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Razia, the piston in Stanchart’s engine

NAIROBI, August 14- I had attended her presentation and was awed by her perfect and effortless delivery of what many people would consider complex economic affairs.

She seemed unapproachable and maybe I felt intimidated and I must admit I was not looking forward to that one-on-one interview I was to have with her in the afternoon.

‘How do you interview someone who’s so knowledgeable on such compounded subject as world economic affairs? Will I stutter and forget all my questions?’ These were some of my worries.

But when I finally met her and after a brief casual chat, I was shocked to say the least.

She jokes and laughs easily and makes you feel at ease despite her intimidating intelligence (which I gladly welcomed).

She’s Razia Khan, the Regional Head of Research for Africa at the Standard Chartered Bank

Q: Where were you born and brought up? Give me a sneak preview into your education background.
A: I did my A levels at the International High School in Botswana and then attended London School of Economics and Political Science where I did my first degree in Economics and my second degree in development looking specifically at monetary economics and international trade law.

Q:What was your early working experience like?
A: I came out of university thinking that I knew it all, but as soon as I started working I discovered that I knew nothing.

I tried to avoid formal working as long as possible. I guess I didn’t see myself as the kind of person that could be tied down to a desk. I did all sorts of things like teaching, working with various NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) until I finally decided to get a serious job with the Standard Chartered Bank.

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Q: When did you join the Bank?
A: I joined the bank on the graduate program 11 years ago. Initially, I started out working for Standard Chartered in Botswana where I worked on the sales desk doing a range of things.

It was great experience to be part of a smaller Treasury to really get the grips with all the different aspects of the business; trading, the sale side of things, forex trading…I was really getting an idea of what was involved.

Q: When and why did you move to London?
A: I moved to London after one year. They had an opening in the Economics team. They knew that I had two degrees in economics and that I had an interest in the field.

Q: So how did you get into researching about African markets?
A: At the time, no one really looked at African market economics.
Yes, there had been a lot of investor interest in Kenya and Zimbabwe but it was very much “which country is the flavor of the month” type of interest. It was nothing on the scale of what we see today.

We were lucky in that Standard Chartered was very instrumental in spearheading the research of African economies and that is what I helped to do and eventually becoming what was then a Chief Economist for Africa. That title has now changed to Regional Head of Research for Africa. I look at things internally for the bank as well as for our external clients.

Q: I had a chance to sit through your presentation in the morning and I must say I was awed by how conversant you are about economic affairs not only in Africa but the rest of the world. What drives you?
A: I’m very passionate about what I do and I think I’m extremely lucky that I have a job that I absolutely love. But what make it so rewarding is the relationships I build with colleagues in different markets.

Q: How do you keep in touch with your colleagues on the ground?
A: On any one day, I’m in touch with all the dealers, sales people and different interest rates traders in all our markets in Africa on a consistent basis. We have an internal chat room and there is a constant exchange of information and that’s what I use to use to keep in touch. That’s important and pivotal to my being able to do this job.

Q: Why the interest in Africa?
A: I find Africa endlessly fascinating. What really get on my nerves, though, are the traditional stereotypes. Whenever Africa is spoken about, it will always make the news for political reasons.

In the past, to try and get on some of the economic programs, to talk about interest rates and exchange rates trends in Africa? That’s not what people wanted to hear about!

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But I have been on a career-long mission, if not a life-long mission, to try to get people to change those perceptions. There is a lot more to African economy than they think.

I think I’ve been really stubborn in perhaps de-emphasizing the political stuff, what people love to focus on when they look at Africa because the economies are what fascinate me.

I believe that they (economies) could do with a lot more attention that they are getting today.

Q: Do you view Economics as a male dominated field and if so, what are some of the challenges that you face as a woman?
A: When I think back to some of the courses that I did in the university especially the more rigorous economics courses, the male-female ratio was very apparent. In my monetary class, I was the only female student in that particular class at the time and so you do become conscious of this early on. But if you have a passion for what you do, you tend to dismiss some of the stereotypes that people have.

I think if you are committed to what you are doing, if you have a passion for it, then eventually, hopefully, you are leading the way for other women to be able to pursue their own passions and their own respective fields.

Q: Your job sounds like it’s a very busy one that requires you to work late hours and travel a lot. Does it leave time for personal pursuits?
A: If there’s one thing that I’m probably failing dismally at is the work-life balance because work is my life currently. I have a three-year old son who probably doesn’t understand why I need to travel as much as I do. I told him I was going to Kenya and he said ‘Kenya hakuna matata! Mama I’m coming with you’ and I thought ‘if only I could take him along!

So, there are certain sacrifices that one has to make but hopefully, over the long term, the balance will find itself and things will work out.

Q: What are your ambitions? What are your hobbies?
A: I’ve always wanted to be a writer but I think one of the challenges I find is that there is barely enough time to write the economic reports that I need to write let alone anything else!

Hobbies… I love reading, I love relaxing. The travel is a great part of the job because it allows for that time to read.

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Every time I’m sitting around a pool somewhere in Kenya or giving a presentation to clients in Mombasa with the palm trees swaying in the background, I have to ask myself… ‘Wow and they pay me to do this?’…but don’t tell my boss I said that!

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