From dreaming about visiting Tokyo as a young girl to receiving an international accolade there, Zarah Naseem proves that ambition and determination is the perfect combination for success.

Zarah, from Rossendale, was named World's Best Sales Associate at a Department Store at a glittering ceremony in Tokyo in the presence of over 340 top executives from 36 countries.

The Sixth World Department Store Forum (WDSF) was staged on 6-7 June 2019 in Tokyo, organised by the Intercontinental Group of Department Stores, the Japan Department Stores Association and J. Front Retailing.

Zarah, who works at Selfridges in Manchester, reveals how she came to receive this prestigious award. 

“My managers put me forward secretly, but I was oblivious to the whole process. They didn’t let me know anything about the nomination form.

“A week before the event, the managers asked me if I was available on the specific date of the awards to fly out to Tokyo. 

“That’s when they revealed I was shortlisted and that I was in the top three in the whole world.

“I was so shocked! It was so humbling that they picked me as this is the first time anyone from Selfridges has been a finalist.”

One of six sisters, Zarah, 31, said retail has always been an integral part of her life, with her childhood summers spent helping her father out in his school uniform business. 

“My father has been running his business for over forty years. Even now 
I go back and work with my dad in the busiest two weeks before school starts.”

From a young age, Zarah admits she had dreamt of visiting Tokyo, saying she never once thought it would manifest into reality.

“It was only ever a dream. I couldn’t believe Selfridges arranged for my husband and I to go there for a week. The city was everything I thought it would be. It is so futuristic, there is no pollution, no noise. We even found halal food there.
“We celebrated Eid there. This was my first ever Eid away from home.”

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From over 13,000 nominations, Zarah won the World's Best Sales Associate at a Department Store Award 2019 for her strengths in providing excellent service, understanding brands, sharing product updates with clients and building unique customer relationships. She will hold the title for two years.

“When they announced me as the winner, I was shocked.

“There was a four-course meal. I was having palpitations and cold sweats during the meal!

“My CEO joined me on stage. I had to give a speech which is something I have never done in my whole life. My manager was so proud of me.

“People at work were getting a live feed from Tokyo. By the time I had finished my speech and returned to the table, I had received so many text messages of support.

“I didn’t even get this much attention on my wedding! This was the next biggest day for me after my wedding.”

This accomplishment, Zarah admits, was even more poignant for her on a personal level.

“As a British Muslim woman, it is a huge accomplishment to be able to represent a company on an international platform.

“Often in the Asian culture, if you’re not in a traditional career, people can look down on you.

“This award is a sense of validation. It is proof that if you approach work with passion and enthusiasm, you can make a success out of any career you choose.”

This feature appeared in the August Issue of Asian Life here