Businesses in Lahore have needed to show “resilience and patience” over the past decade, which has been tough on Pakistan and its commercial community as a whole. So says Irtaza Subhani ACMA, CGMA, assistant manager in the risk advisory team at KPMG Taseer Hadi & Co.
The economy had ground to a halt, damaged by terrorism and political uncertainty throughout the region, he says. “But now, with a second consecutive democratic government in place, there are signs of improvement after a tough and perhaps unpopular recovery programme. The economy is stabilising: Pakistan exceeded 4 per cent GDP growth in 2013-14 and is targeting a better rate for this year. Businesses that made it through the turbulent times are enjoying this stable period and are flourishing, with stock markets hitting all-time highs.”
Emaad Rashid ACMA, CGMA, an information systems auditor at Allied Bank, has also observed a number of positive changes in Lahore. Recent infrastructure improvements by the government have “made the city very comfortable. The quality of transport here, be that public or private, has gone up to a new level, for example.”
Home to more than 15 million people, Lahore is the nation’s second-largest metropolis by population. Rashid notes that the cost of living here is relatively high, but he believes that this is offset by the high standard of living offered by the city, which is a safe and pleasant environment compared with other big urban areas in Pakistan.
Subhani agrees. “Some Americans call Chicago an ‘all-American city’ because it encompasses everything there is about the US. Likewise, Lahore is the all- Pakistani city – and also its cultural capital,” he says. “It has two sides: inner Lahore (Androon Shehr), a time-frozen picture of what ancient walled cities looked like; and the new 21st-century Lahore – modern and clean, with planned infrastructure and the first mass transit system in the country.”
Rashid believes that Lahore “can be considered one of the best cities in the country to live in. With a growing number of work possibilities here, the dream of earning a decent living has come true for many people.”
He continues: “Lahore has unlimited talent and a variety of individuals with great diversity. With more and more educated people migrating to the city from rural and underdeveloped areas in the surrounding regions in search of better jobs, the employment market is becoming ever more challenging and competitive. Standards of education and skills have improved, which is a positive sign for businesses in Lahore in the long run.”
LAHORE HAS BECOME a city of many cultures and traditions. The West’s growing influence can be observed in certain parts of the city, but “one still finds the old colours” in most areas, according to Rashid. This means that there is “no one key that fits all locks” when it comes to attracting custom and building a sustainable business.
The best way to trade successfully in Lahore, with its great cultural diversity, is to single out a particular group of consumers and focus on satisfying their needs, he advises.
“A clear distinction should be made as to which customer segment is being targeted and what its requirements are,” Rashid says, pointing out that the most successful businesses in the city have grasped how important it is to form an intimate understanding of their market and then to offer customers and clients the specialised products and services they really need.
“Every now and then, one sees a new enterprise emerging and trying its luck in offering a mixed and confused range of products and services,” he adds. These companies, which break even at best, tend to be “shaken out at the growth phase because of the competition from well-settled and specialised businesses”.
WHILE PAKISTAN’S PREVAILING corporate culture is characterised by strict hierarchies and unquestioning respect for authority, according to Subhani, organisations in Lahore tend to place relatively more value on relationships and qualities such as empathy, while still encouraging their people to be ambitious and competitive.
Part of this difference can be attributed to the growing influence of incoming foreign corporations. “People switching from multinationals to local firms bring in a great deal of knowledge and experience,” he says. “Even though there is still huge potential for improvement, HR management is one area in which the local business culture has benefited from multinationals.”
Rashid has witnessed a wide range of management styles in Lahore. “For example, you’ll find firms with a culture of long hours, which may stretch from 9am to as late as 11pm. At the same time there are companies that discourage their employees from staying not a minute longer than the normal working hours,” he says. “But one can still find uniformity in some areas – the carrot-and-stick management model, for instance, prevails even today.”
Rashid adds: “It can be said with reasonable certainty that the management culture in Lahore is changing rapidly. It would not surprise me if its norms were to change entirely within 10 years.”