Toseef Din: Making the right noise as successful women


MP Shah Hospital CEO Toseef Din. FILE PHOTO | POOL

The CEO’s office, the metaphorical corner office, at MP Shah Hospital, is besieged by human torment. Surrounding it on all fronts is a mortuary, a trauma centre, and a funeral home.

“When I sit here, I often hear a lot of wailing and praying,” Toseef Din, the CEO of the hospital for three years now says.

Thankfully, a devout Muslim, behind her desk are framed words from the Surah An-Nas verses that seek to offer refuge from the “repetitive whispering and mischief of Shaytan.”

A side glass doorway leads out into a quiet and serene vestibule with potted plants and a small table with two small chairs.

It’s a sanctuary of peace, a place to catch your breath and perhaps realign your inner Chi.

Sadly, Toseef never sits there. “I’m just too busy.” In front of her desk is a space where she usually unrolls her prayer mat to Salah. Her compulsively tidy and bright office and desk belies the chaos of running a major hospital.

Toseef is deeply centred in faith, enthralled by music and dancing (in private), committed to walking through forests to decompress and is in love with a quirky-sounding ENT surgeon who also sings and apparently has four albums out.

Toseef sounds like a very masculine name. A name with muscles.

[Laughs] My dad wanted to name me Toseef but my mom wanted to name me Aisha. Of course, they didn’t agree but dad won the name game.

My name means “special attributes,” and yes you’re right, it’s a very male-dominated name. I’ve walked into interviews and they said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a woman.”

But I think it also gives me a very unique position because it’s a very unique name.

How did you end up in this office?

First, people think I’m the granddaughter of MP Shah, but I’m not. [Laughs]. I worked to get here. I joined the hospital in 2011 as a head of finance, then became the chief operations officer and CEO in 2020.

It’s been a journey, and I appreciate it. But I think, Biko, we should not forget the power of humility as human beings. You know?

You shouldn’t be haughty or boastful. I hold it [humility] to be a virtue that I live with because I’m spiritually connected and very religious-oriented. Humility plays a significant role in the success of any leader.

My editor, who is female, is constantly frustrated with how female leaders don’t make enough “noise” about their successes like their male counterparts. There is a sense that making too much isn’t proper or even ladylike. How does humility work in this corporate scenario?

(Chuckles) It’s not about who is making the loudest noise. The question is, are we making the right noise? Is it for the right things?

You can also make all this noise with humility. You don’t have to be boastful. Yes, we’ve improved patient care at the hospital. Yes, we got a new nursing school, and we now aspire to have a good standard of medical accreditation.

It’s about fashioning that news to be useful to others. It’s not always about you. Yes, I am successful and owe it to the God Almighty.

But the way I fashion it is also crucial. Women make different types of noise, but the idea is, who is hearing it?


MP Shah Hospital CEO Toseef Din. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Still on humility. I don’t think it’s something that is inherently installed in us that just works flawlessly, sometimes one flounders. How do you nurture humility, how do you water your humility so that it blooms?

I water it by being a good listener. If you are a good listener, humility comes to you. Religion and faith are also a big watering can.

[Chuckles] To remain spiritually connected is important. Biko, a Supreme Power is ruling us out there. Things don’t just happen.

In my religion, a leaf cannot move from point A to B without the Creator’s will. We believe a power is at play, and we must acknowledge it.

You have mentioned God and your scarf a few times. Do you find that wearing a scarf makes you stick out in the corporate sector?

We are fortunate to live in a country where we enjoy equal rights to practice our religion. It’s a blessing. I started wearing the scarf sometime in 2015.

As a child and young adult, I was not wearing it even when I got married. But the realisation came to me in 2015 when I went on our pilgrimage, Hajj.

That was one of the most beautiful things that have happened to me lately. When I saw the Kaaba, I just wept. When I came back, I started wearing a scarf, and I feel like I have gained more respect as a Muslim woman.

It has liberated me. It commands respect. It identifies me as a practising Muslim. It has groomed, covered, and allowed me to live my religion.

I love wearing it. When I wear it in the morning, my husband says, “You look complete now.”

Why is it important to identify yourself as a Muslim out there?

Islam is not only a religion but a way of life. It teaches us to be truthful and honest. I want to be identified by those important qualities for my lineage and community. Islam is an anchor.

When you think of Toseef pre-scarf, who do you see, and what surprises you most about her now?

It has tamed me. I was a very naughty person, Biko. [Laughs] I was a wild teenager, wanting to conquer the world. But the scarf really calmed me.

When I wear it, I think, “Hold on, there is a way I should present myself.” It has been a transformational change for the better.

What are some bad habits of a woman of faith like yourself?

Bad habits, oh my God. [Laughs]. Bad habits. (Thinking). Maybe not a bad habit but something I would like to improve on. I want more work-life integration. Success makes some relationships suffer.

I want to spend more time with my family; I have two boys and a girl- 19, 14, and 12. I need to do more because I get so immersed in my work that even when I go home, I talk to my husband about the plans I have for the hospital.

Those headphones on your computer…what music were you listening to?

Ah no. I wish. (Chuckles) They’re for Zoom calls. But that doesn’t mean I don’t listen to music. I love listening to music, mainly Indian music.

I don’t like pop, jazz, or reggae. I like sober, romantic music, something that soothes the soul. I also love dancing.

Are you any good at it?

Ah, only behind closed doors. (Laughter) If there is one skill I would put out there, it is that I’m a good dancer. It’s an excellent way to relieve stress after a hard day.

There is an artist called Arijit Sigh. He sings some very nice romantic songs. You should listen to him, Biko. (Laughs)


MP Shah Hospital CEO Toseef Din. FILE PHOTO | POOL

I’ll YouTube him. What’s been your lowest point in life?

When I lost my grandmother. I loved her a lot. I come from a huge extended family. About eight families lived in one compound, and my grandmother was a strong pillar in my life.

She was a midwife. When choosing my profession, I called her and asked, “Mama, what do you think I should do?” She said, “Become an accountant.” I asked, “Why?” She said, “Don’t get into IT. It will spoil your eyes.”

That was 20 years ago when it was a highly male-dominated sector. I was one of the few women who hacked it. My grandmother was also the first to teach me to drive and cook.

She instilled all the values I hold dear in life. I have so many good memories with her. I used to go to the National Cereals Board with her to shop. I lost a wise person, a friend, and a mentor. And I really miss her.

Tell me about your dad.

My dad was an aircrew member, so he flew most of the time. As such, my mom performed the dual role of a mom and a dad. I saw how tough it was raising four girls.

I wasn’t very close to my dad, nor did we have a great relationship growing up, but when he retired, we bonded for five years until he died in 2013.

He loved cooking, and we would talk a lot about recipes. In those last five years, I came to know my dad to be a  wise poetic person. And he was romantic with my mom. So yes, I wouldn’t say our relationship was distant, but it was limited.

I like that wording. You could be a politician.

(Laughter) They say politics is a seductive mistress.

What do you find to be the biggest struggle at this stage of your life?

I’m a working mother, a daughter, and a wife, but I’m also a curious student. I’m currently studying for my PhD in sustainability in business and management.

Juggling all these is a struggle. But I’m grateful. A life without challenges is a boring life.

What makes you insecure?

That I may wake up one of these days and have forgotten everything. Find that all the knowledge is gone. How do you move from there? It’s a scary thought; to lose your memory.

Still on memory, do you remember the first time you saw your husband?

(Chuckling) Oh, the love of my life. I do. I met him at a function where I was the Master of Ceremonies. He was singing at that function.

My husband is a musician and an ENT [ear, nose, and throat] surgeon. He has four music albums to his name.

The first thing he told me when he saw me was how lovely I looked in what I was wearing. I was like, “Oh my God.” I blushed.

Does he sing for you?

Of course. A lot. He sings a lot of romantic songs. I think he’s just a child at heart.

Between him and the Indian singer you love, Arijit Sigh, who sings better?

(Sighs) I’m biased. My husband’s way of singing is very different. He sings very nostalgic songs. Arijit’s genre is very…, it’s more like for young people.

My husband’s songs are for a more mature audience. He’s got a bass, so his singing melts your heart.

Yeah, you’re biased.

Yeah. [Laughs] My husband has influenced me a lot. He is the one person who has nurtured and curved me out in many ways.

When we married, I had only done my ACCA – the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants- and my CPA- the Chartered Public Accountancy in Kenya.

But he pushed me to do my Bachelor’s with him. He encouraged me to do my Master’s in financial management and several other leadership and executive courses.

I’m currently doing my PhD, thanks to him. He’s a fine man.

What do you think frustrates him most about you?

That I’m not able to divide my work and my family. He says when you come home, please come home, don’t bring the hospital home.

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