Chancellor, I would like to tell you a story. Two undergraduates meet on the bus from the University into town as they head for a night out. Little did they know that only a handful of years later one of them would be starting a business and would persuade the other to join him. The two undergraduates were Ajaz Ahmed and Simon Jefferson. The business,AKQA, would go on to become the 2000 employee strong digital marketing leader from Amsterdam to Auckland. In 2012, it was valued at £350 million by Sir Martin Sorrel. Simon Jefferson graduated from the BBA programme to become the managing director of AKQA San Francisco.
I have had the great pleasure of speaking with Simon about the early days of working with Ajaz. Simon said that above all there were three words that capture the impact Ajaz has had not only on marketing but also the many people who have been fortunate enough to work with him. Simon also thought these words would make Ajaz smile: “Courage to Care”.
In 1997, Ajaz sent out an email to his entire company entitled, “The Courage to Care”. Still in his early 20s, the message showed a foresight beyond his years. The following is a brief excerpt from that email.
“…the courage to care is about taking responsibility for projects, because you have enough pride in that project to ensure it is the best it can possibly be…not because we have to, but because we want to. Because it is the right thing to do.”
While Ajaz urged his colleagues to care about clients and the projects of those clients, he always embraced this same courage. As I have learned about all that Ajaz has done for so many, it has become clear to me that ‘Courage to Care’ has permeated every aspect of his approach to leadership. His courage to care for his employees was shown in the early days by genuine recognition of their hard work. For instance, he rewarded thestart-up team of 60 with a trip to New York for the weekend. More recently, he has maintained AKQA team culture by letting media believe that the business’s name, AKQA, comes from All Known Questions Answered and not Ajaz’s initials.
Beyond his employees, Ajaz founded the AKQA Future Academy, a cohort-based development residency. While a traditional internship programme would most likely have been easier to organise and contribute more to AKQA’s bottom line, Ajaz crafted an opportunity for significant professional development instead. And as if working on projects such as this alongside running his company was not enough, he took the time to personally engage with Academy participants. Ajaz’s support of BBA alumni, Ben Wylie, propelled Ben to build Cue Glasses that create artificial intelligence for the visually impaired and to build an Africa technology accelerator, The Baobab Network.
Ajaz has shown relentless commitment to the University of Bath, recruiting students and graduates and paying personal attention to their growth. He comes to campus to help groups such as Bath Entrepreneurs and funds prizes for MSc e-Marketing module.
Chancellor, I present to you Ajaz Ahmed MBE who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Business Administration, honoris causa.