Nouzab Fareed FCPA has risen from humble beginnings to become group CEO of Fijian Holdings Limited.
For a man who failed his final year of secondary school, Nouzab Fareed FCPA has an incredible passion for learning. The boss of one of Fiji’s biggest employers, Fijian Holdings Limited, is on a journey to constantly immerse himself in new information. He has what he describes as a “greediness for knowledge”.
“Learning is an experience and it should be continued until you basically close your eyes and you die, because the world is changing,” Fareed says.
As the son of a Sri Lankan public servant and stay-at-home mum, Fareed knows firsthand the power education can bring. It is what allowed him to move from self-described humble beginnings to higher paying industries – from IT to corporate finance, investment banking and, more recently, general management.
He now boasts a long list of qualifications – including a master of business administration (MBA) and grew up to literally want to reach for the stars.
“My dream was to become an astrophysicist because I love astronomy,” he explains. “But I’m from a poor family [and] knew that I could do astronomy after I reach 60. I needed to be ready for the employment market. People don’t want you to look at the stars – you’re there to do business and make money.”
“Fijian Holdings is – in terms of gender diversity – number one in this country.”
He began studying by correspondence through the UK-based Association of Accounting Technicians (ATT). He took to it easily, which after previously poor grades was a relief.
“I knew that I was okay – I understood business and IT,” he declares.
“My first break came at one of the largest courier companies in the world. I joined as a director of business development for Sri Lanka [and then] started moving around for short-term work in Asian countries.”
When Fareed arrived in Fiji for a role as an accountant in 2004, he didn’t plan on staying for more than a few months. But the country grew on him, and 10 years ago he took out citizenship. His three boys, now aged 10, 12 and 18, have since been raised in the South Pacific nation.
“It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world,” Fareed maintains, “with the friendliest people on earth.”
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Fareed still occasionally stargazes and has three telescopes in his Suva home. However, between being head of Fijian Holdings – which has interests in businesses stretching from media to food and concrete – he is also kept busy by a host of community roles, including Rotary, Toastmasters and Freemasonry.
Having to adjust to “Fiji time” has been sometimes challenging, Fareed admits. “It’s a little bit slow in terms of decision-making and getting a response,” he says. “But the new generation is mitigating that.”
However, if there is one area in his business that Fareed is particularly proud of it’s his efforts to improve gender diversity among company executives.
“Close to 32 per cent of my group directors are female,” he says. “Fijian Holdings is – in terms of gender diversity – number one in this country.”
Of the 14 chief executives who report to Fareed, five are women. Also, many of his 1800 staff are millennials.
“That is my focus,” he maintains. “I get lots of youngsters every year fresh from college and uni.” It is an opportunity to train people at the beginning of their careers, even if the draw of working in Australia or New Zealand means many may eventually leave.
Fareed attributes his career success to “purpose in life”, which is not just to learn as much as he can but to share that knowledge “with whoever may want it”.
One piece of advice
“Don’t think that you know everything under the sun.”
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