What is a leader?

As the executive vice president for the Northrup Corporation, an Oregon-based insurance company, Suhail Khan often asks himself this question — and each time, he thinks of his dad.

Were it not for his father making the difficult decision to move his family of five from India to the United States in 2001, they would not have had nearly the same amount of opportunities that they have today. His father had an established career that he had worked hard for and owned property in India, but ultimately he knew that the best choice for his family would mean leaving these things behind.

That, Khan says, is a leader: someone who makes choices that represent and support the whole group, even if it means making sacrifices. “He is absolutely a role model of mine,” Khan says. 

After the move, Khan’s father worked as a technician for a dialysis company, but he struggled because of the language barrier. In order to better support the family, Khan joined the workforce alongside his father at 16, working a variety of jobs throughout high school.

Khan started as an account executive when he entered the business field. In his 10 years of experience, he's not only given his best to his company but also improved his skillset by focusing on his education. This work has led to multiple promotions, culminating two years ago with his appointment as executive vice president of the company.

Suhail making a presentation

When Khan set out to earn his bachelor’s degree through George Fox’s Adult Degree Program, he originally didn’t tell anyone other than his wife, because when he started his degree at a previous university he was unable to finish. He wondered, “What if I tell people, and then I’m not able to finish it again?” 

So he kept it to himself, completing homework and assignments on the weekends and continuing to work full time until he graduated.

“I’m one of those people who is always striving to get better,” Khan says, even if that means using his weekends to “give the extra push when it needs it.”

Even after earning his bachelor’s degree, Khan still wasn’t fully satisfied with what he had accomplished, so he started to look into the possibility of earning an MBA. 

“When I was growing up, earning an MBA felt like such a big deal, such a big accomplishment,” Khan says. But since he had already completed the Adult Degree Program, he thought to himself, “If I could do this, I think I could knock out the MBA. I’m ready, and I can take on more leadership roles and tasks.”

Through the MBA program at George Fox, Khan hoped to gain more tools to build upon his natural leadership skills and experience, so he could go beyond just a “gut feeling” in his decision-making. 

Not only did Khan gain these tools, but he also had an opportunity to practice them in the classroom with his peers — and as graduation approached, his classmates held a vote and selected him as the class representative at their ceremony. Khan apprehensively accepted.

Suhail in his graduation cap and gown

“I’m nervous, but that shows there is meaning behind it,” Khan says. “I want to capture the hard work that everybody put into this program in seeing it to the finish line.”

At graduation, Khan dedicated his MBA to his father because of how much he has informed Khan’s leadership style. To Khan, there are different styles of leadership, and in his and his dad’s case, it’s not the authority that makes people follow you — it’s a sense of belonging, security and trust.

“My goal has been to represent and help every single person that I can, as much as possible,” he says. “I hope I make him proud.” 

While thinking of his father, Khan cannot help but hope his 2-year-old son will one day view him the same way, and also follow in his footsteps. 

“If I can do it, he can do it,” Khan says. “There is hope and opportunity for everyone as long as you commit to it and go for it.”

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