Birmingham businessman Shezad Nawab tells us how being an entrepreneur was a childhood dream, how he’s bridging the gap between deaf and non-deaf businesses, and why his dad has always been his greatest mentor.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I am profoundly deaf and a native user of British Sign Language (BSL.) I am always learning new sign languages when I travel and I have learnt six sign languages so far: Arabic, American (ASL), British (BSL), Moroccan, South Africa and International.
Tell us a little about your business.
I now provide specialist management consultancy and currently work as an interim executive director as well as an international speaker.
For those who aren’t familiar with the word entrepreneur or the BSL sign for it, I use the sign for thinking, innovation, and success, as these words describe what entrepreneurs do: create new solutions or products, and work towards successful business.
I work with both hearing and deaf businesses and clients, and the services I offer vary greatly depending on the business. Deaf business owners benefit from working with me to develop their ideas and to learn how to grow their businesses. With hearing companies, they often employ me to look at accessibility or how they can cultivate more deaf awareness.
The sort of business services I provide include things such as creating business, marketing, and financial plans; looking at business organisation and development; management consultancy; and delivering motivational speeches.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
As a child, I dreamed of becoming a pilot, but this was not possible because I am deaf. This was probably the first step towards accepting my limitations and giving up on certain dreams. I know from my own experience that unpredicted roadblocks can appear during any task, and I understand the frustration which the deaf community faces while operating in the business world.
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was 10, I asked my father, “How can I become a multi-millionaire?” He told me, “You need to focus on your business at all times to make a strong business foundation.” When I was a child, he was worried about my future as a deaf person, so I initially worked in his retail and property development businesses.
Since I graduated from Birmingham City University with a degree in Business and Marketing in 2009, I have been empowering and counselling deaf people in business and entrepreneurship, as well as supporting disabled and non-disabled entrepreneurs. My mission is to increase the number of deaf entrepreneurs in the UK through networking and collaboration.
I now have 17 years of experience in management consultancy, as an interim executive director and as an international speaker, and I’ve received eight business awards, including an MBE in 2017.
Much of my work involves helping the deaf community to get their voices heard in the world of business and assisting them in sparking their own growth. I prepare business presentations, seminars, keynotes, and workshops for those who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs and provide the next generation of deaf entrepreneurs in the UK with a great index of resources.
By making resources and business information more accessible, I aim to bridge the gap between the deaf and mainstream businesses.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
I haven’t encountered many barriers in business due to my deafness. Sometimes I receive phone calls from people who aren’t aware that I’m deaf, but then I simply use text messages to reschedule their call for when my interpreter is with me.
With my deaf clients I use email, message, and video calls. We work to flexible time schedules to ensure we can make convenient appointments to meet with each other.
To communicate with hearing clients, I employ an interpreter who always supports me in relation to phone calls, business networking and providing voiceover when I present at business presentations, conferences, seminars, and workshops.
I advise others not to let barriers affect their business dreams. You must stay positive and never give up, keep your attention on your time management and overall business plan. You can make realistic short- or long-term goals, focus on them alone and stick to them!
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
I do feel that so many more deaf people could have the confidence to become self-employed or own their own small business.
Being deaf has its challenges, but it should not prevent you from achieving your dream. If you are deaf and hardworking, you can create your own business.
In my opinion, gaining experience is an ideal way of preparing yourself for entrepreneurship. It takes time to create a new start-up, but with perseverance and a will to learn, you will succeed.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
Going to Buckingham Palace and meeting Prince Charles when I was awarded my MBE was amazing!
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
That you can be disabled and be an entrepreneur. Invest in your own productivity. If you feel inspired to set up your own business, then go for it!
Who or what inspires you?
My father is my greatest mentor and has always inspired me.
Tell us a little about your new book.
My book, Born Deaf to An MBE, tells you more about me and my journey as a deaf person determined to succeed in business.