Omar Abedin is the Chief Marketing Officer at Graana.com. He has worked at strategic positions for national and multinational companies. He shares secrets to success and career-building insights in this exclusive interview with Karvan.org
1. From a Product Officer at Philips Pakistan in 1992 to Group Chief Marketing Officer of Graana.com in 2019, how much have you evolved as a professional during these 27 or so years?
The person who started as a Product Officer at the age of 21, and me today, are hard to compare. Some parts of me remain unchanged – my optimism, energy, the need to try new things, experiment, learn – are all there I think. What has perhaps evolved is my ability to listen more, to think before I speak, to guide and mentor others, to give without the need to get – in other words, maturity learned at the school of hard knocks.
2. What skills have been your forte throughout your career?
I think my skills have evolved every day, so perhaps a better answer might be around what attitudes I have held and behaviors I have tried to exhibit. I have always believed that there is a better way of doing things, and sometimes, I have even succeeded in finding that better way. I have worked hard on developing and honing communication skills, both verbal and written. I have approached any hurdle, any challenge, with the approach that everything is possible – I just need to define the set of conditions under which those results can be achieved. I have worked to build and maintain strong professional relationships, some of which have matured into invaluable mentorships. And I have been actively trying to avoid spending time in my comfort zone – which means I have moved countries, companies, industries, all in an effort to keep learning and growing. That growth mindset is something I enjoy, and it’s the one I like to spend all my time in.
3. Having served at key strategic positions during your career, what five career advice will you give to the professionals?
– Be uncomfortable – push yourself out of your comfort zone. No experience is wasted unless you let it be so.
– Do something new every day, it will drive your learning mindset.
– Meet one new person every day – and learn something from that interaction.
– Build your own brand, you are the CEO/CMO/CFO, etc of Brand YOU, and no one else is responsible for this but you.
– Every year, set and deliver on a goal that seems impossible. Learn a new language. Write a book. Learn a new skill. Whatever.
4. You have worked in Pakistan, Canada, the USA, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. What insights have you gained when it comes to work cultures?
People are people everywhere. 98% of everything is the same, don’t focus so much on the differences that you forget to enjoy the similarities. If you really want to understand a new culture, eat their food, listen to their music, and best of all, learn their language. When I was in Saudi, I spoke reasonable Arabic. When I was in Montreal, my French became half-decent. And when I moved back to Pakistan, I worked on re-learning Urdu with my kids as an excuse. Having said that, when moving into a new environment – whether a new company, country, whatever – take the time to learn the norms of that culture. I have done this so many times that I think I am half-everything at this point. I feel at home in Pakistan (obviously), but also in the Middle East and North America. Just take your time before responding, tailor your communication to suit the needs of the environment and so on, and above all, enjoy the differences while celebrating the similarities in everything.
5. Tell us about Founder Institute, the organization where you are serving as Director since October 2019?
Founder Institute is the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator. This means that we train people who are thinking of starting their own business, to become better, more professional founders, thereby increasing their probability of success. It is an extremely rigorous 14-week training program with a serious time commitment required from participants, but the skills taught here are absolutely world-class, and grounded in the real world. No theory here, just training with the best mentors in Pakistan, experts in their fields, with real-world learning and applications. The first cohort will be graduating next month in Karachi Insha Allah, the next one will start in the 2nd half of the year.
6. What skills must the students learn to survive in the coming years & what is your message for the youth of Pakistan?
Students, the days when the responsibility for your learning was shouldered by parents and teachers have ended. Until our current curriculum and teaching methods are fixed to real-world requirements, the onus is on you to learn and grow. Any young person who answers pretty much any question today with “I don’t know” is at best lazy, and at worst, avoiding the question. So, what do you want to be? More importantly, how do you see yourself adding value in today’s world? If you don’t think you have the right skills, no one is stopping you from acquiring those skills. You don’t need a fancy degree or a lot of money to gain knowledge.
I have done literally 20 courses on LinkedIn Learning and Coursera in the last 3-4 years, in fields that are far apart as social media marketing, commercial real estate, digital marketing, R programming, machine learning and data & analytics. Why? Because I need to learn. So do you. At the same time, work for the betterment of your country, for society, for a good cause. I volunteer at The Citizens Foundation #TCF, because they are doing amazing, important work. What do you believe in? If the answer is money, then I’m sorry for you. Work to achieve Ikigai, an amazing Japanese concept that says that life is a journey where, ideally, we do what we love, we are really good at it, the world needs our skills, and is willing to pay us for it – that is Ikigai. Strive for it every day, and I hope and pray that you (and I!) achieve it some day inshaAllah. Good luck!
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