MC Meets: Sadi Khan, Founder, Noble Khan

Sadi Khan has overcome a hell of a lot in her life. Now a confident, award-winning businesswoman, Sadi was the victim of domestic abuse for many years, but now uses her experiences to empower other women. If that wasn't enough, Sadi has also fought cancer. An experience which has only made her stronger.

In 2004 Sadi set up Noble Khan, the UK’s only licensed cultural awareness training centre, after her then husband suffered racial discrimination at work. Through her work in this area she won the Women’s Aid Empowering Women Award in 2011 and Trainer of the Year in 2013.

We chatted to her to find out more about her inspiring path to the top.

You’ve been brave enough to use your own experience of domestic abuse to help other women, can you tell us about this?
In 1993 I had an arranged marriage and my husband started abusing me on our honeymoon. He would criticise me, and chip away at my confidence, constantly, and then the physical violence started, too. The first time he hit me across the face was because I had made him a cup of tea. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I was too embarrassed to tell my family and thought they would somehow blame me. After that first time, I was beaten up on a regular basis for any number of things: for making rice instead of chapatis, for ironing his short, for not ironing his shirt. For three years I was punched, kicked, spat at and pulled across the floor by my hair. This all happened while I was studying for my degree in Microbiology at King’s College London and in 1996 I finally left him. I wish I had had support and inspiration during my time of hardship.

How did you come to set up your training business?
My second husband was from Kashmir. He could speak, read and write English, so when he moved over to the UK to be with me he got a job at a well known supermarket (he had been a teacher back home). At first things seemed promising, the company had good policies; they made it look like they understood his cultural and religious needs, but when he started working there things started to go terribly wrong. People would get him in trouble if he went to pray, they kept nicking his pray mat, no one would speak to him at lunch or breaks. Managers were unable to handle the situation. It made him depressed and it started affecting our marriage, so I quit my job and went undercover to see what was going on.

When I went through the company training it was obvious that their induction training was lacking in how to communicate with those from a different country, culture and religion. Diversity training was not giving people functional skills to communicate and get along. It was all a tick box exercise, attitudes were stuck, which was reflecting in behaviour, and there was too much ignorance and political correctness. So I took what I saw, looked at the reasons why training was ineffective, and then designed courses to help people get along.

Can you give us an example of a course you wrote?
Well, I noticed that white English staff couldn’t tell the difference between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and were afraid to mix incase they offended, so I wrote a course called the ‘Asian Culture Course’ for UK companies.

Can you talk us through a typical working day?
When I’m delivering training, I’ll have prepared and travelled to a hotel the night before. I’ll be up at 7am to set up and to visualise how I want the course to run before delegates arrive at 8:30am. Breaks are added but I don’t get to rest, as I have to plan for the next part of the course when they arrive back. Even if I order a cup of tea, I only get to have a couple of sips. The course is so practical that I don’t even get a chance to sit and have lunch. Sometimes I might have picked up a banana from the hotel and that’s my lunch. I usually finish at 6.30pm and then its back to the hotel to pick my car up and back on the drive home.

It sounds very full-on?
I don’t think I would have won Trainer of the Year if I didn’t like delivering training. That’s the fun part of my work, I get such a buzz out of it. Seeing people go through a change of attitude in a day is just fantastic. I feel like I have played my part in helping people be more understanding towards one another, especially when they start to understand that their own perceptions can sometimes be the cause of so many issues. My courses are so fun and practical so it doesn’t feel like work.

What’s your office soundtrack?
We don’t have music on in the office much but I do have a ‘power song’ which I play if I have an important meeting coming up, whether in the office or in the car or train. It’s ‘Give It 2 Me’ by Madonna. An uplifting song can change your whole attitude and how you behave.

Your PA is dashing out on a coffee run – what do you order?
A Starbucks caramel Frappuccino and bakewell slice, or a tea and slice of lemon tart. You can’t beat a lemon tart.

We’re always obsessing over our work/life balance – how do you manage it?
When I first set the company up I had no life balance at all. I lived and breathed the company. I would be up all hours doing work, sending emails, writing, reading. It was even worse in 2008 when we developed the online course. It completely took over. When I need to put the hours in, and I am enjoying it, I can work like a machine. But it all changed in February 2009 when I had major operation to remove cancerous cells that had been found in my cervix. I now work 8.30am until 5.30pm, unless I am training. I don’t pick up emails or phone calls after that time.

What’s your pay day splurge?
It would have to be a Mont Blanc pen or a simple ring from their jewellery range, or Ralph Lauren clothes. Though I think my next splurge needs to include my son, Ali, so it will probably be another trip to Florida or Turkey.

What are your handbag essentials?
I have a lot of essentials… Chanel handcream, lip gloss, my Mont Blanc pens, my purse, car keys, packet of tissues, business cards, house keys and a small note book. I know!

What do you do to unwind after a tough day at work?
I don’t! I have a son to look after. I suppose I relax by going for a walk, run or swim. I also like just sitting at night reading or listening to music. I’m not a TV fan – I only watch the news.

Do you count your colleagues as friends?
I have a couple of colleagues that have become really good friends, and we socialise occasionally together. But usually I keep friends separate. Work is work and I know that the relationships I build with my colleagues have to have boundaries. I am always clear from the outset that what and how I do in work, is always going to be for the benefit of Noble Khan Ltd and the company.

How would your colleagues describe you?
This I know, because my colleagues recently wrote a reference for me. They described me as ‘a very intelligent and courageous, young lady, where integrity, quality and reputation are at the forefront of her values and work ethic. She is strong, hardworking and determined. She works to a very high standard and is extremely resourceful.’ I’ll take that!

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