Ajaz Ahmed is best known for his title as CEO of AKQA, an international digital agency that specialises in creating digital services and products. It employs 2,200 staff globally with 29 studios. A company started at a time of recession, it is a forward-thinking and future conscious company, providing a multiplicity of services ranging from E-commerce and Product Development to Technology Services and Social Media Marketing, each of these feeding into the company’s remarkable revenue of US $250 million (as of 2012).
“And like any artistic endeavour, you make decisions from feeling, not reason.”
Early years & Childhood
Born in Taplow, a village in Buckinghamshire, England, Ahmed recalls his earliest memory being his mother peeling and deseeding a pomegranate for him to eat. He links his success back to the hardwork recognised in his parents, his father being a machinist in a local factory and his mother a local hospital worker.
Ahmed grew up in a big family surrounded by nature, sunshine and freedom – which he now sees as his paradise. Many of his earliest, happiest memories were made sailing the River Thames, claiming that nature “lights up all our senses”. He even ‘criticises’ the digital world (his world) for not being truly multisensory in the way that nature is, similarly digital experiences can not be engraved in his heart in the same way nature is, although one day, he says, they will be.
His journey in education was marked by his understanding that “The desire to learn never actually stops.” – alluding to the reason why he asked possibly too many questions in high school. His inquisitive nature led him to take an interest in the world’s largest database software company, at first, simply because of its architecture, but this later developed into a genuine interest in technology and communications. Mirroring his parent’s hard work, he wrote letter after letter trying to get a job there, and eventually succeeded, noting that the acceptance letter was delivered by a lady who “looked like an angel to me!” His simple one week of work experience gradually grew until they had him working in every department; development, logistics, distribution, finance and more.
His educational journey took him to a University in Bath where he started a degree in Business Studies, until the age of 21, when he dropped out of university to start AKQA (already having 6 years of work experience under his belt).
“I won’t ever encourage anyone to drop out of university but I do encourage people to never lose their curiosity.”
Familial relationships and friendships seem to run strong in Ahmed’s life as he notes meeting friends for life at university, such as those he lived on campus with who also had 4 names (like Ahmed himself) leading them to playfully refer to each other using their initials rather than forenames, this later inspired the name of his company – AKQA – Ajaz Khowaj Quoram Ahmed.
Ahmed pays a lot of thanks to Nike for his and AKQA’s journey so far and the adventures ahead. He is keen for AKQA to be a company that’s about youth, energy and staying fresh but counterbalanced with maturity, experience and most importantly never forgetting their origins. This rings true in Ahmed’s personal life as well – his constant referring back to his childhood, his mentors when he was younger. He isn’t afraid to let his personal journey, struggles and growth be omnipresent in his life today.
“We’re about creating what’s next, but (we are) nostalgic and loyal too.”
As well as heading up a multi-million dollar company, AKQA, Ahmed is lesser known, but still known, for his writing such as ‘Velocity’ – Ahmed’s first book, published 2012. His writing has certainly done well, impacting and inspiring not only entrepreneurs and businesses but also non-profits and community organisations who have implemented his thinking in their workplace.
His second book ‘Limitless: Leadership That Endures’ (2015) was more of a personal project, paying respect to the organisations and people that meant something to him throughout his journey.
Through his work, Ahmed has met people from all walks of life such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, along the way realising the importance of learning from the people you hire as well as teaching them, this idea draws parallels with his thoughts as a child:
“while I was growing up every adult I met was a mentor of one kind or another”.