An interview with Ali Anwar: 26-year-old marketing director at a Fortune 200 company who, by the way, also has his own wealth management firm & 5 degrees
I’ve never done an interview on katiegatti.com before, but my dear friend Ali seemed overwhelmingly deserving of my first foray into profile story-style interviewing—can you say BLOG-TURNED-CONTENT DESTINATION, anyone?
Shameless self-literary plug. Moving on.
While it’s nearly impossible to make Ali’s background brief, I’ll do my best so you can learn about (and from) him in his own words. But here’s why you should care.
Ali is 26 years old. He has two Bachelor’s degrees and three Master’s degrees (that’s five degrees in total, one for every five years of his life). He manages an entire portfolio of products at his company, Texas Instruments (a Fortune 200 company that hit nearly $15B in revenue in 2017). And, if these accomplishments weren’t enough, he also happens to own and operate his own wealth management firm and has launched and sold three startups for buy-out offers.
What he doesn’t do, however, is sleep.
Just kidding. He does, but barely. Ali is an all-around stellar human being who makes time for Tide Pod pop culture references, regular trips to the Dallas Museum of Art, Stars/Mavs/Cowboys/Rangers games, and his lovely girlfriend, Kathleen.
Put simply, none of us deserve to breathe air of the same chemical makeup as Ali Anwar. He is other-worldly talented.
I wanted to pick his brain on what he attributes his insane success to (outside of genetics and work ethic), and this felt like the perfect way to share this value with the young men and women who have probably broken out into a well-deserved inferiority complex cold sweat after reading what Ali has accomplished in his first quarter of life.
While my favorite place to hang out with Ali is in his beautiful two-bedroom, glass-paneled apartment in the heart of Turtle Creek, we met after work on a Monday night at Ascension (a favorite Dallas coffee shop) and talked for several hours about his past, what he's got planned for the future, and how he's accomplished so much so young.
Before I launch into the highlights, I want to paint a picture for you of how Ali has turned his space into the perfect mix between a space for relaxation, fun, and productivity.
He outfitted one bedroom as—you guessed it—his bedroom, and the other as an entertainment room with theater-style sectionals and a projector on the wall for watching TV. The walk-in closet in that room is, for lack of a better term, his home office. There are six monitors mounted on the wall, looming impressively next to his several graduation caps and degrees. Pictures of family are interspersed throughout.
He hosts friends regularly, but it's also clear that he spends a LOT of time in his walk-in-closet-turned-home-office.
Note that while I've tried to capture all of Ali's quotes verbatim, I've trimmed some of them for brevity and clarity since our conversation was several hours long.
In true altruistic Ali form, he offered to pick me up—in order to do ME a favor, letting me interview him—and concluded our evening with a Shake Shack dinner (Kathleen joined us). While walking from his car to the coffee shop, I started to ask about his day, and as he started filling me in on the 5 a.m. call with Germany and his 9:30 p.m. call scheduled for later with China, I abruptly stopped him.
"Hold that thought—I need my computer for this."
After settling in, I asked him if he loved school. "You must've, to pursue five degrees." I said. (I mean, right?! What the heck?)
It was abundantly clear, immediately, that he did.
"I love school. I love academia in general—I say academia, because academia encompasses an entire community dedicated to learning. You don't need a degree to be a lifelong learner. You don't need a piece of paper to validate you've learned something, and the converse is true, too. A piece of paper doesn't make you qualified. I still love SMU—I still teach there."
(At this point, I paused him. You teach? I asked, a little ashamed that I was completely unaware of this fact.) Turns out, in all his spare time, he teaches entrepreneurship lectures at SMU.
Ali has a BS in Math, a BS in Electrical Engineering, an MS in Electrical Engineering, an MS in Systems Engineering, and an MS in Operations Research. I really wanted to know if they got easier—you'd think by the time you were on degree #4 or #5 you'd more or less have the hang of it.
He hesitantly answered that, yes, they did, but wanted to make something very clear: "I don't want people to think that these degrees are what brought me to where I am. That's not the recipe for success. This idea that there's a fixed recipe for success at all is dangerous."
I asked him if he saw the irony in claiming degrees didn't really matter when he himself had five. He laughed. "The material I studied in school maybe isn't what's most relevant in my job. What IS relevant is learning a particular way of thinking. THAT is the true reward of education. 'Learn by doing' is my mantra."
I myself experience this same vacillation on the true value of my particular degree when I compare my coursework to what my actual career has been so far—the difference between writing news releases, pitching media, and doing research, and literally writing four- to five-word lines of ad copy.
Ali was very conscious to note that he didn't want anyone to feel like they needed a formal education to succeed.
"Education goes so much further than school. I'm truly a fan of education in general, and I'm very fortunate I had the means and scholarship to get a formal one."
The practical application for everyone, no matter their station in life, is this: "The amazing thing I’ve learned from my experiences and all the roles I’ve held is that we really underestimate our ability to adapt."
While Ali's degrees are impressive on their own, I was most interested in how he found the courage and capital to start not one, not two, not even THREE, but four companies. I wanted to know what pushed him in this direction, and what challenges he faced.
"Anwar Enterprises [his wealth management firm] was the first of four companies that I started, and the only one I haven't sold. I sold the other three because they hit the point where the buyout offer was more attractive than profitability. I'm working on a fifth now." Here, he broke out into a huge grin: "This is a fun one."
At this point, I'm sure you're wondering: finance? Why finance? Wealth management? Doesn't this guy have, like, 14 engineering degrees?
If so, you'd be right—and I was wondering the same.
To make a long, hilarious story much shorter, Ali essentially had a small falling out with a business major his junior year who essentially shamed him for sticking with engineering. Ali went home that day and fired off an application for an internship with Goldman Sachs.
"I was pretty hangry," he added, a humorous afterthought. "But there was definitely an element of curiosity. I think I mostly wanted to convince myself that I wasn’t shutting any doors by studying one subject over another. Of course, that thought seems really silly to me in hindsight."
Several weeks later, he was in their New York City office for an onsite interview. The interviewer asked him the same thing: "Why do you want to work here? You're an electrical engineering major."
Ali figured at this point he had nothing to lose. He explained how he did it more or less out of spite (my words, not his) and, I suspect, as a little bit of a personal challenge. But then, he realized along the way, he actually did really like finance. In his interview prep and research, he noticed he enjoyed it a lot and had a bit of a knack for it.
(Brief aside: I was wondering what type of research he did for this interview given my own 'research' for my initial Southwest interviews which literally entailed reading the entire Wikipedia entry for Southwest Airlines in the car on the way to spring break. As if reading my mind, Ali casually mentioned he 'read a few finance and economics textbooks.') Yeah, same.
If you know the typical Goldman personality, you know this guy ate it up.
Ali was offered the job, but eventually decided it wasn't for him—it was enough to ignite an interest, though, and before long, he was setting out on his own venture. He decided if Goldman thought he was good enough for them, it may mean something about his competency in investing.
His mentor, a prominent person in the tech industry whom he was too humble to name, felt the same, and encouraged him. In early February of that year, he offered to let Ali invest his money.
He proffered: "If by December you can make me a 20% return, then I'll go into business with you and help you launch your own LLC as your first client." By May, Ali had made this guy a 50% return with a very diverse portfolio. Ali was 22.
Today, Anwar Enterprises is sitting at about 40 clients with six full-time employees who report to Ali.
I asked Ali if he had ever experienced the 'trough of sorrow,' a term I learned during my time completely immersing myself in podcasts about startups.
"The most challenging part was this stretch where we had about a dozen clients. The clients were urging me to get into real estate, so I was going through all the schooling necessary TO get into real estate, while being a full-time grad student. Balancing those things—while trying to add new things to the company's offering—was really hard. But I found my partner at the perfect time."
His business partner owns 11% of the company and brought a unique real estate-specific expertise to the picture.
"It was basically the most miserable time of my life," he said, with an inexplicably huge smile on his face. "I was exhausted," he paused, "but it was also the most exciting time of my entire life. Miserable, but so invigorating."
But let's not forget—Ali wasn't just a full-time student and starting his own company. He also works at Texas Instruments. I wanted to know how his work at each place influenced the other.
"It goes back to learning by doing and being a disciple of experience. A lot of young people get out of college and have this perfect idea of what they're going to do. While it's VERY important to set goals, it's dangerous to be rigid in your plans."
He touched on something we've discussed before—getting a wide breadth of experience early on in your career before honing in on one specific area in which to become a specialist.
"Once you have a ton of different experiences, you'll realize there are so many different ways to solve a problem than just an input and an output. A variety of experiences forces you to look at things from different angles."
Practical application to your everyday life? Don't worry if your first job—or second, or third—out of college isn't a cookie-cutter application of what you studied in school, or if it's not what you thought you'd be doing. Ali emphasized how important it is to be open to a wide variety of experiences, many of which could (and should) be outside your comfort zone. In other words, don't box yourself in based on your piece of paper (or your job title, once you have it).
"There are things I learned at TI, like a formal review process from an operations perspective, that I’ve been able to apply at my night job. Corporate structure has the benefit of organization, and startup culture has agility." This is something I feel every day at Southwest—a Marketing department of 200 people OBVIOUSLY moves much slower than an agency startup would.
"If you work in engineering, I challenge you to go do something with the fine arts. If you work in the fine arts, I challenge you to go try something that involves sales in your free time. Don’t be too rigid about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to get there."
OK, so at this point, I waited for a lull in the conversation, took a sip of my beer, and asked him, point-blank: "How much do you sleep?"
He was playfully defensive in his answer: "Really, I average between 6.5 to 7 hours! So many people glorify the workaholic thing, so much so that they don't take care of themselves. Their productivity and how well they perform suffers—the whole point of being a workaholic gets defeated."
He was very serious that sleep is not the thing to sacrifice. But beyond sleep, he noted the importance of the concept of rest. "Psychologically, I think rest is an entirely different concept. A lot of people don't necessarily recognize that. It's really about finding your respite."
After a four-day trip to Cabo in which I turned my phone on airplane mode and didn't check my email once, I can completely relate.
"I travel because that's my respite. I feel recharged, rejuvenated, and refreshed. It makes me feel like I can go on for another couple of weeks. If I wasn't traveling at least once a month, I'd be so burnt out. Again, sleep is extremely important as a biological mechanism, but people can sometimes go a full week averaging 8 hours per night and still be mentally exhausted. That’s when you know that it’s time for rest—whatever your respite is."
Bearing this in mind, I wanted to know what a typical day in the life of Ali was like. I'm obsessed with learning about how über-successful people spend their time, especially in those seemingly mundane transition periods of the day in which most people fill the time with minutiae.
"I'll have a call with a team in Germany around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., and typically I'll take that from home. Then I'll do my morning routine; eat breakfast. Usually during this time I'll be catching up on emails and prioritizing things, deciding how I'm going to respond once I get into the office. I also take a look at the calendar and determine where I can knock these things out, and what I need to be extra prepared for that day,"
Here, he paused. "I feel like that sounds like I'm procrastinating. I really just like to respond to things on my desktop to get the full-screen and give thought to things ahead of time before I answer."
I LOVED this—I'm the same way. I hate responding on mobile because I feel like I'm missing something. I think it speaks volumes about Ali's intentionality that he reads his emails, sits on them for a little, then responds once he's given them some thought.
"On my way into work, it depends—if it's a rest day, I'll listen to music. If I'm trying to get into things, I'll listen to a podcast or audiobook. I'm physically in the office around 8:30, most of the time, and I go to meetings throughout the day and handle the tasks I need to."
So far, so normal, right? Here's where things start to take an exceptional turn, in my opinion, and offer some practical application for others.
"There are two ways that I use lunch: one is to load up on lunch meetings with people both on and off my team so I can informally pick their brains on the latest developments at work. The other is to spend my lunch hour reading. I grab my food, go in the corner, and I read.
I'm a fast reader, but I also like to annotate and summarize the books that I'm reading in the OneNote app."
At this point, he pulled up one of his TWO iPhones and started scrolling through literal pages of notes on the single chapter he had read that day. It looked like the outline of a book report. I just want to reemphasize that this is how he spends his lunch hour. For FUN.
I cut him off. "What are you reading right now?" Quickly, I added: "What do we all need to be reading?"
He said he loves reading biographies. "I'm reading Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin biography right now. I finished his Leonardo Da Vinci biography a few months ago. What struck me most about his depiction of Leonardo is how often he signed his name as a 'disciple of experience.' He never received a formal education but was still the greatest tinkerer of his time. I was hooked on that type of personality, and I loved Isaacson’s writing. Benjamin Franklin was a lot like Da Vinci, and picking up another Isaacson book was almost a no-brainer."
This made me smile, especially when comparing the types of biographies Ali was reading with mine—he's reading about founding fathers and the history’s most famous artists, and I'm reading about Anna Kendrick, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk (#ElonBae).
"I like to read all at once and then take a walk and write down all the key takeaways: all the things that I can actually recall, so they must be important. It goes back to being intentional about the information you actually absorb. Not little facts you could easily Google, but lessons and parables that could actually be useful to you later."
After a busy afternoon, I was wondering what time he'd tell me he usually leaves—mostly because I get Snaps at least once a week of him strolling out around 7:30.
"I typically leave work around 5 or 5:30, and then I'll normally be on the phone on the way home getting a debrief from the team at Anwar Enterprises. The team is wonderful. Every day someone else gives me the rundown. I'll ask the questions that need to be asked, check out the latest developments in the market—I'll usually spend about an hour or so doing that."
I was hoping, for his sake, that his entire night wouldn't be consumed with more work.
"Then I'll eat dinner. That's my relaxation time. I'll usually watch TV while I do that. When I don't have a call with China, I'll usually take a look at my schedule for the following day at TI and prioritize the things I need to do. I also do weekly look-aheads on Saturdays to see what's coming in the following week."
After dinner, he spends the rest of the night either reading or developing a lecture for his next session at SMU.
He explained quickly after wrapping up, presumably because my mouth was hanging open, that that was a busier day.
"On the more chill days, I spend my free time with Kathleen. And with my dear friends. Thankfully, the team at Anwar Enterprises is so good at what they do that it frees up more of my time." When it comes to relationships, he said, it comes down to being intentional about who you want to spend your time with.
I really related to this. The busier I've gotten in my life, the more I realized I'm less willing to spend downtime with people who don't truly fulfill me.
And finally, the question I'm sure everyone would love to ask him:
Do you have any general advice for people who want to be successful?
"You define your own success. Success is such a subjective term. To my parents, success was seeing their kids grow up to have the best education possible. To me, when I was in middle school, success was making it to the NBA or NFL. To me in high school, success was being extremely rich. In college, it was getting an engineering job. To me, NOW, it’s happiness. Am I happy, yes or no? And if not, how am I going to change that?"
#Deep. I couldn't agree more, though. First step, presumably, is defining what success even means to you. It seems obvious, but as I sit here and ponder that in my own life, I'm not sure I could give you a thorough answer.
To me, this was the most valuable part of our entire conversation:
"Figure out what works for you. Figure out who you are first." There was a pregnant pause here, and then he continued with the most fervor I had seen all evening:
"Get a full appreciation for who you are. I don’t want to sound corny, but you really need to know yourself. And part of knowing yourself is knowing that whoever you are is constantly evolving. Make the conscious decision to accept that.
The reason I say that is because you could spend the next 3-4 years of your life chasing something and never pausing to reevaluate if it’s still something you want. We often become so obsessed with the goals we set for ourselves that we forget to reflect on whether those goals are still relevant."
I want you to pause here and reread this sentence. Regardless of where you are in your life, have you ever stopped to ask yourself this question?
"Realize there’s no one formula to getting where you want to be. You can wake up every morning and read those clickbait articles about how to become a CEO—don’t fall for anything that's extremely prescriptive of what you need to do to attain professional success.
People are all wired differently. Different things work for different people. If you can recognize that and still want to read those things out of curiosity, go for it. But remember there’s no perfect recipe for success. You know yourself better than anyone and are therefore better suited than anyone to make those decisions for yourself."
We also talked a little bit about money management here, too, as money and success are often so closely linked together.
"To me, the most important thing is this, and I’m saying this as someone who has started companies, sold companies, and runs a wealth management firm: be risk averse. Evaluate your risk realistically. Too often do publications tell you to take risks while you’re young, and too often do young people take this as an excuse to be reckless. I advise extreme caution when it comes to “high risk/high reward” opportunities because that's often just a euphemism for recklessness. I’ll take patience and persistence over a risky get-rich-quick scheme any day."
*KG pulls up Robinhood app; invests in more ETFs*
After covering our drinks, Ali apologetically pulled out one of his phones (I just love that he has two) and called Kathleen, who then met us for cheeseburgers.
Watching Ali interact with his sweet girlfriend after three hours of talking business was a refreshingly jarring change of pace.
Their dynamic is precious. She warned him about eating too many fries and mentioned something about his blood pressure. When Ali dropped me off afterward, he mentioned in the car how sometimes he has to remind himself to "turn Business Ali off." I chuckled at this, thinking about how sometimes after working all day I'd respond to my mom's text and ask if she was 'aligned' on how we were planning to 'move forward' on which skincare product she was going to buy.
As I climbed into bed that night at 9:30 p.m. after a day that had started at 5:30 a.m. with Sculpt, I thanked my lucky stars that Southwest doesn't do business calls with China.
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to Ali for letting me pick his brain and sharing his wealth of knowledge with me.
If you know someone who would make for another great profile story, please send me their information—I'd love to continue highlighting young people who have set stellar examples.
Although tempted to name this something cliché like #GIRLBOSS, this section features all my obsessive-compulsive productivity hacks & candid conversations about career development.