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Suzetta Ali's recipie for success
Ali has been General Manager of Coates Brothers International, a manufacturer of printing inks, for the past 3 years. She joined the company 18 years ago after graduating with a degree in Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry from UWI, St. Augustine. From a young age, it was always a toss-up between medicine and chemistry. Chemistry won. “My brother and I had those chemistry sets, and we used to do our own experiments all the time,” she remembers.
Her first degree might have helped her get the job, but it was her Master’s in Production Management and Engineering that helped her make the leap into management. Although the male-to-female ratio at Coates Brothers is about 50-50, she finds herself in the rare position of being part of an all-female executive.
Coates Brothers is a subsidiary of multinational entity SunChemical, and Ali also holds the post of Chairman of the Board, the only local – and only female – ever to do so. For this opportunity to prove herself, she’s grateful to her mentor, Alfonso Paredes. “He took a chance on me. That speaks volumes for his trust in my abilities.”
In addition, Ali still performs the duties of Technical Manager, being responsible for all technical trials, and oversees all occupational, health and safety initiatives. She’s proud to note that under her stewardship, Coates Brothers won the OSHA Award in 2010 in their category, and have placed in the finals of the Champion Employer award, which celebrates best practices in HR.
If sitting at the helm of a multinational company isn’t busy enough, she’s also active in a number of other organisations. She holds the post of Vice President of the Printing and Packaging Association of T&T, is Vice Chairman of the Employers Consultative Association, serves on a Cabinet-appointed committee against sexual harassment in the workplace and is active in the World at Work programme.
Like most women, she thinks she brings capabilities to these roles (as a female) that go beyond her academic qualifications and experience. “Intuition, certainly. A woman can multitask better, has a more human touch and communicates more effectively. She’s capable of managing people in a more systematic, efficient manner.”
She doesn’t allow her business responsibilities to overwhelm her sense of self. “I’m an executive mother...not just an executive, but a mother first. I’d give up my executive role in a heartbeat for my young son. I’m also a wife, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, and a friend, so everything is mixed in there.”
A southerner, Ali once called Reform Village home and is a true-blue Naps girl. The family support she has always received is part of her recipe for success, and she is lucky enough to have a husband, parents and in-laws who are happy to step in and be there for her seven-year-old son when business engagements have her tied up.
“My parents are fantastic in their support. My father used to say, ‘if you aim for the stars, you shoot above the trees.’ They’ve been great role models, and still very active in their community. Without them, I don’t know what I’d do.” Another main ingredient in Ali’s recipe for success is what she calls “extreme time management”.
She describes, with a self-deprecating laugh, her monthly planner, where her work, personal and mothering duties are filled in with minute detail. Good organisation helps her free up time that would otherwise be wasted. Some of that time she reserves for herself. “When I get up, before anybody is awake, my mind comes to a rest. It’s when I pray, ponder on issues, meditate, and have a quieting of the mind. Without that, my day cannot start properly.”
Ali doesn’t get a lot of alone time, but she makes it count. She also makes it a rule not to bring home work unless there is an emergency, preferring to let family time remain just that. She doesn’t see any reason why women can’t aim for the top of the ladder; her only caveat is that ambition must be self-realised.
“Some people complain about their life and expect somebody else to do something about it. You say when you get a job, you’ll be happy. When you get married, you’ll be happy. Why are you waiting? Isn’t happiness your responsibility?”
One over-riding philosophy continues to guide her: “Help when you can, give as much as you can, and love all you can,” she says. For Ali, this credo has brought contentment and peace.
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