Solvent Truths

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Inspired by the 1987 Wall Street movie, Azila Abdul Aziz continues her listed derivatives journey 19 years on, with plenty of lessons learned, as told to Kathlyn D’Souza

“I have watch that movie far too many times, and I was driven to find a job in a stockbroking establishment,” said Azila Abdul Aziz simply, as she sipped on her coffee. You wouldn’t even gather that this nonchalant, eloquent and assured lady is the CEO, executive director and head of listed derivatives at Kenanga Futures—and I do mean that in the best way possible.

After having dealt with a turbulent experience during her early years in the finance industry, and going through a steep learning curve in dealing with the futures market—wherein people or companies trade standardised future contracts to secure a delivery set at a specified time in the future—she was anything but volatile (as per the nature of the market).

In retrospect, she had learned things the hard way; from maintaining a calm and professional tone when one can do anything but keep a cool head to making sure the phone doesn’t ring more than three times and to adapt no matter how difficult the situation can get. She was also the only female hire in an inherently male dominated industry.

Now, as CEO, she has turned things around. “I always believe that happy people create a happy workplace and would naturally attract and retain happy clients,” she said. And given her position as a female in a big yet often less understood industry, she expressed, “Historically, men are looked to lead, but one thing researchers can’t agree on is whether there are fewer women leaders because they’re less effective at the job, or because society expects them to be. Yet, what can be agreed upon is that women tend to have high levels of emotional intelligence which will have a profound impact on the way they run companies.”

“Happy people create a happy workplace and retain happy clients”


Indeed, you wouldn’t find her being overly emotional as well, as she believes being emotionally fit is key to worming your way out of difficult situations, and to calmly accomplish the jobs at hand for the day. That being said, being emotionally fit also meant keeping your happiness in check, always.

“A higher salary is most notably associated with success, after all. Happiness is also a critical part of success, and work-life balance can only be achieved when you are emotionally happy both at home and at work, irrespective of the hours you put into both,” she said nimbly.

“Mind-body awareness is an important complementary skill, so be kind to yourself. We cannot pour from an empty cup, therefore you must know when to stop and not only stop when your wellbeing has been compromised.” She then suggested, if you are at a critical juncture, having a 90:10 ratio of work to life, bring it down gradually to 70:30 and progress from there.

She applied this to her leadership style too, for in the beginning she had adopted a technical leadership that led her to management, but now progressively improves on her approach and both embraces plus practises mindfulness and authenticity.

“Having a balanced outlook is so important to me as I experience that, for the most part, solutions to today’s problems are largely undefined and for that personally, I need to develop new capabilities and skill sets to manage higher levels of uncertainty, conflicts, complexity and change,” she confessed. “After all, business is about connecting human-to- human, for it is real people you are dealing with, not just a statistic on a graph.”

Recently named CEO of the Year at the inaugural Women in Finance Asia Awards 2019, Azila hopes that all aspiring female leaders “have grit, passion and tenacity.”

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