"Nothing in my career had prepared me for the moment"

Dani (Ladan) Saghafi

Dani Saghafi built a career from standing fearlessly in front of CEOs and advising them on transactions worth millions. Then after almost 20 years in audit and M&A advisory, one day she dragged herself before a lecture theatre of teenage students and terror crept over her.

‘I was out of my comfort zone,’ said Dani, who had taken the plunge to join academia in quest of a new venture.

‘Nothing in my career had prepared me for the moment,’ she said. ‘There is no-one in my family of that age, my little boy is only nine, and I didn’t understand the audience. They were a puzzle to me. I was scared.’

Dani has come a long way since as she sets out on her third year as associate professor, corporate finance and audit, at Brunel Business School in London.

It is just the latest fascinating turn in a career that has taken Dani around the world.

"Now I am older and experienced, my roots have become even more important to me, and I am proud to talk about them"

She was born in North America, where her Iranian parents were students. After the revolution of 1979 her mother and father returned to Iran. Dani stayed there for school and university before moving to the UK for a post-grad and her first job in finance. 

‘It was tough at first,’ said Dani. ‘It was not easy finding that first job as an immigrant. When you are young and making your way, you want to get known for your skills and competence. You don’t really want to discuss things like your heritage in an interview.

‘But now I am older and experienced, my roots have become even more important to me, and I am proud to talk about them. I believe it’s a real strength to blend cultural experiences, and to take the best of a mix of all the ones you know. That is what I do, and I try to share that with my boy.’

Dani chose to study ACCA and qualification opened the way for her to work around the globe, with spells in Dubai and Sweden. Her travels mean that as well as a deep well of experience and expertise, she has also acquired a list of languages – including her native Farsi, English, some Arabic, and enough Swedish to complete a tax return, order pickled herrings and meatballs in a restaurant, and sing Dancing Queen in the original tongue.

‘I have loved sampling different places and new experiences,’ said Dani. ‘One of the joys of working in finance, and in having the ACCA qualification, is that chances open up for you, and there is always the option to pursue your skills in interesting places.

Big gap

‘I really enjoyed working in different countries, and I am certain I will do it again when my son is older.’

For now she is happy in England, combining her M&A practice and ACCA Council work with being an academic.

‘I am pleased I have a good combination,’ she said. ‘I still work on finance projects so I can bring that immediate experience to my students, and it keeps me up to date with the latest regulatory frameworks and market info,’ she said. ‘But I have really grown to enjoy academia. 

‘Academia is all about creativity, about pursuing new ideas and solutions, and finding ways to engage with students, and that is really appealing and satisfying.

‘There is still a big gap between professional practice and theoretical knowledge. As a practitioner and an academic, my mission is to connect these, to bring the heart of the profession to my students, and in turn make our business practices more innovative.’