Living life with purpose

AZHAR Azib quit his corporate job in 2010 to start his consultancy and he has no plans to retire. His consultancy projects, training engagements, volunteer activities, fitness training and overseas adventure trips keep him busier than he used to be!

Contributing through work and volunteering

The 60-year-old data architect turned marketer and business transformation specialist has spent 35 years of his life working with data to enable his employers or clients to understand their customers, products and business; achieve marketing and strategic objectives; and protect their data and customer privacy. As the owner of his consultancy, Azhar Azib has the enviable ability to choose who to work for and which periods he wants to work. This also means he can choose projects that he finds meaningful.

One such project is training inmates as one of the instructors of a Specialist Diploma in Social Media Marketing and Online Content Creation by Singapore Media Academy in partnership with Yellow Ribbon Singapore. He was initially a little concerned for his safety inside the prison as he thought the inmates might pose a danger to him, but he soon became comfortable teaching the inmates, and was impressed by their talent and motivation. He and some of the instructors were happy to help the graduates find jobs after their release from prison.

Another way that Azhar finds meaningful projects is through Shared Services for Charities, an Institution of Public Character established to provide affordable professional services to charities to help them enhance governance and organisational excellence.

Azhar explains: “Charities don’t have a lot of money or expertise for governance and professional business management services because they try to channel their money to the beneficiaries and the primary workforce. However, charities are like any organisation or business. They need specialised expertise, for example, in marketing, data analysis, managing data privacy, internal controls, audit and accounting. Some charities are so large that they are as big as some multi-national companies, so they can be very complex.”

Azhar in the office

When asked if age is an advantage or disadvantage in today’s big data environment, Azhar says: “Experience matters. Whether you are digitalising an organisation, participating in a mountain race, coaching a start-up, training adult learners or helping a charity operationalise privacy, some things you cannot fake and there are no shortcuts. An experienced hand makes everything look easy. No learning curve. No trial and error. Just do it right the first time.”

Sometimes, Azhar also volunteers his service directly to charities. “If you have a skill, you should volunteer your skill. It is more valuable to the charity than your time or your muscle.”

Recognising that a lot of important non-profit work needs to be done to elevate a country’s industry-specific infrastructure, Azhar volunteers his time as an executive committee member of two professional societies.

He is currently the Honorary Data Protection Officer on the executive committee of the Data-Driven Marketing Association of Singapore (DMAS), where he has volunteered his skills for more than 20 years. He is also a management committee member of AsiaDPO, a society of Data Protection Officers.

Through these two organisations, he works with various stakeholders such as government agencies, regulators and corporations that operate in many countries, to resolve privacy and data protection regulations and operations issues.

Azhar says: “Each country has its own laws and sometimes the laws are not compatible between countries. We participate in public consultations with government agencies and we write a lot of industry guidelines and run workshops; for example, we run industry workshops during ‘Privacy Awareness Week’. It’s important to understand and resolve these issues because corporations need to be able to comply with local regulations in all the countries they operate. If they can’t, business operations could be impacted.”

Azhar is also passionate about developing people. Through the DMAS, he works with training providers and industry players such as NTUC and E2i to identify skills and develop courses needed for the Professional Services/Marketing Industry Transformation Map. He also teaches business management and digital marketing at the Singapore Media Academy.

“What better way to put all that accumulated specialised corporate experience to use,” he says.

Azhar hiking with friends
(Photo credit: Dennis Quek)

Connecting with like-minded people

At the age of 40, Azhar experienced a mid-life crisis that prompted him to enter his first marathon. It was supposed to be a ‘one-time only’ thing. But since then, Azhar has finished 116 marathons and ultra-marathons around the world. The goal of some of these races can be as much as 100km in 32 hours.

Nowadays, he prefers to participate in 30km to 50km trail races which typically have a 12 to 14-hour time limit. He reveals that he signs up for races because it takes less effort and costs less money than to organise his own hiking trips.

He says: “I like outdoor adventures, like trekking up mountains. If I plan my own trek, I have to hire my own hiking guide and plan and pay for all the hiking support and permits for my small group of friends. Races already have on-course support such as water, food, medical aid and transportation provided and there will be more than a hundred participants to hike with. All I have to do is pay the registration fee. I decide where I want to go in the world and look for a race there.”

He usually travels with a group of hiking buddies since he races for fun and camaraderie, and not for competition. He loves to meet new people during the races; some of his closest hiking buddies are people he met years ago at a race. “Trekking is a social equaliser. It doesn’t matter what job you do or how old you are. On the trail, you are all peers.” 

When asked how he manages to run such great distances in ultra-marathons, he says: “Actually, no one says you have to run. I’m a data guy. I calculate the average speed needed to finish the race and it’s usually like a fast walk… I’ve accumulated enough experience to know how to ‘have fun’ without killing myself. What we do is run a bit at some parts, stop to take photos and walk a lot for most of the other parts.

“I don’t finish every race that I start. Some are just too difficult for me, given the amount of training I’m willing to put in, but it covers places that I want to see. So we start, make sure we see the things or places we want to see and bow out graciously when we get cut off. It’s still ‘mission accomplished’ as the mission was to see things, not necessarily finish the race. My race, my terms!”

Azhar trekking

Caring for his health

In order to enjoy his trips, he maintains his fitness with daily exercise and practice runs. “I don’t want to win; I only want to ‘not suffer’. So, I train enough to be able to complete the races comfortably. And I maintain my fitness throughout the year so I can go on these adventures on short notice when my friends call me up.”

Every day, he clocks about 10,000 steps. On weekends, he throws on his race pack, running or walking for three to five hours, and covering up to 40km on nature trails around Singapore.

For 2023, he plans to participate in about 10 treks or races. One trek he has planned is to the base camp of Annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world at 8,091 metres above sea level, for his annual trek in Nepal!

We can all age successfully by taking the time and effort to care for ourselves and others, contribute meaningfully, and stay connected to family and friends. Follow I Feel Young SG on Facebook, Instagram and for regular doses of inspiration and motivation to live a happy long life.