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Canary Wharf and Me: Padium and Urban Greens founder Houman Ashrafzadeh

We dig into the memory bank of the city’s great and good. This week, Padium and Urban Greens founder Houman Ashrafzadeh tells us about teary-eyed and sweaty-palmed moments in business

What was your first job? 

My first role was working at a local pizzeria taking orders and loading them into the system when I was 15 years old.

What was your first role in business?

I started my first business when I was 13. I would buy MP3 players from China and then sell them on, using a platform very similar to Gumtree.

But I set up my first proper business whilst I was working full time at Bloomberg and living in London at 22. I tried to start a Swedish pizzeria with two friends on the side, but it ended up failing miserably,

When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I was super young and I knew at the age of about 12/13.

What’s one thing you love about Canary Wharf? 

Canary Wharf is a city on its own. You have got everything in one place. There are good shops, good food, good padel, lots of nice people in exciting roles and a great mix of people from all around the world.  It is unique in that it has the best of everything in a very small place!

And one thing you would change?

I think diversity of thought and I know that is something that they are changing. As Canary Wharf has been the home of finance for so long, it would be nice to get people from all different industries to use it as an office location. I’d like to see more lifestyle and tech brands use Canary Wharf as a base and this would make it into even more of a city rather than just focused around finance.

What’s been your most memorable lunch job interview? 

One memorable job interview I had was when I worked at Bloomberg and applied for a grad scheme role as stock broker at ICAP. At the time I really viewed it as my dream job and I was so desperate to get it. I had to do multiple interviews and an assessment centre before I reached my final interview which was a panel interview with six of the directors. I must have been about 21 at the time and they were firing so many questions at me. I just remember it being such a stressful time and how sweaty I was. I ended up not getting the job!

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Equally, I had a nice moment of reflection recently for another job interview I applied for that was based in Canary Wharf. I remember clearly getting a lift up in one of the high rises to the interview – this was for another company in finance – and my hands were so sweaty. I remember how nervous I was and now being where I am today, with Padium based in Canary Wharf, it felt like a poignant reflection of where it got me.

And any business faux pas?

I can’t think of anything off the top of my head but I’m sure there have been many!

What’s been your proudest moment?

I’m going to choose my proudest moment relevant to Padium.  About a week before we opened our doors, the majority of our interior structure was completed, and I stood in the entrance looking at our centre court and got a bit teary. It was the first time I had seen the vision in my head actually correspond to what I was seeing in front of me in real life. It was a very proud moment for me.

And who do you look up to?

I look up to lots of different people for different things. I definitely look up to my parents as a source of inspiration. I also look up to my business partner, Martin Lorentzon, as an inspiring person. But in general, there are many people who I look up to.

Are you optimistic for the year ahead?

Yes – very. I’m always optimistic.

We’re going for lunch, and you’re picking – where are we going?

We’re going to a Japanese restaurant such as ROKA in Canary Wharf, with interesting menu items as I like to be adventurous with food and try different things. I’ll be ordering for us too!

And if we’re grabbing a drink after work?

At Chiltern Firehouse – having a paloma.

Where’s home during the week?

Marylebone

And where might we find you at the weekend?

At Padium or exploring new random restaurants in London. Otherwise I would be at home in Sweden or travelling to new places.

You’ve got a well-deserved two weeks off. Where are you going and who with?  

I would take my fiancé Della to travel around Tuscany, South Africa or South East Asia.

Quickfire: 

Favourite book? The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries

Favourite film? Forrest Gump

Favourite artist/musician? Coldplay

Favourite place in London? Marylebone

Coffee order? Espresso

Urban Greens order? It has to be Thai Crunch