In the small environment of the global leather industry you get the chance to meet some very fine people. For me one of the best I have worked with in recent years is Warren Weinstein the country director for Pakistan for the American consultancy JE Austin.
I was privileged to work with Warren to help develop a strategic plan for the Pakistan leather industry. Warren has been in Pakistan for quite a number of years and is well settled with a great team of locals working for him, out of the large ground floor office in the house in Model Town Lahore. The leather project was not a US AID funded project but one directly for the Ministry of Light Industry. My understanding was that at least part of the reason JE Austin were awarded the contract was because of the excellent work Warren had completed in other sectors such as marble, furniture and the dairy industry.
While I was there I stayed, as so many others must have done, in the house in Lahore. The office occupies the ground floor and basement while on the first floor is an entrance into Warren’s apartment and a separate entrance into a guest room for visitors. It was an excellent set up to keep guests away from having to stay in hotels and for making early starts to reach factories out of town.
Warren is really quick witted and intelligent. The knowledge he brings to every subject is immense, and he soon grasped the issues that the leather industry has to deal with. Raw material supply and quality, environment matters, labour content at different stages of the value chain are just a few. We spent hours and days discussing these and the implications for Pakistan where despite a large population the home market is not really very able to absorb that much in the way of finished product. Yet there is a growing demand for footwear and we talked about all the new regional markets. We envisaged a future in which Kasur could build on its small tannery sector, its effluent treatment facility and its shared finishing set up to become a creative centre for design and production of leather products. This would build on its small streets and its ancient history of sandal making. We went through all the options for towns like Sialkot which has some excellent plants and a super laboratory facility but little effluent treatment and a hangover from the lost days of making soccer balls for Nike. We spent a long time in Karachi looking at both the educational institution but also some top rate tanneries and leather goods factories with many staff who had been educated in leather in the UK.
Warren travels with two phones (and provides guests like myself with a local one to use while in Pakistan to save on costs) and while travelling and in meetings regularly takes calls from his staff on one or the other. “Does the value chain diagram look right?”, “how is the timeline for meeting the next deliverables?” or “can we get the next SWOG meeting organised for Lahore tomorrow?” SWOG was a term new to me for Strategic Working Group. Perhaps it is a standard USAID term, or a Pakistan one, or just Warren’s. It was a good idea as for us it included a lot of key industry personnel to ensure that the work was not done in a vacuum. Whether or not you agreed with the outcomes the process was well thought out and thorough. We looked at production, productivity, innovation, training at all levels, markets routes to markets. Warren is clearly respected in the ministries as quite often staff from them went with us on visits, such as to the Fashion School in Lahore which Warren was keen I should see. An excellent facility with first rate people where Warren is really well introduced.
This report is the first time I have experienced a government Minister being willing to quote directly from something I have been involved in writing in a major speech. I was deeply impressed in how much was implemented of what we suggested. It did not satisfy all sections of the industry as some wanted more government financial support and others wanted bans on export on semi processed material. You have that uncomfortable situation where the domestic manufacture of products needs lower priced leather than should come from much of the excellent Pakistani raw. The world recession and the huge loss of herds in the floods have badly affected the industry and invalidated some of what we wrote, but far from all. The basics I remain convinced are sound.
In arranging, managing and supporting my trip and work on the project I could not have been better looked after. Warren was demanding, as he clearly is with all his staff, but clear and direct. He bubbles with energy, nothing slows him, and he works all the hours that exist. Watch him work, how he interacts with all people, how he thinks and you see a man who loves the Pakistani nation and is committed to this work to help them. I was surprised to hear that he might retire, despite his age. He is someone that goes on forever. I know he was concerned about security. He is a clever man and understands far better than most the issues that run through world politics and the intricacies of the complex Pakistan Society. He took care but he was never going to hide. I am sure that he felt that by doing his job diligently he gave himself the best chance of staying secure. I was told by a colleague that he was working in the coffee shop of the Karachi Marriott when it was blown up and his reaction was to move upstairs to the executive lounge and carry on working.
After our project has ended it was not over for Warren, and he has kept his interest in the industry. His two phones are always in use. His interest in the leather industry and what it can do for Pakistan remains. My picture is of him in a snowy UK, just after he had helped me push my little MX5 out of a snow drift. We have criss-crossed London to ensure we can get together and keep up to date. I hope most sincerely to soon be able to do it again with him.