The Dr Nur Bano Ali You Never Knew
You Never Knew
Her life is very active with a strong focus on achievement through discipline and commitment.. And for over a decade, she has commanded the respect of Fiji’s business fraternity and this month maiLIfe talks to her as chairperson of the South Pacific Stock Exchange and the president of Women In Business. It was on a wet Saturday afternoon that Dr Nur Bano Ali invited this magazine into her Tamavua home to talk about her childhood, education, work and family. She wore a mustard top, to complement the mostly earthy hued interior décor of her home and her bubbly personality. Straight away, she talked about her favourite topics – the empowerment of women to actively participate in the world of business, her personal philosophy and her rise to the top of her game. “I am a forthright person who gets bored easily. I cannot handle negative discussions very well and become quite impatient and apathetic towards such discourse,” she said. Her view is that people must not be lazy but progressive, a philosophy that has catapulted her to where she is today. “To me negative people are unintelligent and make boring conversations because they dwell on the errors of others.” “But I also believe in “each to their own”. My philosophy of life derives from that disposition and so as a leader in my various occupations I try to ensure the working environment is pleasant and does not breed negativity.” Dr Ali has been in the business for almost 34 years. Now she spends a considerable amount of time empowering other women to grow. She is a business advisor - her principal occupation. After obtaining her qualification as a chartered accountant in public practice, she ventured into setting up the business which she continues to head today – Aliz Pacific (Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers). She also manages a number of investment portfolios. As a strong advocate for women’s commercial and general advancement she believes there is still an immense amount of work to be done to achieve parity for women in all areas of life. Right now one of her priority areas is “stomping out sexism”, a problem she believes has driven women to believe they are not ready and not good enough. “Sexism is alive and well and should not be
allowed to thrive as this is the principal cause of women’s lack of progress,” she said. Dr Ali grew up in a large household in Sigatoka. Her parents were of business descent hence her inclination toward the field of commerce. She fondly says her family consisted of a happy bunch of siblings who “shared too much laughter and madness at get togethers”. “We all share a wicked sense of humour and fun too. Our parents were strong minded people and had very strong principles of doing the right thing and keeping true to one’s words.” Despite growing up in a pretty progressive family, her parents still had strict rules for girls while the boys had it much easier. She said this was because societal pressures got to them just like other parents of that time. “My brothers had more freedom of choice and that always annoyed me. So the seeds of disparity towards women were sowed in me as a young thinking female and drove me to challenging the norms of society.“Dr Ali attended St Joan of Arc Primary School in Sigatoka then went off to Jasper Williams High School as a boarding student. “Between the disciplines of Catholic nuns and the very strong headed Miss Hodge at the helm of Jasper Williams, I could not have had any chance of falling off the rails in so far as discipline and strong will is concerned. “My strong sense of determination and not giving up attitude has been influenced by these tough women-led institutions. This was quite empowering for me as I ventured out into the world of tertiary education and life.” While growing up in the home, Dr Ali lived among a number of influential people whom she extracted strength, wisdom, determination from. “These include my mother who was a very strong and determined woman; physically and mentally and resolute in her ways, then my father whose fundamental principles of no lies and keeping your promise have definitely stayed with me.” “I have had various exemplary female role models who wittingly and unwittingly passed onto me the need for straightening out the uneven playing field for women - from my grandmother to my mother and then the women who led the educational institutions, they have all collectively shaped and taught me the lessons of life.” As a young girl, Dr Ali had no childhood dreams of becoming an Accountant. In fact she did not even study any Accounting (book keeping) subjects in high school. She was a high achiever in Chemistry. She said, at university she asked to enrol in the Accounting Degree because “that was my family business background that was driving me and I wanted to be my own boss”. “As an accountant alone I cannot be the boss of my business, so for me I have to a business person first and to which my education and knowledge of accountancy is essential and complements to enable my conduct in business.” She said a woman has greater potential to be seen as a success, not because she is a woman but because there are many successful men compared to women.
“So there. We are in a better disposition to make a difference in life. That to me is the uncanny sarcasm of the uneven world in which we operate. From business and women’s empowerment, she moved to the less serious matter of style and fashion. Over the years, Dr Ali has created her signature dressing style, made prominent by her dyed bob hairdo, bright maroon/red lipsticks and bold eye makeup. She said women could easily be stylish and look fashionable without having the unnecessary stress of keeping up with the changing trend in fashion. “To the modern women, do not be flippant about your presentation and appearance and find a style that suits you and then it will not take too much time out of your professional and business life. A personal style can easily co-exist with fashion whilst presenting you very smartly.” She said presenting one’s self in a smart way and professionally was very important if women wanted to be taken seriously. “Whilst I hated comments about my dress and lipstick, I had to keep battling with that because I also knew that You have to make an impression regardless of whether you are a man or woman and keep your very busy professional life going at the same time. This means to never compromise on your personal grooming. “So I developed a style that is easy to maintain whilst presenting me as a strong candidate for the causes for which I stand for - women in leadership and business being at the forefront of that.” Dr Ali is also big on health and wellness. She has a fully equipped home gym tucked on ground level of her property. Among her favourite equipment is a pink punching bag. “I love working on my pink punching bag,” she said after throwing a few hits using matching pink gloves. Exercise and training has been a part of her lifestyle for many years. She tries her best to exercise at least four times a week and avoids too much food. “Most women have their own life patterns depending on their many responsibilities and I simply say to all women do take care of yourself amongst your many demands. It is not easy but do pay attention to your health and fitness..” Dr Ali is private about the perfumes she uses and the identity of her hairdresser who cuts and colours her hair down to a tee but is open about her favourite brand of lipsticks from the Dior and Chanel range and the fact that she has a huge array of shoes, bags and accessories. Most of her weekends are spent on office matters such as staff training and catching up on administrative work while Sundays amongst other things sometimes includes some home chores such as shopping at Cost U Less for home supplies. Whenever she gets a free weekend, she likes to bury her head in books at her glass-inspired reading lounge and plays jigsaw puzzles, which she says is a great stress reliever. She also loves to cook up her favourite lamb dish. “I love good food and lamb cooked in various ways- roast, mainly. I like my curries too and pasta.” On appropriate evenings, when not in a rush to attend public engagements, cocktails or entertaining dinner guests,
she dips in her blue-tiled pool, set among trees, and stares at the stars above the Tamavua skies. She reads at least two to three books at a time- on different subjects- one on business or global trends, one on women and one on someone’s life story. On the day of the interview she was deep in the pages of Sonali Devi’s “Change of Heart” , a story about a woman who lives with a donated heart from another woman. While she loves travelling, she thinks walking, reading and listening to music are her best leisure activities. A lot of people who do not know Dr Ali may think she is strict, authoritative and hard to approach, which is what the media often captures. Speak to her personally, and she is totally different – vivacious, humorous and concerned. “I get that a lot and don’t know why. Besides, that can be said of many people who hold leadership roles. These assumptions are generally negated once you speak to that person. Same for me – I guess,” she says. Dr Ali owns two cats, a brown sociable cat named Melon and a more reserved Cherry. She shares a close bond with the two felines because they were born the day her mum passed on. What are her personality traits? She says she doesn’t give up and never stops trying. “Having been confronted with challenges all thorough my business and career I have had to keep trying and striving to get ahead. My role in the business requires that of me and I have to keep things in check and keep moving on.” “However, I like to keep a happy environment at work so all our team can participate freely and , deliver to the best of their abilities.” This she does superbly well as the “boss” at Aliz Pacific, Level 8, BSP Life Centre, in Suva’s CBD. “Given my principal job of Managing Partner at the office I am responsible for the good, bad and the ugly. However, I am constantly challenged with being time poor and work 6 days most weeks and sometimes 7 days too.” At the end of the year she takes a break for a minimum of two to three weeks and don’t plan ahead for that. “Women have to weave their business and personal commitments into each other and we can do this with amazing dexterity. This is what I believe makes women preferred managers. Today’s world is asking for dexterity, flexibility and humanity; all of which women can deliver on with much ease. “I also have personal investments and my private companies which I have to attend to in addition to my main occupation which is the accounting and business advisory firm. My team at the office help me with my many commitments.” From the lounge area, Dr Ali led us into her kitchen, where she posed for a few shots with her only son, Faraz, the chairman of the Fashion Council of Fiji
whose style has been branded by many as “controversial” and “bizarre”. Standing by her son, Dr Ali said Faraz was focused, determined and strong willed. She had him young and vividly remembers taking him to the office often so she could work and keep an eye on her baby. “I think I have instilled in Faraz the fundamental yet strong values of life such as honesty, integrity, focus and determination and achievement based on those principles. These are our family values which my parents passed onto me and now me to Faraz. “In his growing years I always guided him to make his own decisions which he can own and therefore earn self respect; presenting and discussing the various options and impact of a situation and then leaving it to him to decide. “Dr Ali said she shares a great relationship as “friends” with Faraz, who has his own style now that he is an adult and has his own life and individual self to present in the manner he feels most comfortable in. “He has to create his own individual identity that defines him and I know that he will do that with the integrity and respect that he has been brought up with. Of course as a parent I will be there for him to support him, but not to make his decisions for him.” “We are both strong minded individuals and have our own styles and we can handle that. The only way we influence each other is to make sure we look our best,” she said with a hilarious laughter When asked about the chance of having her as Fiji’s first woman Prime Minister, Dr Ali’s answer was fast and determined. “No. I have absolutely no interest in politics…zero. I just love business and will continue to empower women in that area. And I have a lot to do here.”
Woman at the helm….Dr Ali strikes a pose in one of her favourite colours, maroon
A Suva plaque bearing Dr Ali’s name.
Melon the sociable cat keeps Dr Ali company in the reading room.
Dr Ali dices carrots in her kitchen while son Faraz, looks on.
Dr Ali at her office desk, Aliz Pacific, Level 8, BSP Life Building, Suva
Dr Ali with her Officer of the Order of Fiji Medal in 2017.