“How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”, with Dr. Ely Weinschneider & Saima Chowdhury

Children’s self-confidence is deeply rooted in the sense of security that comes from spending time with their parents. They need to know that they are loved for who they are — that they are important to their parents. This is why time is the most valuable gift we can give them. And it’s also a […]

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Children’s self-confidence is deeply rooted in the sense of security that comes from spending time with their parents. They need to know that they are loved for who they are — that they are important to their parents. This is why time is the most valuable gift we can give them. And it’s also a privilege for me, the parent, to spend time with my son. Parenting has been both the most challenging and the most rewarding experience of my life, and it has led to some of the richest moments of my own self-discovery. It has made me more patient, more empathetic, and given me a lot of insight into how people form their identities.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Saima Chowdhury. Saima is the founder and CEO of Noi Solutions LLC, a global apparel sourcing company and Grey State, a contemporary women’s fashion brand. Founded in 2009, Noi partners with apparel brands and retailers to provide product life cycle solutions. With a three year growth rate of 1,519%, Noi Solutions ranked 300 in the 2014 Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in the US. Saima founded Grey State in 2015 to provide an edited selection of relaxed luxury clothing that gives comfort, style, and a sense to calm confidence to a woman’s busy schedule.Saima is also a Director of the Malek Spinning Mills, Knit Asia Limited and affiliated companies, which is a vertically integrated textile and apparel manufacturer in Bangladesh, supplying to leading retailers in the EU and the US. Prior to founding Noi Solutions, Saima worked with the Victoria’s Secret Strategy group focusing on customer and market insights. She started her tenure at Limited Brands as the Business and Procurement Manager for Victoria’s Secret Direct Production, where she managed production budgets of $400 million. Saima also worked with the Supply Chain Strategy group at Nike, where she evaluated the benefits and challenges of upstream supply chain partnership to recommend strategies for apparel source base alignment. Before business school, Saima served as the Corporate Manager of Malek Spinning Mills in Bangladesh, where she developed, implemented, and supervised procurement and inventory tracking, and the IPO of Malek Spinning Mills. Saima started her career at Ernst & Young LLP, where she was a Senior Consultant with the Economic and Quantitative Analysis Group. Saima holds an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School and a BA in Economics and Political Science from Swarthmore College. Born and raised in Bangladesh, Saima currently resides in New York with her husband and young son.

Thank you so much for joining us, Saima! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

Igrew up in Bangladesh. My father is an entrepreneur and my mother is a psychiatrist, and even though they were both quite active in their careers, they also managed to carve out lots of quality time with me and my brother. I never felt my parents’ professional lives took them away from us because they always made us feel a part of their journey — they shared work stories over dinner every night, so we felt very connected.

Looking back, I realize that watching them build a business and a career planted the seeds of entrepreneurship in me at a very early age. I learned that it was okay to take risks — that it didn’t matter if you didn’t succeed every single time. What mattered was your ability to learn from the experience, to acknowledge failure, experience disappointment, but most importantly, to pick up the pieces and move on to the next project. They also taught me to be resilient in high-pressure situations and to have gratitude for all of the good things in my life, skills which have been invaluable to me as I’ve built my career.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

After years of working for major corporations, I reached a point in my career where I had to either start my own business or continue down the corporate path. I felt very privileged to have had the opportunities I did growing up in Bangladesh, so I knew I wanted to help this developing nation in some way. I knew from working in the apparel industry that Bangladesh held enormous potential in apparel production that wasn’t being fulfilled because of certain pain points, so I saw an opportunity to start a business that would erase these pain points. I started Noi Solutions in 2009, to help retailers manufacture their goods in Bangladesh and to help Bangladeshi factories market their capabilities to retailers.

That same month, I got pregnant! So, for the last ten years I’ve almost been nurturing two babies: my son and my business. In 2015, I saw another opportunity to create clothes that were easy, comfortable, and stylish so I started my second business, Grey State, a sustainable, wellness-focused women’s clothing line.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

I used to rush off to my office right after I dropped my son off to school, but a few years ago I realized that I wasn’t getting enough time for the type of strategic thinking that could move my business forward. I was getting caught up in meetings and day-to-day issues, which are important, but were getting in the way of developing my broader vision. Now, I carve out an hour of dedicated “mind time” every morning to work on things that require deeper thinking and more serious reflection.

Once I get to work, I usually have a very packed schedule. I try my best to leave work by 6pm and be home in time for dinner with my family. Unless there is a very pressing need, I avoid doing any work from 7pm to 10pm, which is dedicated family time. I need that time to recharge and connect.

Because I work so closely with Asia, I get back on the phone at 11pm and am on calls until 1am most days. After I finish my calls, I work out. This works well for me because I’m a night owl, but I’m so tired by the time I go to bed that I fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow.

Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Children’s self-confidence is deeply rooted in the sense of security that comes from spending time with their parents. They need to know that they are loved for who they are — that they are important to their parents. This is why time is the most valuable gift we can give them. And it’s also a privilege for me, the parent, to spend time with my son. Parenting has been both the most challenging and the most rewarding experience of my life, and it has led to some of the richest moments of my own self-discovery. It has made me more patient, more empathetic, and given me a lot of insight into how people form their identities.

Can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

The most important reason is that it tells your child that s/he is important to you. This is essential for their self-esteem. You also want to know your child as an individual, and that only comes from spending time with them. And it’s really fun to watch them develop their own, unique personality as they grow up!

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

I absolutely agree with this study. I’m a Type A person, so if I spent all my time focusing on my child, it would not be beneficial for anyone in my family. However, I always try my best to be fully present when I’m with my son. Weekdays are very busy for us but we always try to do three things as a family:

– have dinner together and talk about our day

– my husband and I spend one-on-one time with our son individually where our son gets to pick the activity and we engage fully with him during that time. When he was younger, we would often play with Legos or draw. Now that he is a bit older, he sometimes just wants to talk and share his thoughts, wins, or challenges with me.

– I do bedtime with my son every night. This gives me a chance to connect with him when we are in a quiet mode. This is one of my favorite times of the day.

Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

1. Quality time does not mean putting the world on pause. I take my son along with me when I run errands on the weekends. We’ve had some of our best conversations while walking around the neighborhood. It is a low-pressure, relaxed time when we can connect without feeling rushed.

2. I believe that short bursts of quality time are essential for staying connected. Five minutes of focused time is better than hours of being around physically but absent mentally. No matter how busy the day is, I always spend at least five to ten minutes of one-on-one time with my son every evening doing an activity of his choice.

3. We have set two routines/rituals that we try to do as a family — (1) dinner together most nights (2) family movie nights every Friday. Since these are set times/routines, it helps me and my husband plan our time, and sets clear expectations for my son.

4. As a working mother, it is really hard to volunteer in my son’s school, but it is a huge part of his life and I want to be a part of it. I try to volunteer for a class trip every three months so I can stay connected to his school life. Half a day once a quarter is definitely manageable.

5. While routine and structure are essential in our lives, I am a big believer in spontaneity. Occasionally, I try do something spontaneous and “crazy” with my son. Most recently, my parents were visiting and wanted to experience Black Friday 24 hours shopping. I allowed my son to stay up and go shopping with us at 12am. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and school was closed anyway), and something he will always remember. Memories like these, inside jokes, unique experiences are the fundamentals of lifetime bonds.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

I think it is very difficult to come up with a single definition of “good parent.” Parenting is not easy and most parents are doing their best. Each parent-child dynamic is unique, so I don’t think you can clearly define good parenting. It comes down to understanding your child’s needs, loving them for who they are, and supporting them so they can live a healthy, happy life.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I support and encourage my child’s interests. I try to share my experiences with him. If I am having a challenge at work, I try to explain the situation to him. I share my successes and my failures with him. I want him to know that dreams become a reality through hard work and resilience and the best way to teach him that is to share my journey with him.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

I’m constantly redefining what it means to be successful based on what needs my attention in any given moment. While I want to succeed in business, my biggest priority is ensuring my son grows up to be a happy, healthy, kind, well-adjusted, and responsible adult — so right now a big part of “success” for me is balancing this concern with my career. There are so many competing priorities in life. I am never 100% finished with any aspect of my life. As long as I’m balancing my time well between my most pressing priorities, I am happy.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary really resonated with me. The main message of the book is that as parents, we need to respond to our child’s needs, not impose our needs and views of perfection on them. It is important for me to always remind myself that my son is his own person with his own unique spirit. My role is to guide and support him so he can flourish. Dr. Tsabary also explains how our children can take us on a journey of self-discovery and learning, but only when you allow the experience to take place. It has taught me to give my child the space and the respect he deserves so he can maximize his unique gifts and potential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I read this when I first came to the US by myself to attend school. I was 16 years old. It was my first time being away from my family in a foreign country and I was having a difficult time. This quote resonated with me and gave me perspective to be grateful for the incredible opportunity I had to get a world class education. The change in perspective stopped me from feeling sorry for myself and empowered me to be grateful for the experience.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to help people embrace their differences — to show people how enriching it can be to learn from each other’s unique experiences and qualities, rather than using those things as a reason for conflict. I hope that by doing business internationally I’m helping do this in some way, but I’m also trying to raise my son with these values so he grows up to seek connection rather than division in all areas of his life.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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