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“Always accept a dinner invitation from an Asian client!”

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Hothi had an arranged marriage at 19, meeting her husband-to-be on her wedding day. The couple are still together today, 27 years later. She lives with her husband’s family, cooking, cleaning and looking after the elders in the house.

In many ways, she is a typical Indian housewife. Except she’s also a high ranking director at Lloyds TSB by day, advising the government on a National Employment Panel and inspiring Asian women all over the UK with her story.

“I left school at 16 and took a job as a cashier in my local bank,” she says. “ I was never allowed to attend the weekend courses I needed to progress my career because of my strict home life, so I started taking night courses.” Hothi achieved three financial planning certificates through hard work and persistence.

“I knew that I was at least as talented as my colleagues. But they kept being promoted over me,” she says. “I realised that all I’d been taught about how a young woman should behave – avoiding eye-contact, speaking softly, deferring to my seniors and being very feminine – counted against me in a business environment.

“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to keep my culture and move forward. Not just for me, but all Asian women’.”

Determined to get out the house and carve out a niche for herself, Hothi slowly progressed up the corporate ladder. “I was totally wowed when I got my first promotion,” she says. “And I loved talking to my customers.”

Her gentle approach won her a lot of friends among the Asian community she served and Hothi was appointed the first ever Asian bank manager in Lloyds TSB, rising to area manager, looking after 160 branches and 2,000 employees.

“There is a huge cultural divide to this day in the UK,” she says. “The ethic communities in Southall, Leicester and Slough were a complete mystery to my colleagues. My job, these days, is to bridge that gap.”

Hothi explains that while business can be done fairly informally in Western cultures, by just picking up the phone, in the Eastern cultures, you do business with friends. “It was really confusing to some people when they were invited to their clients’ houses for dinner,” she laughs. “I told them to always accept, it’s the higest honour in our culture to invite someone into your home.”

Hothi has trained over 500 frontline staff since assuming her directorship. “Now my colleagues know how to hand over a business card, how to do the handshake and why there are no women in the room when they do business,” she says. “It’s all part of helping white and ethnic communities live side by side.”

Kamel Hothi is a nominee at this year’s Lloyds TSB Jewel Awards, taking place on 4th October 2008 at the London Hilton, Park Lane. The event honors the most talented individuals in the worlds of business, the media and public life. Lloyds TSB’s title sponsorship of the Jewel Awards is just one aspect of the bank’s continuing involvement with the UK’s fast growing Asian population.

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