Interview with Ahmed Farooq, Chief Financial Officer at Wesleyan Assurance Society:
Ahmed became Chief Financial Officer of Wesleyan, a specialist financial mutual for doctors, dentists, teachers and lawyers, in November 2015. Having joined Wesleyan in 2010, he was appointed Head of Finance in 2011 and Managing Director of the General Insurance division in 2014. He now leads the Finance, Actuarial and Investment teams. Ahmed was named the West Midlands Young Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors in 2017
How has your background influenced your career?
My dad’s been a huge influence in my approach to work. He came to the UK in the early 1960s as a labourer and worked extremely hard to give us a good life.
I’ll never forget his message: “If a good education had been available to me when I was growing up, I would have grabbed it with both hands.” It instilled a very strong work ethic in me from a young age and even though I wasn’t naturally an A-grade student, I would work hard to get the results I needed.
When I entered the world of work I realised how driven I am to achieve things in a business context. It didn’t matter whether I was stacking shelves at Asda as a student or making strategic decisions as CFO, I thrive on the sense of achievement that comes from making a difference. For me it’s all about solving problems, making complex things simple, and supporting people and organisations to grow.
What do you find rewarding about the career path you’ve chosen?
I’ve always worked in high-change organisations and being able to juggle many things is something that excites me rather than switches me off.
I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had to look too far ahead to the next role. I’ve allowed my work to do the talking and it’s opened doors for me in terms of career progression and promotion. It also means I’ve never stayed in the same role for too long which has kept things interesting.
The sense of constantly learning is really important to me. So much so, I’m known at Wesleyan for often carrying round a personal development notebook with lessons I’ve learned along the way!
What are your career highlights so far?
Although I’m a ‘geeky numbers guy’ at heart, I really enjoyed spending time outside of Finance. As Managing Director of General Insurance at Wesleyan I had the opportunity to learn and lead in a different area.
Winning the West Midlands Young Director of the Year Award in 2017 was also a real highlight of my career. It’s humbling to be recognised externally and to be able to take that home to my family – I’m not sure they were as excited as I was though!
Also, becoming CFO was a very proud moment. I won’t ever forget the sense of achievement I felt at being trusted to take on such an important role.
How do you feel about being a role model for the future generation of BAME leaders?
To be honest, in the past I’ve felt uncomfortable about identifying myself as a BAME role model. But all that changed when I attended a BAME leadership event hosted by Wesleyan last year.
Hearing the stories from other successful BAME leaders about some of the blatant racism and discrimination they’ve experienced in their careers, it surfaced a lot of painful memories. It made me realise that I can do more to make a difference, even in a small way.
There aren’t enough visible BAME or Muslim role models, especially for young people. Given my passion for mentoring it seemed a natural step to start visiting schools in underprivileged areas to share my story. I show the kids pictures of my childhood home, the working-class area I’m from, some of the barriers I’ve broken through. Hopefully it helps them to see a different path… and if I can meet 50 kids and just one of them is inspired then I’ve done my job.
How do you balance being a father to small children and an Executive?
Work inevitably involves long hours and evening commitments but I try to keep the latter to one per week. I have two kids aged 5 and 7 and I want to enjoy their formative years before they become too independent and don’t need me anymore!
I’m happy that Rachel my wife, and I, can bring our kids up to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. However, it’s so important that they know how fortunate they are. For instance, my 7-year-old daughter has been abroad several times already; whereas the first time I saw a beach was when I was 27!
I talk to them about poverty and the third world – there’s a whole world out there that’s very different from the one we experience every day.
What’s your top advice to anyone looking to get on in their career?
Aim to be the best they can and never stop learning. Or to put it another way – be brilliant at what you do, and good things will follow.