Born and bred in the north of England, Azi relishes a challenge, as reflected in her career path: former member of the British Army, Parliamentary Candidate, Author, and Entrepreneur.
Azi graduated with a Masters Degree in Media Technology to gain an understanding of the digital world. She set up an internet company then sold her shares in the business to take her experience into the corporate world as a Management Consultant.
She was inspired to join the Army by her father, a veteran of the British Indian Army. Her experiences set her up for life: team work, a drive to achieve, meeting people from all walks of life and cultures. Most importantly, the unique world renowned training enabled her to identify her life passions.
After leaving the Army, Azi went on to work for the MoD on campaigns for soldiers in Afghanistan. She volunteers her spare time as a governor at a special needs school and to a charity organisation for the homeless.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
Brought up in the north of England, I came to London to study Art at central St Martins, and became one of the first women to be trained by the SAS*. Since then I have published a book which shares my experiences in the army called ‘Worlds Apart’, and ran as a parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections.
I recently had the honour of introducing our Defence Secretary at a conference, and have also been privileged to receive the ‘British Community Honours Award’ at the House of Lords.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I never planned but knew I wanted to do something different. Having come from a close Muslim family, my only option was marriage.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
The four main establishments in my life so far have all had obstacles and I have somehow ended up being the trailblazer:
Muslin community – studying away from home as an unmarried daughter (20 years ago it was unheard of for this to happen). Also studying Art, as it was never seen as education by the community.
Business – I started an Internet company just as the digital world was evolving, which was successful. I started in my bedroom then received seed capital to open offices and expand the team. As an MD, a female and being very young, it was a struggle to break the glass ceiling.
Army – I became part of a training programme where they were putting women through SAS training for the first time and became one of the first women to go through it. Both the army trainers and recruits found it difficult to accept women on the Brecon Beacons or serving on the frontline.
Politics – having trained with the military and been part of society change, I am keen to bring my experiences to the younger generation of this country to help integration and developing young people for our next generation.
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
I start at 6.30am, when the coffee shop opens, to write my second book. I finish around 8.30am and attend meeting or calls relating to events for my book or promoting women serving on the frontline of the army and ethnics in the British army.
Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?
I have had mentors throughout most of my life, starting at school with teachers during my A levels and Art college for my degree. Then at the start of my career several of my bosses mentored me to help build up my experiences in the digital industry. During my army training, one of the Staff became my mentor to help me through. I was lucky to find an amazing book agent who worked on my manuscript with me and motivated me from the start as he believed in the book. I now have a mentor in the political world, who helped me run for parliament last year.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
There will always be prejudice in the workforce. If women change their attitudes to this, they will achieve a lot more. Throughout my career I have had numerous obstacles but have ensured that I ignore the haters (it’s their issue) and stayed strong headed and focused on the job, which has won me respect, time after time.
If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?
I published my book, ran for parliament last year, received the British Community Honours award’, and am writing my second book.
Tell us about your plans for the future
Political – encouraging more women and diversity in the armed forces. Bringing in part-time national service.
To find out more about Azi, click here
*The SAS course that Ahmed took part in was pulled before she could pass out