Having started off her career as an auditor at KPMG, the Course Director of DSR Professional Training JLT tells Accountant Middle East how she discovered her hidden passion for teaching…

COURSE LEADER: Durdana Saiyid Rizvi, Training Director of DSR Professional Training JLT

COURSE LEADER: Durdana Saiyid Rizvi, Training Director of DSR Professional Training JLT

FINANCIAL LITERACY is a necessary tool in the toolbox of all sensible modern individuals, whether enabling a person to use credit responsibly, confidently manage their finances or develop a responsible attitude towards financial planning.

In the corporate financial sector, financial literacy is key to personal and professional success.

With more and more business and financial institutions seeking to take their organisations to the next level, employers are increasingly looking to internationally recognised professional certifications as a reliable measure of the quality of their workforce.

Brainchild of accountant

Having recently celebrated it’s one year anniversary, DSR Professional Training in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), the brainchild of accountant, teacher and entrepreneur Durdana Saiyid Rizvi, is stepping up to the challenge of providing professionals seeking professional certification and personal development with the personalised attention and rigorous training which they need to tap into their potential.

Durdana Rizvi’s life and professional career in the Gulf began at KPMG, where she was a Senior Auditor in 1982. She later joined NPP, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) as the head of their finance function. Later on after her stint as a Finance Manager at Kentz International, she moved to Canada, taking time off to raise her two children. While there, she decided to go back to school to get an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

With a double major in accounting and strategic management from one of the top business schools in North America, Durdana returned to the UAE where she decided to put her education to work as a strategic manager at Union National Bank (UNB).

“Within a few months I went on to head the department of strategic management and was involved in the transition of the bank from the last millennium into the new one, through Project 2000. This involved many initiatives, including new ways of serving customers, new IT systems, new modernised branch structures which were very prominent in Europe, and the creation of the first wealth management department.”

A natural leader

While the job offered much of what she hoped for, it also presented personal challenges.

“I was involved in the restructuring of the bank and I found it quite painful because restructuring meant a lot of people were laid off and I thought to myself, this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life, be responsible for people losing their jobs, families losing their homes and people leaving the country – it’s quite severe.”

With this in mind, Durdana quit her job with UNB and the family moved to Dubai.

Teaching hadn’t been something Durdana considered as a career, though her friends, family and colleagues would agree that her charisma and drive made her a natural leader in any setting. It was through a serendipitous coincidence that, shortly after arriving in Dubai, she was asked to help out at Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) when a substitute was needed.

“There weren’t that many MBAs running around at that time who could step up to do it, so I did. And once I started teaching, I was bitten! I thought, this is what I want to do, to see those faces light – it’s that wonderful ‘Aha!’ moment when they understand. It was the exact opposite of being involved in demolishing things and firing people. It was such a positive feeling.”

The realisation was swift and satisfying – Durdana Rizvi would become a teacher.

Bridge the gap

The first nine years of her teaching career were spent at the Higher Colleges of Technology, Dubai Men’s Campus where she taught accounting, finance and strategic management. However, the urge to develop and progress which fuelled Durdana’s many successes in the corporate world, was beginning to grow stronger and make her restless. The experiences in higher learning showed her that the academe was simply stretching itself too thin.

“The subjects students cover are very wide, but they’re not very deep, so when people major in any one subject, say accounting, the number of accounting courses they do and the depth that they go into is very little,” says Durdana.

“I had a very strong feeling that there was a gap between what the academic institutions were giving to the students in the UAE and what the workplace required and when I became cognizant of that fact I decided that I had to try and bridge that gap.”

A thorough needs-analysis of the market compared to the skills and knowledge students were getting in higher education institutions showed there to be a disparity.

“It was very difficult when I would try to bring about changes in HCT because the college is part of a mammoth system and I didn’t have much control,” she laments.

A Learning Majlis

The idea of having something all her own, a place where she could teach exactly what she knew to be missing, began with a pilot project – a partnership between Durdana and the then-director of HCT – which they called the Financial Training Centre at Dubai Men’s College (FTC@DMC).

“It was an immediate success, our classes were full and there was a long waitlist.”

Due to logistical problems the programme was however, unable to continue, and the team honoured the commitment to the students before successfully closing the centre.

“Then I came to JLT, found the premises that would become our school, and built DSR,” she adds, with a tinge of pride in her voice.

There’s an undeniable pride with which Durdana described her happiness at how well everything’s turned out. With classes full and smiling students walking through the doors, DSR has become the incarnation of Durdana’s teaching ideology: a Learning Majlis.

As a pillar of Emirati culture, the concept of the Majlis – meaning ‘place of sitting’ in Arabic – is vital to the essence and success of DSR. Everything about it has been designed with a singular thought in mind – that it has to be as inviting and pleasant an environment as possible.

Reach full potential

LIFELONG PASSION: Durdana Saiyid Rizvi, is stepping up to the challenge of providing professionals seeking professional certification and personal development.

LIFELONG PASSION: Durdana Saiyid Rizvi, is stepping up to the challenge of providing professionals seeking professional certification and personal development.

In line with DSR’s mandate to bridge the gap between what the academic institutions are providing and what the market really needs is the goal of providing their students with an education in a fun and attractive environment where they enjoy what they’re learning.

“The culture that we’ve developed within the organisation is to embrace the students, give them a great learning experience, and help them reach their full potential. We have small classes and our professionally qualified teachers provide individual differentiated attention that students need to succeed. I want this to be a place where people want to come. I certainly do!” says Durdana.

With the doors of DSR opening on December 4 2011, the first year saw the team toiling hard to get everything off the ground. The cornerstone of Durdana’s educational philosophy is to provide the highest quality education, so naturally she insisted that DSR must offer an internationally recognised professional qualification.

DSR is a proud Partner in Learning with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), one of only two in the whole of the Middle East. Moreover, they provide the complete ICEAW ACA qualification and are in the process of becoming a Gold Approved Learning Provider of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

A winning approach

While success goes hand-in-hand with ambition, Durdana is conscious of the need to be unhurried with the development of DSR, choosing to start one thing and developing it to its fullest before moving on.

“We’ve accomplished so much in so little time; we are growing, but we will grow only when we are satisfied to move on to the next level,” says Durdana.

“We spent the first year developing the ICAEW programme and this year we’re going to spend on further developing our ACCA programme and maybe next year it will be another qualification.”

Based on the satisfaction of the students and the quality of accountants DSR has produced thus far, it’s clearly a winning approach.

Professional development should happen at all levels of an institution and Durdana values the importance of having teachers who are just as dedicated to their students as the students are to their studies. Earlier in the year three DSR instructors travelled to London for the 2013 ICAEW Tutor Conference for just this reason.

“We were the first teachers ever to go from Dubai. We attended the conference to interact with the ICAEW exam markers and find out what it is they are looking for. That was an important initiative towards improving our own standards, improving how we teach and showing our commitment to improving any which way that we can.”

Strong family support

Unsurprisingly, the support from family, friends and colleagues has made an impact on how smoothly the first year of DSR progressed.

“My husband is extremely supportive. He’s an ICAEW FCA and he’s been helping us with keeping our books and he’s always there to advise and give support. My elder son, who’s doing his ACA at the moment, has also been an amazing support. And I’m very proud of my youngest who will be starting at Ernst and Young in June after his graduation. I consider myself very lucky.”

Furthermore, having to shift gears regularly between teaching obligations and the responsibilities for the everyday running of a business also means that the team which Durdana has put together, is one that she trusts completely to do their jobs competently in her absence.

“Our Programme Manager, Jehan Shibli, has done an amazing job with our students and especially of taking a lot of responsibilities off my hands. I couldn’t give it up so easily because I want to have that personal contact.”

Despite a growing list of duties and responsibilities, that personal connection with the students is still one of the most important and rewarding features of the job.

“I love to see students flow through the door. For me, each student is an individual. I know their fears, their concerns and their potential. I know a lot about them and that really is quite delightful. I don’t ever feel like I’m working,” says Durdana.

Value to the customer

While the commercial interest is an important aspect of running a business, the focus of DSR is still heavily on providing a quality education.

“I always feel that if the value you provide to a customer is higher, then the price they are paying you will sell. So the difference between the value to the customer and the price is what makes you special, what will get people to come to you,” says Durdana.

“On the other hand, the difference between the selling price and the cost is your profit. So the difference between the value to the customer and the price I charge is huge, and that is the critical success factor of DSR.”

The value of the education Emirati students are finding when they step into class with Durdana is due in large part to the rapport that she has developed with them through a decade of dedication and learning that began at HCT.

“I am able to bring together discipline and caring. The thing is – if you’re tough and you don’t care, you will have a rebellion. But if you’re caring students will take a lot of toughness from you.”

The care which students are shown and the understanding of their personal predicaments, circumstances, and culture are particularly important when trying to balance the Western and Eastern values and cultures which tessellate so frequently in this country.

“I have that balance and that makes me successful with my students – they will take a fair amount of rigor and discipline from me in exchange for my understanding.”

Balancing values and culture

Students at DSR cover a wide range of backgrounds, levels of experience and age. To a typical teacher this might pose a challenge, but for Durdana it came as an opportunity to observe and encourage the development of softer skills which she believes have created well-rounded, cooperative individuals.

“When I started my first class the oldest student was fifty and the youngest was twenty-one and the two became best friends. The younger one was studying in university so he brought in really good technical skills in accounting while the older one, the COO of a branch of HSBC, brought in an amazing amount of experience.”

It is clear that Durdana Rizvi has stuck a comfortable balance in her role as director and course leader at DSR Professional Training JLT. The compassion, commitment and collaboration Durdana has engendered in her students, teachers and team are perfect companions to the comfortable setting of the bright and modern DSR classrooms.