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Forty Under 40 Award winner Q&A: Persis Ahrestani

This year’s cohort of recipients will be celebrated at an event Feb. 7, 2024

BIV is recognizing Persis Ahrestani, vice-president and CFO, Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver, and 39 other exceptional business leaders as part of the 2023 Forty Under 40 Awards cohort.

Longer Q&As with each recipient are included in BIV's annual Forty Under 40 Magazine (out in print Dec. 11). Award winners will be celebrated at an awards gala Feb. 7, 2024.

This profile may have been edited for length and clarity.

What career highlight are you most proud of?

One particularly memorable career highlight is receiving a standing ovation from my advanced financial accounting class at UBC. The unexpected appreciation from a room full of tired students on a late Friday night was not only personally fulfilling, but highlighted the positive impact a teacher can make.

What was your toughest business or professional decision?

My toughest business decision has always been terminating people’s employment. It is always personal and hurtful, but human beings are resilient.

How do you lead?

I lead through empowerment and education. I believe in creating a safe, controlled environment where team members can have the opportunity to grow.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned in business?

Never give up. There’s always a solution, but you must be innovative, patient and open to listening.

Best piece of advice ever received?

Respect others. I borrow from my son’s minor hockey coach Kyle Turris who said that as a coach, the most important skill he needs to do his job well is to respect others. I think this rings true for life.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Growing up I was an overachiever. The relentless pursuit of outcomes and results was a distraction and hindered my overall development. Worse – it wasn’t fun being me. My advice would be not to fixate too much on achievements. Focus on honing your strengths, pursuing your passions, acquiring knowledge and just having fun.

What's left to accomplish?

I want to focus on our youth as they are our future. Through our work at Habitat, we are able to assist families in finding affordable housing in their community so our children can grow up in safer environments. It would be beneficial if the Ministry of Education increased funding and support for our schools to enhance teacher training and support for gifted children, recent immigrants and children who are differently abled. We need to teach future generations to be more aware of the needs of others. They must realize that small initiatives can actually make a big difference.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or acknowledge?

I am grateful to my husband Areez Elavia for his strength and advice, my parents, children, friends, family, coworkers and most importantly my mentor – now retired professor of accounting at UBC, Chuck Campbell. Thank you for being such a strong light and leader in my life.

Read Q&As with all 40 award recipients here. Tickets to the 2023 Forty Under 40 Awards gala on Feb. 7 are now available.