Home Digital Magazine Murree Brewery is a household name: Isphanyar Bhandara

Murree Brewery is a household name: Isphanyar Bhandara

CEO and owner of Murree Brewery reveals where did the name of the company come from, how important is the brand name for him, what has been the impact of prohibition on the general selling and consumption of alcohol since the era of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who, according to him, was a heavy drinker but brought in a number of laws to appease the right-wing and to win elections.

Isphanyar Bhandara

Today I am who I am because of my country and not Canada or America. All that we have, our wealth, respect and our comfort are given to us by this country.

Isphanyar Bhandara

Isphanyar Bhandara is a business magnate, politician, and philanthropist. He also served as a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan on a seat reserved for Minorities. Bhandara is currently the Chief Executive Officer and owner of Murree Brewery Co. Ltd. 

GVS: You come from an illustrious family, a family of public figures over three generations. Pakistan has passed through several difficult phases because of which many such families have emigrated; have you ever thought of settling abroad?

Isphanyar Bhandara: Never, I do not have any desire to shift abroad, the graves of our ancestors are here and our memories are here. My grandfather, father and I have been in business and politics in Pakistan and have had some political exposure. That is the way we like it; we don’t want to be too much in the limelight.

We are patriotic Pakistanis; we have our property, our investments, our bank accounts here, our family and home is here. We travel all over the world but our home is Pakistan and it shall remain Pakistan. Remember, we are second-grade citizens in other countries and can never be first-class citizens in other countries.

We can only be first class citizens in Pakistan. We can go abroad to spend holidays there but I have never thought about settling there. Today I am who I am because of my country and not Canada or America. All that we have, our wealth, respect and our comfort are given to us by this country.

GVS: Internationally renowned Bapsi Sidhwa is related to you?

Isphanyar Bhandara: She is my aunt, my father’s sister. And I am very proud of her, the whole Parsi community is proud of her and so is the whole of Pakistan. She is one of the first Pakistani female writers; her stories are about her personal experiences and horrors of partition.

One of her books, Ice Candy Man, has been made into a movie in India. She is at a very senior age now and I pray for her health and long life. We met a couple of years ago in America, she was not in the best of health but she was present mentally; we stay in contact through email. She is someone who is larger than life and someone the whole family is proud of.

Read more: GVS exclusive interview with Fareeha Idrees

GVS: Where did the name of your company come from? Given that your processing takes place in the plains, what is the connection?

Isphanyar Bhandara: Murree Brewery was actually set up in Murree, in Ghora Gali, to be exact, founded by the British to meet their personnel’s demands for drinking beer. The processing shifted from Ghora Gali, a small hilly place, to Rawalpindi by 1890.

Pakistan has prohibited the general selling and consumption of alcohol since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto imposed it. He was a heavy drinker, but he brought in a number of laws to appease the right-wing and to win elections.

But it was sold to my grandfather in 1947 when my grandfather bought the majority shares from the Hindus, Sikhs and the British management. The British decided to bring the brewery to a large plain area, called Urithi because running a large operation is not easy in hilly areas and they wanted to grow the business further.

The brewery came to life, it grew and then relocated. By 1920, brewing had moved to Rawalpindi and by the 1940’s it had all moved, lock, stock and barrel, due to the lack of water and space in the hills; there also used to be excessive snowfall as compared to nowadays.

Isphanyar Bhandara with members of the minority community
GVS: You never thought of changing the ‘Murree Brewery’ brand name and making it less place or geography-specific?

Isphanyar Bhandara: See, you don’t change your name. You can’t tell Coke or Pepsi to change their name since they are 200 years old. Murree Brewery is one of the oldest public companies in the Sub-continent and was trading on the Calcutta Stock Exchange in 1902.

Murree Brewery is a much-respected name in government, social and international circles. Though we are not allowed to export, the company has a very good repute in the eyes of the world.

We don’t take or run on loans and in fact, Murree Brewery is distinct from the rest of the businesses in Pakistan because it has no money on default or loans; our company has foreign shareholders, because we have always stayed away from scandals in this department – and we believe that this is our company’s strength.

Read more: Win With a Winning Pakistan – Exclusive Interview with Shazia Syed, CEO Unilever Pakistan

GVS: Most people across the world think that alcohol consumption is a matter of personal liberty or choice, when does it become a concern for the state?

Isphanyar Bhandara: Pakistan has prohibited the general selling and consumption of alcohol since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto imposed it. He was a heavy drinker, but he brought in a number of laws to appease the right-wing and to win elections. General Zia’s government amended this law slightly to allow alcohol to be sold to non-Muslims. We are still in prohibition today and only allowed to sell to hotels.

And hotels, in theory, are only allowed to sell to non-Muslims. I believe it is a personal matter, whether someone drinks or not. It is not the state’s business, neither is it anyone else’s business. Also once you totally suppress alcohol, the use of dangerous drugs will rise.

There is already a large incidence of youth Isphanyar Bhandara with members of the minority community turning towards moonshine (homemade alcohol), heroin and ecstasy, which are very easily available drugs. Furthermore, the government loses precious revenue. Alcohol abuse is a major problem in countries like America because it is easily available over there.

We cannot compare American society with Pakistan. Our society is very conservative and has strict controls over the use and sale of alcohol. In our society, if one is caught with beer in the trunk of their car, they are penalized just as if they had been caught drinking. People drink in the boundary of their four walls and you don’t find cases of men killing their children or wives in a state of intoxication like you do in America.

There is fear and shame here, unlike America. However, even though we don’t have much alcohol abuse here, we do have moonshine abuse and that is very dangerous. Homemade alcohol is cheap and available to the poor who desire to drink. Since they are not allowed to buy our products, they go to their local bootlegger who provides them with extremely unsafe and often home-produced alcohol which frequently causes deaths. The rich in our society have no such issues as they drink imported alcohol.

Isphanyar Bhandara distributing sewing machine among Christian women

The bottom line here is maintaining the status quo; problems can arise on changing the current situation, whether that means making alcohol more easily available or cutting it off completely. People think permitting alcohol consumption in the country will be good for our business; however, I believe that it will bring a huge backlash.

At the same time, banning it completely will negatively affect the government of Pakistan more than Murree Brewery. It will divert more people towards drugs because not everyone can afford a Johnnie Walker. The average price of our beer case is Rs.3,000 but an imported beer case costs around Rs.12,000. Not everyone can afford imported beer.

If a customer of Murree Brewery wants to drink behind his four walls without disturbing anyone, it should be fine because it is not harming anyone. Excess of anything will take you to the hospital, not only alcohol. Even food, after Eid so many people are found at the hospital from stomach related concerns after eating too much freely available red meat.

Read more: Elias Davidson – A conspiracy theorist or historian researcher?

GVS: Is it a challenge being a minority businessman in Pakistan?

Isphanyar Bhandara: Minority has nothing to do with business. I can neither use it to my advantage, nor to my disadvantage. Challenges are always business-related. We are in the food and beverage business in Pakistan – Murree Brewery is in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Good Companies) category in Pakistan.

The market is very good, it is growing 20% year on year and not only for us but all beverages, look at Unilever, look at Procter and Gamble. In fact, 20% is a conservative figure; it is close to over 30%.

We have a huge population of 200 million people, out of which 60% are younger than 30 years of age, a growing middle class and that makes us a pretty good market for eating, drinking and using personal goods. Having drinks, juices and buying personal things for example toiletries, shampoos and creams, they are all flying off the shelves. All the multinationals which are in FMCG are growing well. So business is good, but it can always do better.

GVS: There is a lot of excitement about CPEC; does the Pak-China initiative offer any new opportunities or challenges for Murree Breweries? What about the Chinese coming to Pakistan.

Isphanyar Bhandara: I am proud to say that I was the youngest member in the national assembly to be part of the standing committee on CPEC and I am grateful to PML-N government for giving me that honour. CPEC is a long term project that is beneficial for Pakistan and not only Murree Brewery.

More communication and more roads mean better linkages; anyone going from China to Gwadar with his family will find it easy and accessible. Whatever areas CPEC passes through will bring with it prosperity. Along with roads, there will be houses and opportunities for restaurants to sell food to people, and more jobs for people.

The road itself will attract investments and development, this is a human phenomenon. Like, rivers attract fish, transportation links attract people.

So far the Chinese are not major customers of Murree Brewery, however, they love our products and our beer, but unfortunately, because the government hasn’t allowed us to sell directly to them, they have to go through middlemen, third men and fourth men, which raises its cost significantly.

Given the fact that they are so many coming and they are non-Muslims, the government needs to give permission to Chinese organizations and give special permits to Chinese nationals to buy from Murree Brewery directly, without middlemen.

Read more: Why Empathy at Work is essential: Ursula Burns, CEO Veon

GVS: What are the hurdles for Murree Brewery for exporting to non-Muslim countries? You said earlier that you aren’t allowed to export, but at the same time, there was a period in which Murree Brewery tried to enter the Indian market.

Isphanyar Bhandara: We did talk to the last PPP government; I met with the Commerce Minister, the late Makhdoom Ameen Faheem. There was an implication that they would allow us to export to non-Muslim countries, so I started looking around. The only big non-Muslim country which has a lot of potential for us was India.

My point is that justice is not being served across the board and is only one-sided. I won’t name anyone; no one questions the Baba-e-corruption of PPP. The judiciary and the government institutions should not become for or against any political party, they should remain neutral.

I went to India, but unfortunately, due to our relations, they weren’t ready to talk to us. They were keen and loved the idea of Murree Brewery because Murree beer has its roots during British India, for example, Dehradun. Before partition, Murree products were sold in Kabul and India.

So, they loved the idea, but now the relations are so bad that they are not interested and frankly speaking, I was also not very keen. Our beer is reaching areas like Kabul and Iran through smuggling and India does not really need our beer, because they have distilleries everywhere, the way we have Nan-Paya shops.

Pakistan itself is a big market. South Punjab should have more wine shops and hotels as it is a big market. We have a new franchise now in Czech Republic; we sell very small quantities to England and Norway. We don’t own the brewery; it is just a friendly franchise.

GVS: Moving towards politics, do you feel your presence there has helped the minority community in Pakistan?

Isphanyar Bhandara: By God’s grace, I finished my first period of five years with PML-N as MNA. If I say that I have achieved everything, then that would be a lie. Whatever little I had and I could do, I did. However, I often complained to the government and my own minister, that not enough attention and funds are given to minorities.

Mian Sahib himself, whenever I met him, has always asked me to take care of minorities. Both brothers, Mian Sahib and Shahbaz Sharif have a soft corner for the minorities, however, given their position, they cannot show it publicly because people get upset whenever they see politicians support non-Muslims, because of their narrow thinking.

Read more: Pakistan is the most under-praised, under-discovered country – Fatemeh Aman

GVS: Would you say that this narrow thinking was also present in your fellow parliamentarians?

Isphanyar Bhandara: No, that’s not what I am saying. I have very seldom come across this thinking in PML-N workers. I can’t say anything about other political parties, as I haven’t worked with them in a close capacity. If we want to make Pakistan stronger and more honorable, then we need to take care of our minorities.

Moreover, the international community also judges us on how well we treat our minorities, how well we treat our women and how well we treat our children. This is a standard for the international community; even the treatment of our transgender community is noticed. Attacking these groups damages our reputation.

Isphanyar Bhandara celebrating Holi with the Hindu community

Our narrow-minded population even the intellectuals, believe that there is one religion that is Islam. I believe, God has made all religions that exist. Hence, we should not criticize other religions, other sects and other sexes. These are all made by God and not by humans.

I would like to commend the media for always highlighting problems of our minorities and our women, and in turn speaking against the aggressor. The police would have never jailed the murderer of Zainab, without the support and coverage of the media.

Read more: Why Jadhav became so important for India? – Dr Moeed Pirzada

GVS: Politics is in flux, do you see yourself in the next parliament?

Isphanyar Bhandara: Right now, our media and our judiciary are focusing only on one family and one party. The crimes committed elsewhere – on the left and right are being ignored, corruption in other provinces are being left unquestioned. The Zainab case I just mentioned, got all the attention because of the presence of Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, yet there was a rape of a little girl in Mardan and we never heard about that story.

It’s not about the media covering certain issues it’s about the media covering everyone’s issues. The standard of justice should be equal in all the provinces, regardless of which party is in power. For example, the MPAs in Balochistan receives crores of rupees as their budgets; each MPA receives from about 60 to 80 crores.

In Punjab, MNA’s don’t even get 2-3 crores – yet look at the development taking place in the province, the roads, the metro, etc. However, the media does not question this budgeting and its lack of projection in Balochistan.

Minority has nothing to do with business. I can neither use it to my advantage, nor to my disadvantage. Challenges are always business-related. We are in the food and beverage business in Pakistan – Murree Brewery is in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Good Companies) category in Pakistan.

No-one wants to go and work in these regions- due to the lack of development and facilities, yet the funds given per year to the MPAs in Balochistan would have been enough to turn the province into Dubai. However, all of the money is being sent somewhere else through corruption, but NAB is ignoring it; the Balochistan High Court and the Supreme Court are not paying any attention to it.

Political parties will always play games. I consider NAB and the judiciary equivalent to the parents and political parties like PTI and PML-N equivalent to children because they continue to fight like siblings.

Isphanyar Bhandara with President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain

This is a natural phenomenon everywhere in the world, parties in America curse each other but the judiciary and the FBI remain fair. But in Pakistan, any event taking place in Punjab is always given undue attention, any worker even if PML-N is involved in corruption should be taken to task, but at the same time also cover and take action when it happens in other provinces.

My point is that justice is not being served across the board and is only one-sided. I won’t name anyone; no one questions the Baba-e-corruption of PPP. The judiciary and the government institutions should not become for or against any political party, they should remain neutral.

Facebook Comments