From a War Zone to a Corner Office: How Adversity Molded Zahra Al-Harazi’s Success

UPDATED: June 8, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 28, 2016

Zahra Al-Harazi knows hardship well. Shortly after she was born in Uganda, her family fled the country during Idi Amin’s brutal 1971 military coup that left hundreds of thousands dead. She and her family arrived in her father’s home country, Yemen, with a mere $7, the clothes on their backs, and 14 of her aunts and uncles. The 19 family members lived in a two-bedroom house until they could establish themselves in their new country.

And the challenges continued. During Al-Harazi’s childhood, Yemen was torn by civil war, and her family confronted other problems such as malaria, a lack of running water and only five hours of electricity a day.

“The story of living in a war zone where we heard the bombs fall every night, only to wake up to start calling family and friends to make sure they were all right, sounds sensational,” Al-Harazi says. “But when you are in the middle of it, life just goes on. Each day is not different than the one before it. You forget about fear, and you focus on life.”

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Years later she moved with her own family to Canada, where she would face new concerns. “There was a fear growing in me. My children were changing so fast, and before my eyes they were embracing the Canadian culture. I felt like I was being left behind. I felt very unsure of myself—unconfident in my ability to be a participating member of this society.”

While working at a leather store, she learned she had a knack for closing sales and marketing. This inspired her to enroll at the Alberta College of Art and Design. “I was by far the oldest student in the classroom [32 when she graduated]. I had three kids and no time for homework, but I found my passion and a desire for success.”

Al-Harazi earned her Bachelor of Design degree in visual communications and in 2006 established Foundry, a communications and marketing agency. Her business is now an internationally honored and awarded company, and in 2011 she was named one of Canada’s most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network.

“We have one life to live, and it is far too short to have regrets,” says Al-Harazi, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization member who has discovered that many of her founder colleagues had similar experiences before taking the entrepreneurial leap. “Most of us don’t make a change until we are forced to, only to find that it is the best thing that could have happened to us.”

Related: 9 Ways to Deal with Change


This article appears in the February 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Jesus Jimenez is a staff writer for Dallas Morning News. He eats, breathes and sleeps Texas Rangers baseball. He also enjoys running, traveling and buying cool socks.