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Lacking Canadian credentials, Foundry owner forged a new path

Zahra Al-Harazi is founder, creative director and two-thirds owner of Foundry Communications in Calgary. She grew up in Yemen, married at 17, and has raised four children. She is one of Calgary's Top 40 Under 40 (2009) and was named a finalist for Canadian Woman of the Year by Chatelaine (2011).

What's your background and education?

When I moved to Canada in 1996 – I was a teacher in Yemen – I couldn't teach here because my credentials weren't accepted, so I had to go back to school. I went to the Alberta College of Art and Design and graduated in 2002 with a bachelor of design and visual communications.

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How did you get to your position?

When I graduated, I worked for a small company with two owners and myself. Then I went to work for a large agency as a junior designer and, within a year and a half, I was head of their design department.

Alison Wattie, who is now my business partner, owned her own company, a small sole-owner business. She went through a personal challenge and wanted to bring on someone to help her. We started a new company in 2006.

What's the best part of your job?

It's fun. It's like playing all the time. We get to be creative and brainstorm all these fun ideas, go on photo shoots, and work with a hugely diverse client base.

What's the worst part of your job?

It's the administrative part of being a business owner that I don't like. I'm not very good at it. I actually quite hate it.

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What are your strengths?

I think galvanizing the team is a big part of it. I love what I do and I hire people who love what they do and we get excited by it. Just getting the team going is probably my best strength.

Business development is another – meeting new people and talking about Foundry and the work that we do.

What are your weaknesses?

A couple of years ago, we were trying to figure out everybody's personality type, and we did an Enneagram, a personality assessment tool. I was the visionary: "inspires with brilliant, fun, imaginative ideas but leaves closure to others."

As my business partner would say, I come up with all the great ideas but I'm never around to pick up the pieces.

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What has been your best career move?

Starting Foundry. It was a tough decision to make, going from being an employee, and I had only been out of school four years, and new to Canada, with four kids. But I have never, even for a second, regretted it. We've been doing fantastic since we started. Our clients are our biggest advocates. Our second year in business, we made the Profit W100 list of female entrepreneurs as one of the 10 companies to watch in Canada, and this year we made No. 82 on the Top 100 companies.

What has been your worst career move?

It's been a series of circumstances: Maybe they weren't the right choices at the time, but it was all I could do.

In Yemen, all that was available to me was teaching. It was good while I did it. When I moved to Canada, I had more options.

What's your next big job goal?

We've thrown things around. We have opportunities to expand and we're waiting to see. We don't want to grow too quickly. We like how involved we are with the business right now.

I like to get involved in a lot of things. I don't like to pin myself down to one goal when there's 10.

What's your best advice?

Pick a career based on what you love and what you're good at. It makes it 100 times easier and it doesn't become work any more. You come to work in the morning with a different level of excitement.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dianne Nice is The Globe and Mail's Careers & Workplace Web Editor.

If you know a Canadian executive with an interesting career, contact Globe Careers .

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About the Author
Report on Business Community Editor

Dianne Nice is community editor for Report on Business and writes about social media. Previously, she was The Globe's online editor for Careers and Personal Finance and has written about these topics for Report on Business and Globe Investor. More

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