Iftikhar A. Mir – The Man with an Uncompromised Vision
Academically trained as an Aeronautical Engineer, Iftikhar A. Mir has an experience of over thirty seven years in the field. He held important assignments in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and then went on to play a pivotal role in the creation and expansion of Emirates Airlines and turning it into a high profile quality airline service provider.
The proof of his professionalism excellence is reflected in the acknowledgement by International Who’s Who as one of the ‘Ultimate Professional’. Additionally, he has the honor of being the only Pakistani who is a ‘Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society’.
Mr. Iftikhar’s professional mantra has been ‘consistent quality’ which he strongly believes is the key that leads to perfection in final result, be it the end product or service.
For a man who had so much on his plate, he has been able to maintain a balance in life and give time to his interests and hobbies which include, music, poetry, books and photography. Having a literary streak in him, he has contributed his rich experience and views to many international aviation magazines as well.
Having worked for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), he shared that the organization had a decent start and till the 80s it was always listed as one of the top ten international airlines in the industry. During his service with the PIA, in October 1985, he was selected as the Project Head to create an airline for UAE. The UAE government set out a requirement as until that point they did not have their own airline. Recalling the time how he along with his initial team prepared and went on deputation to Dubai for the first time on 18th October 1985, Mr. Iftikhar shared:
“We took two of our own aircraft, an Air bus and Boeing 737. First both the aircrafts were painted in the specific color combination that was asked for. In addition to this the initial team of pilots and technical staff was selected. After six days we started operating the flights. The first flight was from Dubai to Karachi while the second aircraft went to Bombay. We started our operations from two small rooms as there was no previous infrastructure.”
Given Mr. Iftikhar’s vast experience and his commitment to high quality that laid the foundation of an airline with the highest aircraft utilization at the moment, we asked him to share as to what are the factors that play a role in creating a successful airline.
We all have heard the line that ‘the customer is king’ and this stands true in this case too. The key factor is to create the right image in the customers’ eyes.
“The common man connects the service environment of an airline to safety. As long as he or she gets a good clean service, the customer is going to consider it a safe flight as well.”
For the first two years there was not a single delay in the flights even though they didn’t have their own fleet of aircrafts at Emirates. It was after two years that the team started negotiations with various makers of aircrafts to buy their own fleet. The initial idea was to get some twenty five aircrafts at the time of his retirement in the year 2000 there were eighty seven planes in the fleet and now the situation is that the airline has around two hundred planes and the same amount of planes are on order. These figures themselves reflect the success rate of an airline and its demand.
Another crucial aspect in this field is the ability to be a good negotiator, especially when it comes to buying heavy machinery and planes. Mr. Iftikhar proved himself to be an asset for the organization in this aspect as well. Later he joined Emirates permanently where he served till his retirement.
“Honest people don’t give explanations, what they say they mean it. If other don’t believe it, it’s not a source of botheration for them as they stand on merit.”
One of the pioneering policies that he founded was to have no standby aircraft. This was a huge advantage for the company as it was one of their unique selling point that the quality checks ensured despite no standby aircrafts, there were no flight delays. Not the one to ignore quality he persisted with his stance if there is some discrepancy with the aircraft; it should be addressed at the Dubai base before it takes off again. This ensured the best quality and no unnecessary operational delays. The results have been consistent quality and customer loyalty as to date Emirates is following this procedure.
“It is not how loud you speak, it is the logic that matters. Conviction brings logic and in the end with the combination of truth, one gets confidence”.
The other pioneering concept that he has been responsible for and is still being followed by the airline is of ‘maintenance accruals’.
“The biggest consumer of company money is engineering”.
Under this the money for the management of the planes and technical issues are accrued instead of waiting for the moment to haunt the management into thinking about where the funds will come from for managing these issues.
One of the best rewards that one can get for all the hard work is to get recognition and respect from one’s peers and there has never been a shortage of these for Mr. Iftikhar. He has left a positive mark on all those with whom he has worked. It has been thirteen years since his retirement and he is still invited to major events organized by Emirates and at times he is there as a chief guest.
“I am so grateful to God, I have been able to earn a lot of respect.”
The biggest asset for any organization is their human resource. They are responsible for making or breaking any brand. It is important that the right kind of people are hired who are well suited for a specific job and its demands.
“How you select people that is the crux of the matter”. Psychometric tests was introduced to ensure the right fit between the job and an employee. Mr. Iftikhar got a professional psychiatrist to administer this test and make sure that the merit guidelines are followed properly.
“I wanted to create emirates quality in all the employees”.
And indeed he was able to do so with great success!
On an average he was hiring around fifty people annually and a large chunk of them are still associated with Emirates. During his tenure he groomed an Arab national who was working under him, later that same guy not only became his succor but even went on and is currently responsible for looking after three major operational departments. Mr. Iftikhar picked him over other nationals with the opinion that their natives should be trained so that they are able to serve their country. This was his way of breaking the stereotype that Arabs are not interested in working. For him in the end it is about individuals and their hidden talents that need grooming.
In the end talking about the development curve that Dubai has under gone, Mr. Iftikhar is of the opinion that it was the vision of her ruler Sheikh Rashid who laid the foundation of progressive development which was later continued by his son as well. The key responsibilities lie with the leaders and their vision can do wonders for a nation.