Have You Met…Ayaz Bhanji?

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Have you met the newest President of the Alumni Association, Ayaz Bhanji? Spend the next two minutes getting to know him better.

Why did you decide to take on the role of alumni president?

It’s the next big step in reconnecting with a place that had a huge impact on me. University was the happiest time of my life. After graduation, I lost touch though. I got married, started working and building a career. When my kids got older, I found more time to volunteer. In 2009, I became president of the Aga Khan Council for Edmonton. That same year, the Aga Khan himself was awarded an honorary degree from the university. At his acceptance speech, he said he intended to build an Islamic garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. I was asked to help create a committee to build links between our association and the university. I was pleasantly surprised by all the volunteer opportunities available to alumni and joined Alumni Council two years ago. When I was asked to become Alumni president, I was so honoured and could not refuse. It is a chance to give back to a place that’s given me so much — including many happy memories.

You will be alumni president for the next two years. What do you hope to accomplish in that time?

Volunteering has been a huge passion for me, ever since I was a little boy. I always tell people there is no greater form of satisfaction than service to others. And I get so much out of it — speaking and leadership skills, event planning, managing people. I want to share this message with all alumni and inspire them to volunteer. If we apply the knowledge we have gained at the university as volunteers, alumni can make extraordinary change in our communities and honour the founders of our university, who asked us to think beyond ourselves and act.

What is one of your favourite memories?

Hanging out in the hallway between Cameron Library and Central Academic Building with friends. It was a place we were always able to let loose and be ourselves, even though we were stressed to the max. It was where we hung out all the time between classes. When I returned to campus years later, I felt so happy being back in that hallway.

Why was university such a happy time for you?

I think the answer is simple: I had no kids, no mortgage, almost no responsibilities. I could focus only on what made me happy. Sure, I was stressed a lot with exams and papers, but I was living my purpose, doing exactly what I wanted. Not that I’m not doing that now, it’s just more work! All my best friendships were formed at the university. I also met my wife there, so it has always been a special place for our family.

You had an interesting career move — why the jump from pharmacy to real estate?

In high school, I took an aptitude test and it suggested that my number one career was sales and marketing. Number two was pharmacy. There was no way my parents would allow me to go into sales, so I decided on pharmacy. After graduating I had the opportunity to work in almost every area of pharmacy practice — hospital, community, and administration with the Alberta College of Pharmacists. When I started looking for a change, a friend got me an interview with a pharmaceutical company as a sales rep and I was offered the position. I enjoyed it and really excelled, so eventually transferred these skills into my own business, through real estate. I went back to school and completed an MBA.

Your children are off to university now. What’s that like?

Yes, I have a son taking international development out east. He is in second year and president of the Ismaili student association there, just like I was at university. Everytime I call him, he’s surrounded by friends and talks about all the things he’s been doing with them. It’s so healthy and I know that those social connections are what gets him through the stressful times. Having things to do beyond classes, like volunteering, is really important as a student. It gives you structure and purpose.

About Ayaz Bhanji

On June 1, 2017, Ayaz Bhanji, ’91 BSc(Pharm), becomes the 77th president of the University of Alberta Alumni Association, which aims to strengthen the relationship between the university and its more than 275,000 graduates. Ayaz studied pharmacy but switched gears in 2000 to real estate. He now owns the largest Re/Max real estate office in Edmonton.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.