IslamicBanker recently had a chance to discover some of away-from-business aspects of Fozia Amanulla Khan, CEO of Alliance Islamic Bank. We spoke to her to find out what it takes to be a successful female leader.
FOZIA is a known face in the world’s largest Islamic banking and finance market, Malaysia. Prior to her current stint at Alliance Islamic Bank, she was the CEO of another Islamic bank in Malaysia. Prior to that, she was the Head of the Islamic Debt Capital Market team in one of Malaysia’s largest investment bank; during that time, she was responsible for structuring a variety of sukuk both for the Malaysian and overseas markets. She holds an Accounting & Finance degree from the University of Humberside, Hull, United Kingdom.
ISLAMIC BANKER(IB): Puan Fozia, you have undergone pressures of negotiating multimillion-dollar deals in your career in Islamic finance and have been in your current position as CEO of Alliance Islamic Bank for more than 2 years. Can you share your experiences before and after your appointment?
FOZIA AMANULLA (FA): Prior to Alliance Islamic Bank, I had the opportunity to assume a few leadership responsibilities at an investment bank. I was also the CEO of another Islamic bank. All my experiences prepared me for my present role at Alliance Islamic Bank. Every role had its own challenges and each have myriad priorities that demand attention at any particular point of time. However, I have learnt to strike a balance and deliver quality service at all times.
IB: Since women leaders are a minority in this industry. how do you cope with your role as a CEO?
FA: Women in leadership roles is becoming less of a novelty. I believe good leadership is about having the right combination of soft and hard competencies in managing the business and people, and less about gender or any other non-meritocratic factors.
IB: As a woman with commitment to both work and home, how do you define your personality in order to cope with in these two different environments?
FA: As they say, there is a time and place for everything, the same can be said for the roles women play at home and work. Undoubtedly, there needs to be delineation between these two roles and responsibilities – the time and attention I give to my job and to my family. It is certainly up to each individual to clearly define and enforce those boundaries. Whilst there are differences in how I choose to engage my family and colleagues, there are some principal similarities too. These include the need to exercise respect, honesty and authenticity, to encourage others to improve themselves and to appreciate the bigger picture.
IB : How does your typical day start and what is your daily routine?
FA: My day starts with prayers, followed by my routine preparations for the day ahead for my family. After dropping my son off at school, I begin my workday with calls to the team. At the office, I am usually tied up with meetings. When I’m not in meetings, I try to catch up with my staff. After my day at the office, I would spend some time with my family. Late in the evenings, I check or respond to urgent emails, or read up on some materials in preparation for the next day.
IB: What do you like to do in your leisure time and on weekends?
FA: I enjoy weekends with my family.
IB: Being an Islamic banker, how seriously do you take dressing at work, both for self and for employees, especially for women staff?
FA: I believe that dressing professionally at work demonstrates respect for your place of work and the people around you. I myself prefer simple elegance and tend to avoid being ostentatious with my wardrobe.
IB: What is your favourite holiday destination and dining spot/s?
FA: There is not one specific holiday destination that comes to mind. I believe travel opens you up to adventure and learning, especially to new cultures and perspectives. As far as food is concerned, I enjoy a good plate of biryani and lamb mandhi.
IB: What is your message to women in the Islamic finance industry?
FA: Confidence, competency and commitment is key. Work hard at being good at what you do because it is better to get ahead based on merit. We need to be diligent and dedicated to the continued progress of Islamic banking, whilst maintaining empathy to all stakeholders. Always strive to improve your skills and enhance your knowledge so to serve your customers and community better. In the Malaysian Islamic finance industry, thanks to equal opportunity hiring practices, more than 50% of the workforce are women. However, women representation at the managerial and senior managerial levels is not as pervasive. With better access to professional development opportunities and continued access to leadership roles in the industry, I am confident this will further improve in the future.
IB: Do you believe that personality and style determine people’s perceptions towards a leader figure?
FA: To me, it is more important to be authentic and to have real knowledge to be a leader.
IB: Please name three important things you would never survive a day without.
FA: My to-do list, my prayers and a real good strong cup of tea!
IB: What is your favourite gadget and accessories’ brand?
FA: I am not very brand conscious but I do prefer quality