Philips, in an official event in Lahore last week, announced that it was going to grow its personal health offerings in Pakistan and work on strengthening its retail partnerships. Present in the country for a number of years already, it sells half a million products via partnerships with leading distributors.
Interestingly, Philips has transitioned from a consumer electronics giant to a pioneer in health technology. And it’s this expertise they’ll be bringing to Pakistan in the guise of dozens of products designed to improve the well-being of citizens.
Products you can purchase include irons that don’t burn your clothes, vacuum cleaners that double up as a mop, various kitchen appliances, air purifiers and grooming devices for men and women. All products will be provided with warranty.
Heading this expansion plan is the Country Manager for Philips Pakistan, Mr. Ali Jalil. We got a chance to chat with Ali at the event and got a bit more insight into Philips decision to focus on the country.
Tell us a bit about your journey to managing Philips Pakistan.
I left for the US for my studies back in 1989. Did my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Masters in Applied Statistics from there and joined Microsoft who moved me to Malaysia and then to Singapore. Then I had the opportunity to move to Pakistan with Dell and I set up their operations here.
Malaysia came calling yet again as I was managing a cluster of countries. There, I was recruited by Apple and after a couple of years, the Philips job presented itself and it was simply too good to pass up considering the history, the scale of the company and how many lives it touches and aspires to improve.
What’s the rationale behind bringing these particular products to Pakistan?
Pakistan is a market I inherited just a month ago. Before this, I was managing Malaysia. You have to understand that Philips is a very different company from what it was a few years ago. We’ve spun out our lighting business – we still have a stake in it but part of it is publicly traded.
We’ve combined our Personal Health and Medical portfolio into what we call Health Systems. So I manage Health Systems for Malaysia and have been given the responsibility for Pakistan as well.
As one can imagine, there are a lot of misconceptions about Pakistan. So a lot of organizations were hesitant to invest in the past but that’s changing. I think Pakistan’s on the ascendancy and since I am a Pakistani and I understand the market, you’ll see Philips being a lot more proactive.
We want to frame this as a conversation about how Philips can help Pakistanis make their lives better with the innovation it provides. We’re launching a lot of products that are going to be market-firsts and while we’ll try to bring as many of our products here, we’ve also brought in highly relevant products like air purifiers, state of the art rice cookers and cooking appliances as well as male grooming products
We want to bring in investment, educate our customers about the products and to assure them that our brand is as strong as ever and we’re going to back it up in the coming months.
What are some of your goals for the 12 months? What’ll qualify the year as a success when you look back at this event?
A successful year would be how many touchpoints we’ve had. We want to measure our success as how many lives of customers we touched and how well we informed them about the various categories and the products in them. We’ve brought in another partner to ensure coverage across major areas of Pakistan.
We want a 360-degree experience for the customer whether it’s retail or online.
Does that mean local warranties for all products?
Absolutely. We want to expand the after-sales coverage for everything we sell.
How would you compare Pakistan to other markets that you manage?
Pakistan is an interesting market. It’s got a lot of untapped potentials so it’s very exciting in that sense. We’re the leading brand in most categories in a lot of our developed markets and it’s not the case in Pakistan. We’re going to aim for the same but what’s different is the upwards trajectory we’re expecting – and hoping to achieve.
Are you going to be applying any specific strategies to Pakistan or are you going to rely upon the experience gained in other markets?
It’s a bit of both. Because the products have to be locally relevant. For example, Indonesia is a rice eating country and we sell truck loads of rice cookers there but you can’t expect the same volume to be achieved here.
At the same time though, there are a lot of upsides that we don’t see in other markets – like in garment care. Most irons here are dry irons and we hope to spur the move to steam irons. So overall, we take our learnings from developed and emerging markets in a broader business sense but when it comes to products, we think locally.
Do you think the rise of consumerism is a concern for Pakistan?
You have to look at the dynamics of the population. Different countries have different areas of expertise. So while there are a lot of companies coming in because of high demand for things like electronics, not a lot is being produced in those sectors. So you have to frame it in that perspective.
The concern shouldn’t be what’s being consumed, it should be what’s being exported. So that gap has to be managed. And the onus of that is more on the government rather than us.
Last question, have you seen Pakistan’s reputation improve or deteriorate over the last few years?
If you look around – and I’ve been coming and going out of this market for a number of years with both Dell and Apple – the number of foreigners you see now and back then, there’s a world of difference. The security situation has improved and businesses are far more optimistic now. Consumer confidence is higher and I think we are on the right track. There are definite questions about the pace of improvement in our perception but nevertheless, personally, I think we should be optimistic.