Eizaz Azhar receiving his scroll for his MBA from Asia School of Business co-chair Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz at ASB convocation in Kuala Lumpur recently. Pic by ASYRAF HAMZAH

YOUNG, passionate and vibrant are words best used to describe this 32-year-old,who left school when he was 14 to dive into the world of business, becoming an entrepreneur at the age of 18.

A music lover, Eizaz Azhar is the founding secretary for the World Youth Jazz Festival,a jazz festival to celebrate the best youth jazz groups from all over the world.

He plays the clarinet and has performed with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. He had a stint with the Communications and Multimedia Ministry as a youth adviser to the minister.

He also had the opportunity to attend a state dinner at the National Palace with former United States president Barack Obama during his visits to Malaysia in 2014.

More recently, he received a Masters’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) at Asia School of Business (ASB) not following the usual route.

He paved the way and set a strong precedent for other talented individuals from unconventional backgrounds to follow suit in the future.

Born in Langkawi, Eizaz said his proudest moment was when he told his parents that he had achieved independence and he could now support the rest of the family.

Not having Penilaian Menengah Rendah (now known as PT3) or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia qualifications did not mean he spent his years as a teenager lazing at home.

Eizaz said he felt that secondary school was too rigid and didn’t suit his style of learning.

“I told my dad that school wasn’t working for me and I would rather follow him and learn the way he worked. My dad agreed, and I began shadowing him at work.

“Over the next four years, I learned about business by observing my dad — how he managed his staff and spoke to his clients.”

He learned about managing people and finances, while also creating value for himself and the people around him.

“Shortly after that, at the age of 18, I decided to start my own business, a music store called Guitar Empire back in 2005,” said Eizaz.

Over the next six years, his business grew, earning millions. Along the way, Eizaz began to teach, write and produce music.

“My dad once told me that if you know what you want, and you know what you’re doing, almost anything can be achieved.

“I cannot stress how important those words meant to me then, and still are to me now.”

With his business well in hand, Eizaz dabbled with the idea of getting an MBA.

He believes that education should not just be about a piece of paper as it didn’t impact his ability to crunch numbers, analyse data, learn how to code, pick up musical instruments or run a business.

"I offer my story as an example of what one can accomplish through hard work, honesty and sheer determination; I have always believed that any challenge can be overcome with the correct mindset." -- Eizaz Azhar

However, he felt something missing in his life and he knew he had to go back to school.

“I started my MBA journey with ASB,a collaboration between Bank Negara Malaysia and MIT Sloan School of Management in early 2016.

“One striking difference that was brought to my attention was the search for what they dubbed an ‘unconventional’ student — someone who defied the status quo to achieve something, and I believed I was a proper fit for the search.

“I applied and got an offer four months later, together with a full scholarship.

“I also received an Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning from the Malaysian Qualifications Agency, which recognised my business experience so that I could enter university,” he said.

Despite the lack of a formal education, ASB accepted him as part of their inaugural class, where he held his ground among a stellar cast of talent, represented by 45 students from all over the world.

Eizaz said his trip to MIT in Boston as part of the MBA programme was his most memorable experience.

“Going to classes at MIT was a furiously overwhelming experience, with the very best of the MIT faculty spending almost eight hours a day with us for four weeks straight.

“After MIT, I negotiated two internship opportunities, one being a Chinese unicorn tech firm, and another the business development arm of KBZ Bank, the largest bank in Myanmar.

“I chose Myanmar, as my aim was to become an expert on establishing businesses within Asean, as my research shows that the next big boom will be in this region,” said Eizaz.

At present, he is placing himself as an entrepreneur specialising in putting Myanmar and Malaysian firms together and executing ideas, marketing feasibility studies and exploring business models.

“My ultimate aim is to establish myself as an enabler and connector for businesses to expand their markets between both nations.

“I have initiated talks with several firms interested in Myanmar and hope to accelerate the development of their entry in the region.

“My latest adventure is a placement at an investment bank in Myanmar with their business development unit, to come up with ideas and strategies to drive the finance industry in the Yangon and Shan states,” he said.

On a daily basis, he manages his own companies and applies some of the lessons he learnt at MIT, including developing his staff, managing finances and keeping a lookout for new strategies.

He also joined several organisations, including Global Shapers Kuala Lumpur (GSKL), an initiative of the World Economic Forum, of which he held the position of Head of Finance for two terms.

Together with other GSKL members, he developed a youth development programme called After 5, a boot camp for kids who are completing their Form 5 to educate them on the outside world.

It’s been a great journey so far for Eizaz. A self-proclaimed “kampung boy”, he always believes “it’s where he is from and it’s where he will go back to someday”,once he has accomplished what he has set out to do.

“I offer my story as an example of what one can accomplish through hard work, honesty and sheer determination; I have always believed that any challenge can be overcome with the correct mindset.

“My advice to school leavers and undergraduates is to always keep an eye out for lessons that life has to teach you, and accept them with an open mind and open heart. If you learn a million-dollar lesson from a thousand-dollar mistake, I think that’s a lesson well learnt and paid for with a discount.

“There is so much that the world has to teach you, but you must be prepared to receive its lessons.

“Also remember that at the end of the day, no man works alone — every so-called self-made individual has a team of equally talented individuals behind him or her. People management is one of the keys to success in anything that we do in today’s world.

“If I could sum it up, I would say to stay humble; stay hungry, and stay honest.”