Zaheed Nizar studied BSc Banking and International Finance, 1999 and is now the CEO of a family office who owns hotels and real estate. We met up for a chat for our continuing #Cassat50 series.
Why did you come to Cass?
CUBS (City University Business School, later changed to Cass) was actually a recommendation. My sister went to City nine years before me to study economics and I wanted to study economics but also to get in to banking. Her friend, who was at CUBS at the time, told me studying at CUBS was brilliant and I thought that this is the place I need! I didn’t know anything about banking – but I focussed my mind and A’ Levels towards the course. It was all I wanted to do!
What was your experience of studying at Cass?
It was really interesting because it was very different from college. There were lots of international students – including lots of Greeks, mainly on the shipping courses. It was a completely different ball game. We had a lot of work to do, and quickly, with lots of lectures and tutorials. There were lots intense characters in my lectures, but some of them turned out to be my best friends!
We had lecturers that were actually more like your friends, because the age gap was not that large. We had to become more mature and more responsible, because we had to take ownership of our work. We were not told what to do when, we just had to get on and do it. That’s not a good thing to land on an 18-year-old! I found the first year was easier than A’ Levels, then the second year, which comes very quickly, was way harder, especially the complex maths. I took it more seriously then.
Do you have a favourite memory from your studies?
The best part was being given the option between my second and third years to take a year out and work, which I did. It was brilliant, as I was not ready for my third year! In industry it was really good, I found my placement and had a really good time. Personally it was great too, a handful of guys on the course also took a year in industry and we made really good friends – now at the age of 40 I’ve been to some of their weddings. I’ve no specific fun memories of the course, it was more about the time we shared together staying up late doing presentations; it taught me a lot.
How did studying at Cass change your life?
You know what, it didn’t change my life when I went in to banking. During my year out I had been working in asset management and it didn’t help then. It helped a little post-graduation when I worked in equities and then sales.
However, when I left banking in 2003 to join the family business, which is in hotels and real estate, the value of my degree became apparent, especially around presenting and pitching, balance sheets, profit and loss and general business acumen. I graduated in 1999 and left banking five years later, and then realised how important my degree was! My studies were centred on banking but delivered elsewhere.
I think a degree can take time to become relevant. Between 2006 and 2007 I decided to get back involved with alumni because I felt a great need to say thanks, and there were a few lectures specifically that I wanted to pay back.
How have you given back?
We had course director Shelagh Heffernan, who passed away. She was had been ill for some time and passed away after I left Cass. When I got back in touch with the School, a fellow student Luca Del Conte I set up the Shelagh Heffernan Fund in association with her husband, which was our way of saying thanks. I went back to my classmates and together we funded several students – we funded tuition fees, especially for overseas students.
Are you still in touch with the School?
Since then, I’ve worked various jobs and now run various businesses and I still see the value of the alumni network. For example, through a seminar at Cass I met the owner of Metro Bank, Vernon Hill. It was brilliant meeting him and one of my partners and he have done some stuff together since. Post-Cass the collaboration continues so it’s very worthwhile for all students to realise that, and keep their foot in the door.
I’m also part of the Finance Board. All the other members are very young, they all graduated around 2010 and they understand the importance of contact with Cass and how much help and assistance they can give and get.
Also, my eldest daughter will soon be going to the City of London School for Girls, in Frobisher Crescent. Its location in the City and the connections between the University and both the Girls and Boys schools was a big influence on what school she went to. When we went to see the school there were so many memories!