Often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln, there is a saying that goes, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Likely, the quote is from an anonymous woodcutter but the message remains the same: prepare for success.
Of course, during unprecedented times, it’s difficult to know how to prepare for success. Unless, that is, we accept periods of distribution are a given and we prepare to flourish despite the disorder.
This is how Mohammed Rehan Qazi, Finance and Compliance Director at Quadrin Group in the UAE, has thrived during the pandemic of 2020 that saw lockdowns radically disrupt operations within banks and businesses. Simultaneously, with Britain's departure from the EU looming, clients needed help transitioning to the tax-implications of a post-Brexit world. Despite this being an unprecedented experience, Qazi was ready to adapt to these changing financial priorities.
“I was busy throughout lockdown because I was asked to do more risk assessment on revenue assurance and risk assessment on liquidity,” says Qazi. “Over the last six months my workload has increased and I’ve completed bigger projects than ever before.”
Asked why he was able to respond to the double crisis so efficiently and Qazi’s response is unequivocal: it was his recent designation as a fellow of CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualified professional that gave him the confidence and foresight to strategise for his clients.
“CIMA, in my view, is one of the most credible and professional finance designations in the commercial and strategic side of accounting and financial management,” says Qazi. “Since qualifying, my confidence has gone through the roof. My clients know I am CIMA-associated fellow (FCMA), only a few thousand in the whole world, and my opinions carry more weight. It’s helped.”
There are numerous study paths for students hoping to achieve the ACMA and CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant) designations but as an experienced senior manager, with over 15 years of relevant experience in finance and business functions, Qazi qualified for entry to the Global C-Suite Business and Finance Programme.
The programme sees students attend the four-day C-Suite programme workshop and prepare for the final exam of the CIMA professional qualification - the three-hour Strategic Case Study (SCS) which involves the application of strategic management accounting techniques to analyse, recommend and support decisions typically made by CFOs and senior management. The programme is designed to complement prior career experience and helps leaders stay at the cutting edge of their profession.
Naturally, studying for the programme is not an easy feat. There are 20 chapters, including law, finance, data and strategy to comprehend, all coming together in the final session.
“I approached it as a very demanding project to which I had to allocate time from my schedule,” says Qazi. “I knew I had to make compromises and sacrifice the next 70 days of my life to complete it. When I sat the three-hour exam, I had to process information accurately and answer ten questions, as if I was giving credible advice as an advisor of the board. I had to focus my mind 100%, stop all irrelevant whisperings and get the job done. It is not for the faint-hearted,” he says.
Building blocks of experience
Although Qazi speaks of his increased confidence following the CIMA programme, if you dig a little deeper into his previous career experience it’s a surprise he even needed the confidence boost.
Today he works at Quadrin Group, an international diligence and compliance consultancy that works with asset managers, hedge funds and investment banks. Before this, he worked as an accountant at several IT multinationals including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, DHL and Citrix Systems before moving into the aviation industry where he worked his way up to the role of CEO at Ras Al Khaimah International Airport (RAK), guiding the airport from near ruin to setting new records in terms of passenger volumes, aircraft movement and cargo tonnage, in one of the most competitive aviation landscapes in the world. For his achievements, he appeared on numerous magazine covers.
Once his contract with the government at RAK Airport came to an end, Qazi wanted to return to his accounting roots to become a CFO but with the added experience as a general manager and with the ability to look beyond finance and admin functions. To excel at his role he wanted the qualifications, designation and credentials and that’s when the CIMA opportunity appeared.
“Even with experience, it’s not a walk-in-the-park type of course,” he says. “The strategic elements of this programme are easier to digest and execute at this stage in your career. If I were doing this 15 years ago, I would have struggled.”
Today he says the biggest challenge in his role is the diversity of the international world. In addition to his day-to-day Finance Director responsibilities, Qazi takes on many projects around financial risk and due diligence across various jurisdictions. The biggest challenge as a finance professional, he says, is understanding the differences.
“Recently, I worked on a job that covered five jurisdictions — the UK, Germany, Spain, Colombia and Mexico. They all have different tax systems. Accounting is the same globally but the specifics on taxes, deal structures, laws and types of risk and compliance are different — and the cultural differences. These are the challenges which you face in a global world. This diversity is also enjoyable and the reason I relocated to the UAE as it is a hub for international business and I am grateful to have learnt such diversity first hand.”
The CIMA C-Suite programme helped refresh his knowledge of the different risks of businesses — increasingly important in this era of disruption and when economic and political institutions are responding to a quickly-changing pandemic. “It’s challenging but equally enjoyable to be constantly learning,” he says. “Preparation is key.”