In a country like Pakistan where people originally had a taste palette developed for traditional food only, KFC led a breakthrough with its finger lickin’ good chicken and Colonel’s decades old secret recipe and managed to turn the tables completely. This pioneering, fast food multinational paved the path for KFC’s world famous chicken to our people’s hearts and soon became a household name. Starting its operations in Pakistan in 1997, KFC has maintained to hold a large market share in the QSR category. However the journey of wearing a title of market leader had its ups and downs. The Nation recently had a chit chat with the CEO of KFC Pakistan, Raza Pirbhai, who narrated the story of company’s turnaround.

Q: We usually see people from marketing or finance eventually heading organisations. Coming from a Human Resource background, how did you find yourself being the top man incharge of KFC?

Raza Pirbhai: I always aspired to be the architect of my own destiny and today I stand proud as a self-made man. Establishing my family’s enterprenuerial venture at a very young age equipped me with the sheer experience of managing different aspects of a business on my own and in the process taught the dynamics of various functions, such as marketing, finance etc. At the same time, I continued to pursue my education from one of the world’s best institutions and started my career at Pizza Hut in the operations team, which provided me with the right skill set to learn and grow in the retail business. Within a short span of time, I grew within the organization and joined the Human Resouces function, further adding to my understanding of people management. The corporate exposure combined with an entreprenuerial experience gave way to take on a senior leadership role and today the double digit growth of the company speaks of my proven competencies.

Q: In recent years we have seen a revamp of KFC brand’s image altogether. What led to the transformational change?

Raza Pirbhai: We witnessed the brand going through some serious challenging times primarily due to neglect, poor management and internal reasons that led to the brand diving south. However, in January 2014, we saw the herald of a new management that revamped the entire business. KFC is a strong, global brand but unfortunately it was not being operated right at that point in time. We brought in place an altogether new team with the relevant experience of QSR industry who not only turned around the business results but also paved the way for brand to redeem itself. Next we straightened up our operations and put in place in a team that serves the highest product quality and nothing less. Marketing plan was the next aspect which was taken forth on priority and a robust strategy was devised. In addition, we introduced our CSR program ‘Mitao Bhook’ which led to a more nuanced focus towards giving back to our community and operate with a big heart. And most importantly, we put the customer at the center of all our strategy formation and built on consumer insights to create a people’s brand. Together with our operations right with highest brand standards in place, we have started to remodel our old restaurants and improving all other touch points. We have undertaken the challenging task to rectify all the core business elements and although it may take a while to reach the destination but we have started our voyage towards continuous improvement.

Q: What changed in 2014?

Raza Pirbhai: We have a total of 72 outlets with over 2200 employees, so the size of our ship is huge.When it comes to an MNC, customer expectations are high and we needed to ensure the staff met those expectations. The dawn of January 2014 saw a new management taking reigns of the business operations which marked our journey towards revamping the brand and setting the right foundation for the organization to grow.

Q:How did you change the work culture?

Raza Pirbhai: We've focused primarily on getting results through people. We've said from the beginning that our formula for success is build people capability first, and then we will satisfy more customers and make more money. In fact, when I took over the company as a CEO, the single highest priority I had was to create a global culture where we can galvanize around the behaviors that we know will drive results in our industry. People want to work in an environment where they know that they can truly add value. It means that you've got to be focused on the customer. We call it "Customer Mania".

We created an employee value proposition which is built on a strong people’s promise – “make a difference, be your best self and have fun”. We want our employees to be original and true to not only their work but also themselves, and therefore have fun while they serve the finger lickin’ good chicken. We have a robust employees training strategy in place which trains our young team members not only on technical parameters but also build a strong interpersonal skills set, communication abilities and most importantly, a solid career path for them to grow within the organization. The idea is to inculcate a skill set which not only helps them succeed within KFC but also flourish in their personal domains.

Q: Speaking of your employees, how do you select and train your people?

Raza Pirbhai: We have a very rigorous hiring process in place where our human resources function reach out to potential talent through various medium – print ads, digital postings, outsourced consultancy firms – who are then assessed on a given set parameters of leadership, teamwork and values by our line managers and talent acquisition team. It is a challenge to find the right talent and we have a comprehensive framework in place to find the best people.

Moreover, we have a robust e-learning system and classroom facilities available at three different locations headed by equally competent trainers and facilitators where they provide the right framework and structure for training. The potential candidates go through sequential training steps to understand our product, restaurant dynamics, quality standards etc. and only after passing the web-based exams they are hired, a standard which holds the same for all roles regardless if it’s a junior or senior position.

Q: KFC does not seem to have gone beyond their traditional offering like batter-fried chicken and sandwiches in Pakistan. What is the reason behind this as you are offering other menu items in foreign markets?

Raza Pirbhai: KFC Pakistan’s core strength is chicken on the bone. We do have sandwiches, rice, and twisters, but within our market, nothing is preferred more than our chicken.

Q: Who are KFC’s competitors?

Raza Pirbhai: We take pride in the fact that nobody does chicken right as we do so. At the moment there is no direct competition for fried chicken but speaking of indirect competition, any fast food chain which sells burgers/sandwiches is a competitor to us, regardless of the fact it’s a big or a small player.

Q: We have seen quite an innovation from KFC’s end. Do you feel brands need to be smarter about innovation?

Raza Pirbhai: Absolutely. It is imperative for brands to innovative to break the pattern and bring excitement to the brand, especially when it comes to connecting with the millennial. In this fast-paced age it is important to not be only internal focused but also have an external focus when it comes to building the brand. At the same time it is important to really look outside for all sources of inspiration that you can find. I call this "pattern thinking" and say, "Hey, if they're doing this over in this industry, how could we apply that same kind of thinking to our industry?" When you do that, you can pick up all kinds of ideas. It is also important to not only innovate in terms of product but also across all touch-points in the organization.

We also have a strong new product and development team in place which is working on new innovation and experiments throughout, even as we speak. Last year we introduced Chipato Burger, which was an innovation of its kind with a combination of chicken and potato. Similarly, BoxMaster was launched which was a tortilla wrap and quite different from our regular sandwich offerings. Earlier this year we introduced Firecracker, which has a tangy Tabasco twist on our regular chicken on the bone. We strongly believe in innovation and adding a variety of product lines to our menu but however, our specialty is our signature friend chicken and that shall remain at the top of the game.

Q: It is also a fascinating story about how KFC actually created special restaurants in Pakistan for the deaf. What was the idea behind this?

Raza Pirbhai: Employees want to be in a growth company and in a company that knows there's more to life than just making money. We want to be a company with a huge heart. Under our CSR initiative Mitao Bhook we have worked with various organizations and contributed more than 60 million rupees for the welfare of our underprivileged community. Our vision is of a “365 days giving company” and our Mitao Bhook project further puts it to action. We took these initiatives at times when the company itself was struggling, yet we still went ahead with running a school for deaf children with FESF by the name of Deaf Reach School System KFC Campus and bared all its expenses. The deaf people have an old association with KFC where we hired the deaf and employed them at our restaurants. We have now seven branches in Pakistan that are run by a talented team of deaf individuals. Today, these branches not only employ deaf people but provide training as well, where they get educated and employed at a suitable post at our outlets. The idea is to not only educate the deaf but also provide them employment and make an inclusive part of our community. It’s a complete ecosystem that we have developed, which has got us recognition throughout the world.

Q: What do you think is the future of the restaurant industry in Pakistan with the rise of online portals to place orders? Will a shift to the online medium for food delivery solutions affect the restaurant industry?

Raza Pirbhai: We have our own, mobile-friendly online ordering website which is constantly growing and giving tremendous results along with our biggest aggregator, FoodPanda. It is a digital age and online platforms will soon lead a paradigm shift across all industries. A lot of consumers these days prefer ordering online because of convenience and ease, which is further adding to our potential customer base.

Q: Let’s talk about the brand – where do you see KFC in the next five years?

Raza Pirbhai: KFC as a brand has come a long way from what it used to be a few years back and we’re working with a robust vision to make it Pakistan’s most loved restaurant brand. I realize we may have challenges along the way but with the right tools and leadership team in place, we are all set to make KFC as THE original chicken brand in Pakistan. One of the things we have done is to get inside the minds of our customers and understand what the issues are. I always believe in answering the question, "What perceptions, habits or beliefs do you have to change, build or reinforce to grow your business?" and this disruptive way of questioning has led to some incredible developments taking place for the brand. With the most original chicken brand, a strong product and a recipe like no other’s, our vision for the next five years is to bring back our originality and operate with big heart.

Q: Lastly, what do you feel is important to succeed as a CEO?

Raza Pirbhai: Just knowing how much power there is inside of your organization and spending a lot of time creating the work environment that unleashes the power of people, and then making everybody in your company know that they make a difference. If you do your job well and everybody else does their job well, then KFC as a whole is going to do well. So, having that work environment, having a corporate culture where everyone knows that they truly can make a difference, should be a top priority of any CEO. The other thing that is very important is to focus on leadership development because if you have great leaders in your company, you're going to have a great business.

Speaking of the brand, I want to make KFC the most loved brand. We are already the industry leader with 37% market share but the vision is not to be big with statistics only but become a customer-centric organization which is loved by its employees and consumers alike. We want to continue touching lives and keep serving the best finger lickin’ good chicken - every day, every time.