It would not be off the mark to suggest that those made-for-television moments of Rana’s ecstasy and agony as the fortunes of his Qatar-linked franchise Lahore Qalandars swung yo-yo like turned him into an unheralded star.
In a freewheeling interview with Community, the Qatar Lubricants Company (QALCO) Managing Director, dwells on the genesis of Lahore Qalandars, his long association with one of Qatar’s leading enterprises and how, in a decidedly, passionate football nation, a decision was made to buy a cricket franchise of another nation.
Before he got down to flat bat the posers, Rana declared they were not done with just buying and nurturing the Qalandars*.
“We intend to go global with our brand,” he said, when asked what future he envisioned for the Qalandars — all this with the assurance of a man who is not content with dreaming big but getting there as well.
The name — Lahore Qalandars — invokes a spiritual connect in a world where T20 cricket is fashioned as a hit-and-run enterprise. What’s the genesis?
I’m often asked about this. I spent a lot of time getting this off the table. I have an abiding relationship with Lahore, a subject of a documentary that I got made decades ago. For the record, ‘Lahore Qalandars’ was first suggested to me by my brother Sameen Rana. There’s a whole spiritual connect to it.
Lahore is the art and cultural capital of Pakistan with a history so rich, it can take an eternity to encapsulate everything of note here. Lahore is what made Faiz, Iqbal and Baba Bulleh Shah the poets they were; and it is also linked with Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, not to say Lava, the son of Lord Rama.
But perhaps, the most beautiful interpretation of Lahore stems from Noor Jehan, Mughal emperor Jahangir’s queen, who, after he passed away sat at his tomb for more than a decade and half and rendered this as a tribute (recites a couplet): “We bought this paradise by sacrificing our lives”. (Poet-philosopher) Iqbal had written a great deal about Qalandars; I was to discover that during the Ottoman Empire, he was referred to as “Iqbal of Lahore”. But it was Sufi mystic Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, who, first wrote about Qalandars. In essence, however, it is Baba Bulleh Shah’s famous verse that, I believe, one cannot do without dwelling on the subject:
Phullaan da tu attr bana
Atrraan da fer kadh darya
Darya vich raj ke naha
Machliyan wango taarian la
Fer vi teri bou nayi mukni
Pehlai apni “mey” muka
(Extract perfume oil from flowers
Create a river of perfume oil
Bathe in the river like crazy
Diving and remerging like fish
Even so your stench won’t go
First rid the self of your arrogance)
This concept of selflessness is, in a nutshell, what a Qalandar is about and the inspiration behind the name of our franchise.
I reached out to all the major league stars back home in our endeavour to find the people who would connect with our philosophy. But the only man, who immediately struck a chord with it was (former Pakistan pace bowler and later bowling coach) Aquib Javed. Would you believe he simply quit his job with the UAE team without even negotiating with us to come on board!
In a country that is deeply passionate about football and will host the 2022 World Cup, how do you explain QALCO’s decision to buy and nurture the franchise of a cricket-obsessed nation like Pakistan?
Cricket is one of the most watched sports in the world. Qatar has given us not just a playing field for football but an entire sporting culture — to the extent that the country has been able to create a niche for it. In fact, I would say Qatar is a role model for the world for its sporting spectrum — just look at the broad range of world class sporting infrastructure, supplemented by health facilities and regular global interaction that brings together experts and icons to the stage.
At the same time, Qatar hosts a large base of Southeast Asian expatriate population whose first love, of course, is cricket. We continue to receive great support from Qatar to tap into it just like other sports.
How did you convince the top QALCO management to buy a Pakistani cricket franchise?
Our chairman HE Sheikh Sultan bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, and his partner, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Thani — who is also the chairman of Al Sadd Sports Club — are sports lovers. They trust my judgment. When I gave them a presentation, I could sense they agreed to support because they agreed with the idea of engaging the youth of Pakistan.
More than half of Pakistan’s population — according to some estimates, nearly 65 percent — is under 25. It is a young and vibrant country. They are very happy to see the youth programmes that we are working on.
If you can assemble more than 113,000 cricket-crazy kids from vast corners of the country in a short span of time — like we did as part of our talent hunt programme back home recently — then you can imagine (the scale of) our success. We virtually brought together the entire Punjab (Pakistan’s most populous and pivotal province). They are just as happy also to note the way we are presenting Qatar via sports around the world. Rather than a business decision, their intention was — and is — to engage the youth of Pakistan positively. This is a token of appreciation for the contribution of Pakistanis in Qatar.
Are there any plans to bring some action to Doha?
It is a bit early for me to venture into a guessing game on when this could happen, but rest assured, we are mindful (of catering to the interest of the fans in Doha) and hope to respond positively in the future. It’s a promise…we will bring some action to Doha; only the modalities need to be fleshed out.
Tell us about your association with QALCO…
I’m into my second decade of service with QALCO. I joined as Technical and Sales Manager back in 2001, coming from Saudi Arabia. At the time, we had a British management, which left the company because it was incurring massive losses. I took over the company when it was not operational in any real sense, and with no sales pitch worth shouting about. It was a big challenge; in the beginning, I used to carry cartons of oils in my own car and sell them personally!
But I had such a great team; people going beyond the call of duty to get us where we are today. The fact is that we, as a company, have grown with the country; as Qatar took off, so did we. Touchwood, we are now the largest brand in the field in Qatar. I have always had the complete confidence and abiding trust of our chairman and the board. As for work, what drives us is the deep loyalty of our employees. This spares me the need to hire outsiders!
How do you divide your time between work (QALCO) and more work (Qalandars)?
I believe in delegation of authority; that’s the regimen at both QALCO and Qalandars. We’re a fiercely independent organisation where every department works, you could say, on ‘auto pilot’ since everyone knows their job and gives their 100 percent. My role is limited to strategising work. Am fortunate to have most of my team of more than one-and-a-half decade still intact!
What is the one outstanding feature about Qatar that you think distinguishes it from other countries you have been to?
There’s so much positive energy about the country. Because of this feel-good factor, you sort of start owning it. The opportunity to make it good and friendliness of the people stand out. When I go abroad, there is almost instant recognition of Qatar; I feel proud of this belonging. You’ve got to hand it to the visionary leadership of this country for marketing it so well on the world stage.
As an entrepreneur, what are the three most crucial ingredients that fuel success?
My count is four actually; (a) plan purposefully, (b) proceed positively, (c) prepare prayerfully (not in the religious context, but in terms of passion and zeal) and (d) pursue persistently.
I have seen that the majority of people fail when they are may be just about to take off. They often abandon their ambition in frustration after investing a lot of time, energy and money, when just a little persistence would probably see them through. I’ve always believed in people, and staying the course.
How do you view the contribution of the Pakistani community in the development of Qatar and what do you think could they do more to make their mark?
We need to first understand that we are economic migrants. The one outstanding thing about our community in Qatar is a sense of belonging and bonding, which frankly, I haven’t seen quite the same way elsewhere in the region. They should however, interact more with their hosts; they need to do more business; they need to take shelf space; and market themselves better. They need to be more outgoing. This is the way forward. The Pakistani business community back home also needs to come to the party.
(*Qalandar is a honorific given to a saint who is at a very high level of spirituality. Qalandars are different from other saints and have very strong feelings of love for God’s creation and may enjoy freedom from the ties and bounds of time and space)