In an exclusive interview with Coral Glass, Adam Azim shares his journey of over 25 years in leading senior positions in the corporate field. We also get an insight into his brief career in football.
As young children in school, we are often asked the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Some of us want to be doctors and engineers while others see themselves as teachers and lawyers. Little did young Adam Azim who wanted to be a football player know that his corporate career would commence with Finance and Accounting, and that it would land him hat-trick CEO positions in just 25 years in the corporate world, with a prominent career in the Maldives' largest companies.
Azim comes from humble beginnings in Th. Kandhholhudhoo, and his grandfather and father were skilled wood craftsman who worked hard to earn for the family. Azim credits the upbringing as the reason why he never backs down when things get hard. He holds tight to his father’s principles of working hard for what he wanted to get in life. Azim also had an interesting background where he grew up aspiring to become a professional football player.
"If you are truthful to yourself and what you are doing, you can achieve anything. Don't cheat on yourself." - Azim
In school, Azim's mind was outside the classroom, in the football field. Azim dreamed of playing football for Victory Sports Club. He spent a lot of time developing his skills in the field before he was officially selected for the squad. When Victory lifted the Championship trophy in 1992, Azim was a proud member of the team. He admired coach Abdulla Jalil, better known as Abjee in the sports field, for how he motivated the team to always stick together. Simple rules such as being on time, practicing a routine and playing within the rules taught Azim not only how to become a respectable player, but it was also useful for his future corporate career. Unfortunately, his football career lasted a brief year as Azim had to retire after a leg injury.
Although he never planned for a career in the financial sector, his career began at Male’ Water and Sewerage Company in 2000 as an Assistant Accountant. He made favorable progress in the company in a short time. He was granted the opportunity of a scholarship to study BA Honors in Finance and Accounts in Malaysia. Upon return, he was designated as the Deputy Manager of Finance in MWSC. Azim was back with MWSC after the training where he focused on performing well, and based on his good work, Azim got a course in Malaysia again, this time for his MBA specializing in Finance from Nottingham University.
"I wanted to excel in a field with skill-shortage and contribute to the country." - Azim
Azim’s education and work experience at this point had given him strong reputation in Accounting and Finance. It led him to being appointed as the Chief Financial Officer of MWSC after his degree. MWSC saw the services of Azim as CFO for longer than a year. It was an ultimate goal that Azim achieved with his commitment to the job and his education. Azim then wanted wanted to explore new fields and get more knowledge. He then was offered a position in State Trading Organization in 2010.
The decision to take on the offer was life changing to Azim. It meant him completely changing fields from accounting and finance to marketing, handling new roles and tasks, and most importantly, giving up authority as second in command. It took him out of his comfort zone which logically would be an uncomfortable decision to make for anybody. Azim decided to go ahead with the offer. He considered the opportunity to broaden is skillset more beneficial to become a leader.
"A broad knowledge is important if you want to succeed in the corporate world." - Azim
STO was in business for the services of medicine, consumers, supermarket, electronics, oil and staples. Azim says that if someone wanted to learn about how businesses work, STO would be the place to learn the tricks of the trade. All different segments require a business strategy and marketing plans unique to them. Azim took this as an opportunity like no other and proved his abilities in the company.
Two and a half years later, Azim was assigned the designation of Managing Director at STO in 2013. This was his first appointment as an MD in a government entity. Azim contributed to momentous change in the company. He reorganized a majority of policies some of which are noteworthy. Azim learnt from his father that a company does not exist without its people. He gives paramount detail to how he takes care of his people so that they will love the company back. Azim allocated a yearly budget specifically for the education and training of STO’s staff at the time.
Azim restructured the construction sector by modernizing projects in Thilafushi. All aged equipment were replaced and investments were made in upgrading the building spaces. In the present day, construction is one of the strong hands of STO. Same goes with the medical sector. With nation-wide expansion, STO makes the biggest contribution in the field. Azim was retired from the position due to political unrest.
In 2018, Azim was back at MWSC as its Managing Director. The company is special to him in a number of ways. The fact that his corporate career as an accountant started in MWSC is a given. He achieved excellence in work and experience while working in MWSC. He was also mentored professionally under the wings of Ahmed Didi, MD when Azim joined the force.
"I learnt a lot from my father. Taking care of your staff is the foundation of a good business." - Azim
Since the day Azim decided to restart his studies, he always dreamt of becoming a corporate CEO. He has three under his belt today. You might think that things at the big chair are easy but Azim tells us how much pressure he has to really go through. He urges everyone in leadership to look after their employees because without employees, the company does not move forward. Azim watched his father as he ran the family company Rasheed Carpentry and Construction. RCC was Azim’s father Abdul Rasheed’s vision and how he managed the business gave Azim lessons he could not have learned better anywhere else.
There were 3 things Azim’s father followed through irrespective of the situation.
• Take care of your staff
• Finish your daily tasks
• Do not compromise quality and discipline of work
These rules were monumental in building Azim’s character and work ethic in the corporate world. He too insists on paying staff on time and taking care of them and their families. After all, it is their sacrifices that ensure the functioning of the company.
Azim suggests that a good governance needs to back companies who are making tremendous progress. Company values need to refocus on how productivity can be increased. Bureaucratic decisions should not take months. Instead, meetings need to be held with all concerned parties present at the table so that issues can be addressed and concluded in one sitting.
"I have come a long way in the corporate world. There are two things I will never compromise; my integrity and the company interest." - Azim
What is next for Azim? He had spent over 25 years working hard and long hours away from family. Azim mentioned that he wishes to catch up on lost time with his family and prioritize them. Work has become easier with experience. He is very confident of the fact that his corporate life mostly spent in senior positions was work done truthfully without outside influence.
Facing Covid-19 was the biggest challenge that he has faced so far. Azim knew that this was not the time to back down. The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC), where he is currently CEO, did not come to a halt during the fighting times. They have changed how they work and Azim has led by example. The seniors come to work while juniors work from home. Azim wants to let his team know that Covid-19 is not a challenge, they can all learn to live with it. The change has worked immensely well so far.
We have youth who are as ambitious and dreams of being leaders like Azim one day. His words of advice motivated us to get back to work. Azim says that perseverance is key. On days when you feel like you are not making any progress, take a moment to relax. Come back to it hopeful that you can do it. Golden words to Azim has always been, ‘Be truthful to yourself.’ If you keep doing it right, it will be successful. It might be tomorrow or next month or even 10 years from now but do not break the routine until your big day comes.
We tend to back down easily to failure. Failure is the pillar to success. According to Azim, you should take any and all risks. Maybe you break a leg just like he did. It mended and he moved forward. So why not?