The Dr Nur Bano Ali You Never Knew

You Never Knew

mailife - - Contents - By JOHN MITCHELL Pho­tos SUP­PLIED

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.

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