“Outside of work, I have a real passion for activities that promote the development of a more harmonious and socially inclusive society. Over the past five years, my whole family has been involved in building and developing the Islamic Museum of Australia, as an educational centre for all Australians. I think there’s a bit of a paradox in Australia whereby Indian culture is well accepted, but little understood. This presents the Indian-Australian population with a fantastic opportunity to showcase elements of their culture in an Australian framework.”
Just four years old when his parents migrated from Lebanon to Australia, Ahmed Fahour still maintains the move was the “luckiest break” of his life. Currently the CEO of Australia Post, he shot to the limelight for steering the battered Australian company in 2010 into a service to reckon with. Set to deliver the keynote address at the Indian Executive Club Awards ceremony 21 November, Ahmed speaks to Vinay Sharma, Chairman of IEC, about growing up Down Under, being the first person in his family to go to university, as well as his active participation in community initiatives.
Tell us about growing up in Australia.
I was only four years old when my parents migrated here from Lebanon. I am forever thankful that they settled in Carlton, in inner-city Melbourne, in the late 1960s. That was a time when Melbourne – and Carlton particularly – was really becoming a fascinating, dynamic, multicultural place.
My parents’ decision to migrate to Australia was undoubtedly the luckiest break of my life, because over the following decade Lebanon descended into a devastating civil war.
When I was in my teens, our family moved to Preston. It was a tremendous community full of migrant families, like ours, who had come to Australia seeking a better life for their kids. Growing up there, I always found Australia to be a very accepting and welcoming place. I made the most of all of the opportunities that Australia offered me – but as a kid I was especially interested in playing footy and learning at school. I was the first person in my family to go to university.
In terms of my business career, I don’t think there’s been one key moment, but rather, I’ve been given so many great opportunities. I’ve always worked very hard – but I enjoy it. I’m passionate about whatever task I’m taking on.
I learnt a lot about leadership, business strategy and culture when I was still in my 20s, working at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). I came across some tremendous mentors at BCG. Their advice remains with me today.
How do you find time to get involved in some incredible community initiatives despite your busy schedule at Australia Post?
The schedule at Australia Post is busier than ever as we manage the major reforms of the letters service, while simultaneously expanding our parcels business and striving to become a more customer-focussed, innovative business.
Outside of work, I have a real passion for activities that promote the development of a more harmonious and socially inclusive society.
Over the past five years, my whole family has been involved in building and developing the Islamic Museum of Australia, as an educational centre for all Australians. We opened the museum in Thornbury in February 2014. That has been tremendously rewarding. I get great satisfaction from working on these community initiatives, so I always ensure I make the time to get involved.
In August this year during the AFL Multicultural Breakfast, the CEO of the AFL, Gillon McLachlan, described you as a “trailblazer” for Australian multiculturalism. Why is multiculturalism one of your passions?
It’s a very flattering description from Gil. He is a good friend – and we, at Australia Post, are the AFL’s Multicultural Partners.
The Carlton I grew up in was the classic melting pot of races, religions and cultures. I learned the basics of cross-cultural respect from my parents. They taught me to open my eyes to other cultures and really appreciate those cultural differences as fascinating. So I’ve always been intrigued by the diversity of our community, ever since I was a kid.
Of course, there’s a degree of intolerance in every society. But I think Australia has a unique style of harmonious multiculturalism. We all have to work hard to protect that.
Would you able to share with our readers your experience with India, the opportunities that you see for Australian businesses in India and as well businesses from India in Australia?
I’m a keen observer of international affairs and the economic progress of developing nations. So, for me, China and India are the two nations to watch closely in this “Asian Century”.
When I was at the National Australian Bank, we outsourced our mortgage processing centre to Bangalore and I visited that city several times. My main experience of India was from that period – almost a decade ago now. During my visits, I was incredibly impressed with the talent that is available in India and the ambition of its people.
The Indian Diaspora is currently one of the fastest growing communities in Australia. What are some of the areas you see the growing them contributing?
I wouldn’t want to characterise the Indian Diaspora in any particular way other than to say that I know that there has always been a great entrepreneurial spirit in India and that the Diaspora of any nation tends to have a strong drive to achieve in their new homeland.
I think there’s a bit of a paradox in Australia whereby Indian culture is well accepted, but little understood. This presents the Indian-Australian population with a fantastic opportunity to showcase elements of their culture in an Australian framework.
The most wonderful aspect of our modern “Australian” culture is that it is so dynamic, so the Indian Diaspora has the opportunity to help shape our society from within.
What are you looking forward to most at the IEC Awards on 21 November?
I am looking forward to hearing the background stories of those individuals who are nominated for awards – not just the winners. I am also looking forward to some excellent Indian food and the glorious burst of colour which comes from any group of people in their traditional dress.
I’m still considering my speech, but I’m sure I will tell a little of my own story. I’ll also talk about my passions – business, leadership and building a socially cohesive, multicultural Australia. I’m really looking forward to it.