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Selecting senior management for SOEs

As promised and also widely propagated, the present government has advertised various lead positions of SOEs in the press. This executive search is programmed to provide senior management of the state owned enterprises through a transparent process. Additionally, and as a change from the past, all applications will be forwarded to the recently notified commission for selection of heads of state-owned enterprises/public sector entities (SOEs/PSEs) as laid down by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in it order dated the 12th June, 2013. As the Supreme Court’s decision is self speaking, GoP should not face any problem in setting the TORs for this commission.

However, the selection of right persons would be a gigantic task and in all probability it would be dependent upon the make-up of the commission. Experts opine that in case the commission is loaded with public servants, the results would be skewed towards the applicants from the public sector to the possible exclusion of professionals from the private sector. This is so, because generally the public sector and its proponents do not hold much of an opinion of the private sector, and clearly consider them to have a myopic vision, persons with a semblance of experience without having the ability to see the bigger picture, etc. Additionally, the public servant would also work on the lines that the issues besetting the SOEs today are complex and totally different from what the private sector normally faces. Consequently, in the opinion of selectors, such professionals will not be able to take care of SOEs. Conversely, in case the commission predominantly comprises private sector experts, then the selection will surely tilt towards candidates from private sector ? which may cause problems. This calls for a balanced commission comprising of the best from both the public and private sectors and headed by a public sector guru (this is so because the selection has to be for the public sector enterprises). As the commission has since been nominated with Abdul Rauf Chaudhry, Federal Tax Ombudsman as its Chairman and Shams Kasim-Lakha and Dr Ijaz Nabi of the LUMS as members, one can venture forth and surely opine upon the expected selection. The Chair would lean towards persons with public sector experience, while Lakha and Nabi may oppose such a line of thought. This could, thus, be a serious impasse and also result in delays. On the other hand, this elegant composition could be a game-changer in the sense that the selections could be the best of both the public and the private or corporate domains.

In addition to the composition of the commission, another issue that merits attention is setting basic ability standards for the selected individuals. In no case, the selectees should get acquainted with their duties while on the job. And the selected individuals should additionally possess some very important but necessary attributes, because CEOs/MDs/Chairmen of the SOEs shall be responsible for the over-all management of company operations to ensure achievement of company’s service and revenue targets. Such individuals have to lead the company management in setting and achieving higher operational performance targets and formulate plans for further improving the same with special emphasis on provision of up to the mark services to customers, ie, in the new paradigm of customer friendly culture. They have to ensure adherence to the various performance standards and then meet relevant regulatory operational requirements. In this regard, the need is for pro-active, results-oriented professionals with established credibility and performance record, who could take the challenging assignments. The candidates should thus possess strong leadership, inter-personal and communications skills with a high drive for performance targets. In the qualification and experience part, the candidates should preferably be sectoral experts. Additional management qualifications should be an added plus. A minimum 20-year experience in the employment level, with a minimum of 5 years in senior management position, would further add to the essentials. In other words, the candidate has to be a sectoral expert, instead of any person likely to learn the trade after taking over as the head of a particular SOE.

In view of the above, we can easily conclude that ten important attributes must be visible in the selectees. These would be a deep insight and understanding into dynamics of the expected core-responsibilities, ability to dip into the current and future trends of the relevant sector, come equipped with knowledge of weaknesses and strengths of the specific sub-sector he or she is to manage, be adept in this art and be privy to the level of expertise at the disposal of the resource/cadre, have the means to fastly by up-grade the same, be able to build-upon the existing expertise (and not start learning about the core requirements), enable the organisation to jump even higher by breaking earlier constrictions and barriers, effect change management in a structured manner, arrange conversion to the next generation of technologies and be able to arrange for a mix of science and sociology leading to innovations and improvisations that favour the people – a must, when we see, for example, the havoc played by the current reliance on oil for generating electricity and the ensuing unbearable cost of service in the power sector.

In other words, the organisations (SOEs) are bound to flounder in case the selected persons do not possess the above mentioned experience, exposure and the depth/intellect to deal with the requirements of the day. It will be important to state that the present-day requirements are stringent, hard to fulfil and it is also very difficult to meet the expectations of people. Actually, the public is fed-up with various proclamations and that nothing has been done for them since the last decade or two. They would want action instead of accepting new inductees as head of various SOEs, who learn their jobs after being selected and then try to re-invent the wheel.

On the other hand, politicians have a pre-set notion and fear that public sector inductees will not support fast-track privatisation. Experts opine that professionals would support the best for the people and country and nothing else. Consequently, the Commission must select the heads of the SOEs/PSEs on merit, rather than their ability or convictions on the privatisation issue. The commission thus has a very serious job at its disposal.

Engineer Tahir Basharat Cheema, "Selecting senior management for SOEs," Business recorder. 2013-07-30.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political leaders , Political monopoly , Political institutions , Taxation , Pakistan , SOEs