Bilkis Mansoor currently serves as the director and head of business of Creative Communication Ltd. recognised as the subsidiary of ACI Limited. Mansoor was promoted to head of Creative Communication in April 2000. Previously, she was appointed as an exclusive marketing manager for Colgate business in 1999. Prior to assuming her position as marketing manager of ACI Consumer Brands division from 1998 to 2000 Mansoor served as sales manager of ACI Consumer Brands division between September 1996 and August 1998. In 1995 Mansoor was promoted to manager, Business Development. In 1994, she served as the system coordinator when the company was the first in the country to go for winning the prestigious international certification of ISO 9001 for Quality Management System. Within two years of joining the company Mansoor was promoted to senior marketing services officer in 1992 to 1995 and in October 1990 she was employed as a marketing services officer in the Pharmaceutical Marketing division at Advanced Chemical Industries Limited (ACI), originally established as the subsidiary of a world-renowned multinational Company ICI.
On the occasion of the International Women's Day, Bilkis Mansoor talks to the Daily Observer on varied vital issues---
Who is your leadership role model?
I do not have just one specific role model in mind. Rather, I am inspired by leaders with out-of-the-box thinking, visionary, intuitive and charismatic, who are able to lead and make a difference every step of their lives. Life has taught me that leaders can be found in the most unlikely places and not necessarily at the top of an organisation. Leadership is about behavior and how you can really make a difference, it is about how you handle challenges and how you go the extra mile when others cannot. I strongly believe there are genuine leaders, who are naturally born to take the lead and be ahead of others, those who sense and act upon different situations before they actually happen.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Knowing how to behave in certain situations and with different stakeholders is central to my approach. Different situations call for specific conduct; the way you interact with your colleagues will differ than the way you handle clients. To the former I am a teacher, to the latter I am there to serve. The trick is being versatile and knowing how to satisfy the needs of different stakeholders. It's important to be able to change your approach, tone, key messages and behavior while keeping your values constant.
Basically, my leadership style is about engaging others, being transparent and communicative, and giving people space to progress, excel and to learn. I truly believe that trusting people, listening to them and empowering them are very important. To me, engaging others can be achieved by giving people the opportunity to use their brains to explore, to speak, to find solutions and exercise their potential. I am one who never asks anybody to do anything that I am not willing to do myself, and my goal is always to build a team that is self-reinforcing and self-managing.
What are your key career highlights to date?
I would say the main turning point in my professional life was when I assumed the position of Head of Creative Communication early 2000. Once again I felt then I was starting from scratch in my career. The field was totally new and unknown to me and it was the most critical situation I had been in. I felt lots of people would be watching me and I had to over-deliver and excel, overachieve and put two or three times the effort into the position than people would ordinarily put in so that I can master this trade. This was a golden opportunity to prove that women have the intelligence, drive and focus they need to deliver results. It was a major turning point and placed a huge responsibility on my shoulders.
At each step of my journey I had to stand out and show my family and superiors that I do have potential, I do have the energy to make a difference and move to the next level. It did not happen overnight. I worked hard. I am result-oriented and set myself high objectives as I strongly believe that the harder the objective, the harder we push ourselves to achieve it. Of course I had so many challenges. I had to look after my sick father and family, while pursuing my career and professional growth. The support and trust I got from my mother, my husband, and my top management was all very important and key to my success. People, and especially insecure men, can make it hard for women to achieve and grow, so thank the Almighty, I was blessed, I was in the right environment and circumstances that helped me achieve all I did.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business woman?
My biggest challenge has been keeping the company alive, not going under, building and adding value all along the way, even when there was no money around. Also, probably been learning how to effectively assert myself - and not in the way you might think. I have always been very direct from a very young age and have never shied away from sharing my opinion, and this can sometimes be hard to take, so I think a lot about different strategies, and framing conversations. I feel like there is a little more pressure on women than men to be softer in how we express ourselves, and I think about that sometimes during difficult conversations.
What kind of corporate culture do you help create/support in your business?
I am a very communicative person and I try to be transparent, to share my vision and be very clear about it. Building a high performance culture based on trust, engagement and empowerment is very important to ensure sustainability in business. I am a long-termer and strongly believe that a high performance culture can overcome challenges. I try to build this sustainable environment. I cannot tolerate low performers. I try to move them and encourage them to try to upgrade. I try to understand why they are not performing and if I am not convinced of the reasons, really I do take harsh decisions, to ensure this high performance culture does not get spoiled. I seek a sense of commitment, collaboration and collective responsibility. I have to walk the talk by building a sense of responsibility through our corporate values and accountability matrix. Moving people to where they fit best can be instrumental to an organisation's success, and so is keeping people motivated through sharing experiences, collective responsibility and exchanging thoughts.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
The ability to balance work with all its complications and responsibilities is undoubtedly my achievement in the home front. My mother, sister and other members of the family had seen that I did not compromise on the quality of time I had with them, and I was always with them whenever they needed me. I do have long working hours, but I shift my focus to them immediately the minute I feel that one of them needs me.
My husband has been instrumental in my success because he accepted the demands that my career has been placing on me. I have to admit that the pressure, tension, hard work have an impact on him - it was not always an 'easy ride'. Nonetheless, the way he supports and encourages me to keep going has been an integral part of my ability to grow professionally.
I would say that my second biggest achievement is the impact I have on my team who works with me and supports me in achieving success together. When I see people upgrading the quality of their work and growing professionally, I feel that I did something that is hard to value in monetary terms. But I also hope I am able to leave a mark on my people beyond professional means, and beyond numbers. The impact I try to leave in their hearts and minds as human beings- that are what matters, and what lasts. I am tough and demanding at work yet I am also emotional and compassionate - I am not shy of sharing my feelings.
It is a joy for me that I can do both and be happy in both. I am trying to find a life where nobody has to pay a price for what I do, neither my family nor my professional colleagues.
What in your opinion is the key to your business's success?
Our business's success has been built on flexibility, agility and having a clear plan.
One of the key factors is to have a dedicated and loyal team and be able to attract new talent, while at the same time making sure that the new people you bring on board stay true to your values from the initial group. There are two levels of challenge- first to ensure we keep the same culture/mindset while bringing on people with new vision and talents who positively challenge the status quo. Secondly, when your organisation grows, people's roles change and you need to ensure that the people who have been with you the longest understand the changes, that maybe they will not be as involved as much in everything as before.
It's the people that keep our business alive, having a technical team; it's not something you can do alone. The other thing is me - I am naturally courageous and tenacious. Even when you have a team and people around you, as the Head, the buck always stops with you.
How do you give back to Society?
I am blessed to be part of an organization whose mission it is 'to make the world a better place,' so giving back feels like an integral part of my day job. Mentoring young people, in particular women are second nature to me, and I do this through various channels. I very much enjoy giving inspirational talks to young people, including teenagers, as our identities are formed early on.