Samrah Chand Akhtar is an inspiring, driven woman who knows what she wants. She’s about to commence a three year graduate position at Colt in London as a Product Marketing Associate starting in September. I spoke to her about her inspirations, personal development, confidence and business…
What does being a muslim woman mean to you?
For me it means being deeply respected by everyone around you. It means being both intellectually and spiritually strong. You should be able to have knowledge in different areas and take steps to break the stereotypes that exist. Obviously its true that some Muslim women don’t have an education which is wrong because in Islam, education is for both men and women. My mum passed away when I was a child, she definitely didn’t fit a stereotype. She moved from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to France to England working as a surgical nurse. She got married aged thirty-five after she worked so hard to achieve everything she wanted in her career. Once my parents got married and settled down in Birmingham, she became the manager at the Ear, Nose and Throat department at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital. . Similarly, my dad’s biggest priority after faith is education. Growing up, he always used to say ‘books are your friends’. His exact words were, “books are your best friends, they’ll take you far in life.” So I have come from a household that is quite education focused. I definitely believe education opens more doors for you in terms of opportunities. Alhamdulilah, my sisters have done really well, one is a doctor and the other one is a pharmacist. Although my family are in the medical field, I took a different route into business and they have always been supportive of my decisions.
Your family sound like they have been a big inspiration for you. What else inspires you?
My family are definitely a big inspiration, especially my little brother, he’s a fighter. He suffers from a rare disease which can be life threatening. If you met him, you wouldn’t know it. He is the most sociable, active, happiest, funniest person I know. He’s really into technology and makes funny Instagram and YouTube videos. He’s my biggest motivator because despite the odds against him, he focuses on what he wants. He has so much faith in God and lives life to the absolute fullest. If I ever want to complain or feel demotivated or down, he is just there spurring me on. My little hero. I’m also inspired by art, especially J Cole. He raps about things which really open up my mind. Again, books, whether fact or fiction, teach me a lot too. I really do think that I am inspired by everyone I meet. Everybody you meet teaches you something- it’s important to know that and actively seek out those lessons.
You are really confident and have an incredible work ethic, where does that come from?
I don’t see myself as ‘confident’, it’s just my personality. I’ve always had a big personality. But I definitely think I acknowledge it more now as I grow older because other people mention it to me a lot. When I started university I was just friendly to everyone and the friends that I made would say that I was good at ice breaking. I didn’t really see it as ice breaking though, I just wanted to strike up a conversation with people who looked interesting so I went over. It’s important to embrace your personality and be who you are and have dreams and aspirations. You don’t have to compromise your relationship with God to do what you want. Don’t hold back on anything. I knew that I didn’t want to just stay in Birmingham so I moved out to a different city for university. Then I moved to London to do a placement year with IBM. I don’t want to just stay in one place, I want to do what I want and carry my faith with me at the same time.
Did your personality and aspirations influence your choice to study international business at university?
Well, GCSE’s are usually the time you really start thinking about your future. Until I was about 15 I thought I wanted to be a doctor but I realised I just couldn’t stand flesh. When I was got to sixth form and had to choose my university course, I still wanted to do something meaningful. My principal, who is still a mentor and good friend today, told me that anything you do in life is meaningful. I had the opportunity of shadowing a trader at Morgan Stanley. Standing at Canary Wharf at 17, 18 years old and seeing Deutsche, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan was so inspiring, I just fell in love with business. The air is so hungry in that environment and I wanted to be a part of it so badly. I’d read Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis, and seeing the real life version of what was replicated in the book was amazing. I chose international business so I could study abroad or work abroad because I speak quite a few different languages. I worked hard in university and carried out my placement year at IBM which further added to my love for business. I just know it’s the industry for me. Also, you study so many different modules on a business course so I knew it’d open so many doors for me. I’d say that my personality is natural and it just happened to fit well with business.
If someone walked up to you and asked for advice what would you say?
Whenever times get hard, I always say, ‘shit could be worse’, because it could be. At 23 years old I like to think that most situations are never too problematic. “Shit could be worse” is what my eldest sister used to say to me growing up, especially in my teens when I’d really miss my mum and have bad days. But that’s just it. It’s a bad day, not a bad life. Another piece of advice is to get out of your comfort zone. Have hobbies, try something new every now and then. It’s an experience where you will enjoy yourself and also learn a lot. Definitely spend your free summers seeking work experience, voluntary work and generally building your skills, this will all pay off in the long run, I promise you. It’s the little things you do along the way that will accumulate into something amazing. Finally, have faith, whatever your religion may be. I love Islam and I consider myself lucky, blessed and grateful to have such a relationship with God. Especially when you pray and make dua, it’s a constant reminder that some people in the world aren’t as privileged as I am. I have a roof over my head and I don’t have to face horrific, bloody wars or lack of opportunity. This further instills my faith, reminds me to be humble, caring and actively do things for the less fortunate and improve myself as a person daily. This truly makes you feel alive.
That’s a beautiful note to end on. Thank you so much and good luck for your new job!
Thank you, it’s honestly been my pleasure to speak with you.