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March 8, 2021

Scott Miller of Franklin Covey Leadership Series interviews BoP CEO: Plane tragedy changed my life worldview: Zafar Masud


March 8, 2021

LAHORE: Zafar Masud, Bank of Punjab’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and one of the two lucky survivors of the May 22, 2020 PIA plane accident in Karachi, says he spoke to his Creator just seconds ahead of the horrifying crash.

Talking to Scott Miller, host of the famous ‘Franklin Covey Leadership Series, the seasoned banker recalled: “While we were heading for an inevitable crash landing, I revisited my journey on Earth and reviewed it, right from my childhood days in Lahore to my elevation as head of the Bank of Punjab. Right at the brink of this disaster, I first spoke to myself, and was satisfied that I had led a fulfilling life devoid of any regrets. And since I was a bachelor with no wife and kids to mourn my loss for decades, my likely departure from this planet to my eternal abode was not bothering me at all. And then I spoke to my God and said I was ready to go….”

And now after the accident and my miraculous survival, “I think Allah may have decided that it was not my time to go and that I would emerge alive…”

Anchorperson Scott Miller, who has so far recorded around 150 episodes of the ‘Franklin Covey Leadership Series’, then asked Zafar to narrate the tale of the horrible plane accident by reconstructing the whole incident for his global audience and the lessons he (Zafar) had learnt as a son, sibling, friend and head of a large public sector institution.

Zafar Masud stated: “Since this accident, my perspective about life has changed; I have started believing in miracles now and my faith in my God has strengthened. On that eventful day, everything was happening quickly. It seemed a stage was being set for something extremely eventful that was right on the anvil… I was actually booked for another flight at 11 am, but opted for a PIA plane that was scheduled to fly at 1 pm, so that I could get two more hours of sleep. I am notorious for rising up late.”

He added: “My protocol staff had booked a window seat for me, but I had it changed to me preferred Aisle passage. And it was actually the location of this particular seat that had actually saved me in the end when the plane had split in three parts upon the first impact… It was a very smooth 90-minute flight before the shocking moment greeted us during the landing process that appeared normal, but then the plane bumped thrice on the runway and took off again. It was very unusual… This triggered anxiety among passengers. The pilot took the machine up to 3000 feet, and made a second landing attempt. The engine failed and the unavoidable happened.”

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah State (United States), Messrs Franklin Covey is a merger between Hyrum Smith’s Franklin Quest Company and famous American, author, businessman and keynote speaker, Stephen Covey’s Covey Leadership Centre.

Many would know that Stephen Covey’s 1989 book “The 7 habits of highly effective people” has broken all records of popularity.

More than 25 million copies of this 381-page book have been sold during the last 31 years.

And its audio version created history by selling more than a million copies, the first non-fiction audio book in American publishing history to do so.

Replying to Scott Miller’s query as to what was going through his mind during all these extraordinary yet frightful moments and the mood inside the plane, the Bank of Punjab CEO propounded: “A couple of emotional things happened just 30 seconds prior to the second attempted landing. The cockpit door opened with a jerk, and I saw the plane nose-diving through the pilots’ screen. The scary look on the faces of the two air-hostesses and the flight steward made me realise that something was terribly wrong, and that we heading for a crash landing.”

The BoP CEO had more to share: “Although it is very difficult to depict this whole episode in words, I still want to keep repeating it so that I could share my experiences with fellow humans. This incident has reinforced my belief in my Creator and the divine miracles. In my case, the miracle had actually begun with my change in seat location, from window to the Aisle, just before our take-off from Lahore. I believe that you reach out to God and He is there for you. Let me reveal that I had fainted seconds before the deadly bang and had gained consciousness while I was being rescued.”

Asked to reenact the final moments prior to the crash, Zafar heaved a deep sigh and remarked: “Since I got fainted, I have no memory of when and how I had descended straight from the plane to the ground. Some bystanders came to me and reported the whole occurrence as they saw it.”

He continued describing the event: “Actually, my seat had dropped from a height of about 50 to 60 feet on the roof of a building, where it had bounced to plunge down straight without an angle onto the hood of a car parked in a nearby street. Had my seat nosedived with an angle, I would have hit the road and resultantly broken all my body parts. I would surely have been rendered incapacitated for good. So, the drop scene took miraculous turns too. Covered by debris, I cried for help. There were three people sitting in the car upon which I had fallen. They took me out of the rubble and carried my through a narrow alley between two buildings to an ambulance.”

Zafar recounted the dreadful moments: “The place I passed through got burnt just seconds later. Any delay, and I would have been roasted alive. While the bystanders were taking me to the hospital, I kept inquiring about the fate of other passengers. None, including the ambulance guys, had any answer. A strange bond had suddenly developed between me and my fellow passengers.”

He further recalled: “At the hospital too, I was inquisitive about other passengers. I needed a phone to speak to my mother. A lady doctor was kind enough to oblige. My mother’s phone number was not responding, so I dialled my father and made the revelation that I was alive. In disbelief, he dialled me back. My hand was broken and the ligaments of my left knee were all fractured. My body fluids were upside down, and my leg had to be drained four times to revive the normal blood flow. I was operated for a broken hand and fractured ligaments. And it was during this treatment and recovery process that I had contracted coronavirus as well.”

Zafar held: “It was all too complicated and anything could have gone wrong. I never met the other survivor, and had no courage to offer my condolences to the bereaved families, who were struggling to overcome the grief after the irreparable losses of their loved ones. I thought they might see me and wonder why had God saved me, and why was He not kind enough towards their dear ones? It is still hard for me to go to deaths and funerals, but am trying to overcome this psychological trauma.”

During the course of the interview under review, the Bank of Punjab boss divulged: “Since surviving the mishap, my perception about my subordinates has changed completely. See, the Bank of Punjab is a state-owned entity, which has been led and operated for many years by people practising the ages-old British banking culture. It was slightly behind the clock when I held its reins on April 16, 2020. On leadership front, there was no CEO for 18 months when I assumed charge. The staff was short of stimulus and was largely disillusioned. Lack of interaction between bosses and employees was the order of the day. Then came the monstrous COVID-19 with all its devastation. People were not used to working from home. No concrete measures had been taken to ensure their welfare, so on my first day in office, I issued a letter to my workforce, whereby I had outlined my vision and plans I intended to initiate for the prosperity of our human resource that was risking lives in the line of duty.”

Zafar Masud asserted: “The Bank of Punjab Board of Directors then came up with an unprecedented welfare package for our workers. On top of it, I announced a special bonus to motivate the staffers and the timely incentives worked wonders. Our initiative in desperate times also served as a model for country’s banking industry. These steps not only helped me build the best team in the national banking sphere, but also brought about a 360-degree change in our business culture.” On lessons learnt from the plane tragedy, Zafar Masud viewed: “I had a tentative and cautious style of management before the aviation tragedy I had witnessed. Now, I know life is as temporary as a bubble. The love and affection I got from people made me realise that I should do my job to the best of my ability, with utmost honesty and do whatever I can for the employees looking at me for guidance. This is called “Management with Empathy”. I have learnt that we should be appreciative towards our subordinates, and ensure that their pay cheques are attached with a purpose. I am now cognizant of the fact that cordial and sincere relationships with people around you keep your Creator happy. Humans matter more than money and fame, and this is the legacy I wish to leave behind.”

The Bank of Punjab chief executive said he was very clear that material wealth and gains would disappear one day.

“I want to be remembered as a “Change Agent,” a “Reformer” and an honest leader when it comes to relationship with my employees. Empathy turns the life around and it leads to sustainable development of both economies and the human resource.”

He had more to say: “Empathy, I repeat, is need of the hour in changing times, especially in the post-COVID era. It is particularly vital for countries like Pakistan that do not offer any social security cover to their citizens due to their dismal economic situations. Following rituals is not as important as pleasing God’s people. I am sure my Creator liked something in me when He gifted me a new life in May 2020. I am hence leading a ‘Bonus Life’ or you may dub it as a ‘Borrowed Life’.

Zafar further contended: “An Irish band called ‘The Corrs’ had released an inspirational song album ‘Borrowed Heaven’ in May 2004. The album’s tracks are worth listening. I would encourage everybody to listen to the lyrics of these songs, discover the embedded impulse and feel the underlying spirit. We should trust people. They are mostly trustworthy. A handful of them may be odd souls though. Tolerance, forgiveness and co-existence are important qualities we should incorporate in ourselves. You see, arrogance kills. Let us flush it out of our systems.”

He opined: “Had the pilot of the ill-fated plane listened to the Air Traffic Controller and taken a longer route to return and land, this catastrophe could have been averted. We should all try to be magnanimous and carve ourselves to be models of humility when they have power. Leaders seated in cosy offices should sacrifice their vested interests. This plane accident has taught me another thing. We should all clear our pending dues at the earliest.”

He concluded: “Strong willpower helps humans to overcome traumas. In my case, I had started working from the hospital bed one month after the accident. It helped me overcome the after-effects of this nightmarish trauma and the psychological stress I was naturally carrying. Life is work. Staffers should work out hard, prove their mettle and go beyond what is required of them, and make themselves eligible and worthy of promotions. God does give opportunities, so we should pounce and capitalise upon them.”