Yussur Abrar
Yussur Abrar speaks to the Diverse Leadership Conference. PHOTO: Izzi Hughes

Goizueta’s hosted the 10th annual Diverse Leadership Conference Feb. 20, emphasizing the principles of perseverance, courage and preparedness in the entrepreneurial world. The conference featured Yussur Abrar, the former First Woman Governor of the Bank of Somalia as its keynote speaker.

Having spent many years in the business world, Abrar opened the luncheon stressing the importance of understanding diversity.

“You cannot meet the needs [of your clients] until you understand people,” she told the audience, explaining every person has a different — and perhaps unlikely — story.

Abrar said education is the greatest equalizer, regardless of the individual story. It’s the quality most successful people have.

“Education levels the playing field,” she said, “but perseverance, courage and ethics makes leadership.”

As an African woman, Abrar says she is a “minority of a minority.” But this has not stopped her from being successful and making a difference.

“Why should I let someone define me?” she challenged. “In reality, we’re all the same. But leadership is the willingness to do a job well while treating others with respect. The cream rises to the top, but you cannot compromise yourself.”

Abrar speaks from experience.

Although Somalia is a country ravaged by civil war, Abrar saw a strong nation. As Governor of the Bank of Somalia, she felt as if she were lending a hand to the nation by pushing for the bank’s independence from the government.

Her will, however, was not strong enough on its own.

“I was asked to compromise my integrity,” she explains, referring to corruption in the top government positions. Although she held a prestigious job, instead of being part of the system, she stepped down.

“When you’re faced with an ethical dilemma,” she said, “will you be a part of the system? Or will you — can you — change the system?”

Abrar couldn’t change the system on her own, but she could hold strong and not compromise herself. A business leader has a responsibility to his or her customers and shareholders, and Abrar’s responsibility was to the Somali people.

No matter where someone comes from, a leader’s responsibility is to make a difference, Abrar stressed. Race, ethnicity and background are of no consequence when it comes to being a successful leader.

“When the livelihood of employees is on you,” she concluded, “you don’t look at race or color. You look at integrity.”

Conference Highlights

  • Gerard Borda, VP Leadership Development, SunTrust Bank
  • “Global Insights: Navigating Business in a Flat World” Sponsored by the Tearte Family Foundation
  • “The Art and Science of Multicultural Marketing” Sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company
  • “How to Stay True to Yourself in Corporate America”