But real progress is achieved when they use their business purpose to achieve genuine social benefit . It can be done in a way which wins trust and leads to genuine social and business benefit.

10. Invest in communications  but make it a dialogue:

There are many stories in almost every business. Bring these stories out. Communicate them to your stakeholders. After all the stories involve people and people are interested in people per se. Stories allow for a dialogue to take place by eliciting reactions. This leads to engagement and an engaged stakeholder is better than a nonchalant one!

Exercise Choice Carefully & Ensure you know your purpose in business, when used together would aid you in having a clear mission and vision statement and in explaining the same to employees & external stakeholders.


I hope you have liked this series on ‘Take a new look at your business’; ‘Exercise choice carefully’; & “Ensure you know your purpose in business’. Do share your comments on the site.

Taking Ownership Passionately

Title of this post is courtesy the training program run by Global Dynamics.


For two days, this past week, I was closeted with 19 other colleagues of mine from various functions in a training program that was all about “taking ownership passionately”. I’ll come to the “TOP—Taking Ownership Passionately” in another post.  First let me share with you two realizations that hit me during the sessions.

 The first realization was from my work perspective–the realization of the importance of “mental alignment” or in the words of the training program— “RMA: Right Mental Attitude”.

As with all training programs, as the program unfolded and the participants engaged more and more, there emerged a strong camaraderie and bonding among us participants. There was a clearly visible emotional and mental alignment of attitudes though we all hail from diverse cultural and social backgrounds.

The second realization was—with rank & file undertaking this training, it’s that much more important for the leadership of the organisation to undergo the same.

Firstly if the leadership does not go through this attitudinal change understanding and stay at the point where they are, the rest of the organisation will be moving in one direction, but the leadership will not be aligned with the team!

Secondly such training scenarios provide a fantastic environment for leaders to build camaraderie with the staff! It allows them the opportunity of being emotional, through the activities that need to be done, and thus present a human side of themselves to their teams and yet, they have the excuse (if they want) to brush off that emotionality under the pretext of doing that activity.
But then that’s not being authentic! That’s another story for another post.

As a business sustainability expert, I’ve always looked at the engagement level of staff with their leaders in order to gauge the climate of an organisation. Though they don’t yet teach this in negotiations or sales (not that I’m aware of), being able to gauge the engagement between an operational person and his/her leader helps me to know the extent of honesty in the partnership a potential organisation will bring. 

Leaders set the behaviour of an organisation. Behaviour? Yes i.e.  the culture. By displaying empathy, care, the right positive attitude and coaching leadership skills, they can obtain high engagement from the staff.  This leadership behaviour starts from the top. Not from below!

Many leaders subscribe to a fallacy– that intimacy has no place in leadership or business. But as leadership coach Lolly Daskal states in her article—Leadership—The Fallacy of Intimacy—”Leaders subscribe to this view out of fear and a need to protect themselves.”

Research studies show a clear correlation between a warm caring culture and high levels of satisfaction and teamwork and in her article—why you should care about your company’s emotional culture—author Stephanie Vozza quotes Tom Gimbel—CEO of La Salle Network a Chicago-based recruitment  firm—“People join companies but they quit managers”.

Coming back to my realization—if the leadership of an organisation does not prioritize the need for cultural, emotional and attitudinal development and be present, in person, with their team through such programs then expecting the teams to work magic is going to be akin to wishing for a lunar flight but not knowing how to build a rocket!

So leaders—get out there in the trenches with your teams and give some authentic, emotional and meaningful appreciation and feedback —and see the magic of human engagement take shape!

Evaluate, Understand & Develop a Sustainable Business Strategy

The changing business landscape has resulted in many an organisation scrambling to evaluate, understand and use resources it has in-house and competencies competitively. There’s no one-size-fits-all sort of model in order to do this. It’s a painstaking process but one that’s’ really worth it, if you want to ensure long-term success.

In my earlier posts titled the 3C’s– Community, Competency & Customisation–the importance of each of these were detailed individually.

In this post I’m putting forth three tips that would help you evaluate, understand your resources and competencies and help you develop a successful, long-term strategy.

  1. Clarity:  Provide clarity to your senior functional heads and their teams on what are the business goals and how the organisation can achieve it. Clearly identify what are the key competencies available and ask your senior team members to evaluate if those competencies can deliver the service of the organisation, in market, by the resource available. By providing clarity on what are the business goals and the competencies that (as a leader) you see, the  entire organisation knows  what areas are their key strength and how to support the same to have the competitive advantage.
  2. Understanding:  Evaluate the competencies on the basis of:
  • Is there competent human resource in key functions?
  • Is there a culture of cross-functional team work in order to deliver on time and with quality?
  • Is there a need to invest  in specific technology?

3. Cultivating: A competency mindset that:

  • No Silos–Thinks of individual business units as profit centers yet has line of sight with the organisational business goals and engages cross-functionally, in order to contribute to the same positively.
  • Accountability with Empowerment: Identify and empower staff, behind key competencies and ensure understanding that the competencies are a corporate resource and not of an individual business unit. Hold them accountable for performance deliverables.
  • Responsibility: Empower your functional heads by giving them the responsibility of getting them to identify what are the investment requirements and to what extent  should each unit contribute to it.

As you go through the process of evaluation and understanding of the competencies and resources available, you would be able to identify where (in your business units)  you need to push in resources in order to support the existing competencies. This would lead to the ability to deliver substantially in market and thereby building image and stakeholder loyalty.

Are You A Great Leader Or A Victim Leader

Last week, I read an absolutely fantastic blog article on the above topic in Linked 2 Leadership that got me thinking about the “victim leaders in the corporate world.

Thinking, about the choices one has, if one is a victim leader and how to excercise those choices in keeping oneself happy at work and allowing the team (one leads) to flourish.

The choices elaborated in this post enable you to learn how to not pass your frustrations down the line to your team (if you’re a victim leader) and to use your energy to be a buffer for your team.

Here’s the post:

Stop It or I’ll Bury You in a Box

Happy reading…