Avenue magazine Calgary chats with Zahra Al-Harazi, Chatelaine’s Top Entrepreneur of the Year (2011), about her incredible success. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Born in Uganda, Zahra Al-Harazi and her family moved to Yemen when she was young. After relocating to Calgary in 1996 with a teaching degree that wasn’t recognized here, she decided to rethink her career. After a stint in retail, she went back to school to pursue a bachelor of design and visual communications degree at the Alberta College of Art + Design. Two years after working her way up through two different firms as a designer, Al-Harazi started Foundry Communications.
Today, the 2009 Avenue Top 40 Under 40 alumna and 2011 Chatelaine Entrepreneur of the Year spends her days running a design firm that has moved office space twice in the last two years to accommodate its growth. The multi-million-dollar firm caters to prestigious clients including Brinkhaus and Travel Alberta, as well as community projects like the development of the King Edward Arts Hub and Incubator.
Meanwhile, every other spare minute is spent volunteering her time on the board of directors for Entrepreneurs’ Organization, as well as participating in speaking engagements for non-profit organizations, including Calgary’s Young Women of Influence.
What personal traits do you think make you successful?
I’m like a dog with a bone. It’s a good thing, and it’s a really bad thing. I have a hard time letting go of an idea and I want to see it succeed. I make endless lists of things I want to do, and nothing makes me happier than crossing things off that list. I get excited about stuff, I get excited about people and my work is a big part of my life. I think I feed off the energy of people.
Do you think being a woman puts you at any disadvantage in your industry?
You shouldn’t let anything stop you; it doesn’t matter what. There are poor people, people with tragedy in their life and there are short people. You pick up any magazine and they tell you tall people with an Ivy League education are the only people who are going to succeed, and that’s about it. But I always say that our success is dependent only on us. If you approach life with that attitude, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman. You’re going to succeed because you’re going to approach it at a different level.
What inspires you in your career?
The team aspect of solving a problem, getting the right concept, getting into the target audience’s head; that is really exciting. There’s always high-fiving and things happening around the office because people get excited.
When you’re not working, what do you get up to?
I’m usually out most nights of the week, whether it’s dinner with friends or a gala. My kids are always out, as well. It’s really interesting now that I’m older, there’s always something to do. I need to start planning a low-key day. I just want to go home and read a book or watch a documentary on Netflix.
Do you ever take time off?
There’s always a guilt factor for taking time off for myself because I have so much other stuff to do. I went for massage when I was in New York recently, and I thought, “Why haven’t I done this in a year?” If I’m at home and I know I’m not going out, I instantly put on a pair of pajamas. There are some Sundays when they don’t come off.
How do you stay motivated and not get too overwhelmed with your busy life?
I’m in a really great place right now and I love what I do. I do things because I want to do it, not because I have to.