Sabah Azim – Put your hand up for new opportunities

Challenges make you realise that you are stronger than you think, says Bangladesh’s Sabah

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It is often the toughest career experiences that shape you and define your trajectory. In my case, it was one such ordeal that somehow turned out to be the highlight of my career. To sum it up, it entailed a transaction that did not go according to the initial plan.

Resolving it required excruciatingly difficult discussions with multiple stakeholders and regulators, and before the transaction went through at the 11th hour, every moment felt like staring down the barrel of a gun. That experience, however, transformed my perspective – whenever a challenge comes my way, I look back at those times and realise that I am much stronger than I think.

Currently, I run the Financial Markets (FM) sales desk for the Bangladesh Global Subsidiaries (GS) business in the Bank. I had moved to this role slightly less than two years ago. I had previously worked in coverage, in the Bangladesh GS business. All in all, I am approaching five years here at Standard Chartered Bangladesh.

I was in coverage for about 12 years before I decided to raise my hand and make the leap to my current role to learn and grow. Of course, any new experience requires one to be open-minded – this includes being open to being humbled.

Right now, the biggest challenge I face is managing the foreign currency liquidity issues that are plaguing a large part of the world. People in the industry tell me that they’ve never faced anything like this in their decades of work.  Being in this line for just two years, I view this as an opportunity for me to learn as I go through something unprecedented.

No day is the same, and it is an effort that is both emotional and physical. There are times when the client calls may be difficult and the market conditions tough, but it is important to take stock, take a breath and keep going.

What I really like about the Bank is how it empowers individuals and provides leadership opportunities from an early stage. I can say this from my experience working in several financial institutions in Bangladesh and abroad. Early exposure increases the breadth and depth of attributes a person can develop whether they are hard skills required for a specific job, or soft skills that encompass all job roles and functions. Likewise, exposure to various programmes can similarly help to widen our horizons.

For instance, I was selected to be one of about 20 people in the Bank’s Bangladesh Talent Accelerator programme in 2019 where I was fortunate to gain exposure to the regional heads. From them, I learnt how perspectives change when looking at any landscape from a regional lens or through cross-cutting dialogues and narratives.

I was later selected to the global edition of this programme where I was one out of two people  representing Bangladesh. It was a rare opportunity to hear senior management speak about their challenges across the banking industry and how they manage regional and global risks. The experience enabled me to correlate with what I do on a daily basis and how it works towards the Bank’s purpose and vision. Likewise, my work as Chair of Bangladesh’s Women’s Network has allowed me to work with D&I Council communities across the globe and work in aspects of diversity, inclusion, self improvement and community citizenship.

During this time, my team and I have worked on projects for the regional leaders and it was such an incredible time of growth for me. It made me realise that you need a macro perspective from a regional and global level to truly understand the business and make sense of what is happening – that is something possible if we continue to push ourselves to learn beyond our daily book of work and our regular comfort zone of activities. Hopefully this is an opportunity that employees all can get in the future if they raise their hands for it.

One of the best advice I’ve received came from a coach during the Talent Accelerator programme. His advice was simple: be authentic and stay true to yourself. At a time when I was struggling with my inner demons trying to align with the organisation and wondering how to elevate my work, this came as an epiphany for me.

In addition to that piece of advice which I hope I am able to remain true to during the course of my entire career, I have found that you need to raise your hand if you want a change. That is the first part of the conversation. Secondly, I strongly believe that what you benefit from, you must disseminate to others. I’ve received so much from the Bank and I hope that I’m making inroads towards paying it forward.