Spotlight on Red Deer-based ZS Holdings

RED DEER, Alta. — Zainul and Shazma Holdings is a family owned and operated business with the goal of bringing superior hotel and restaurant experiences to Alberta. CLN shines the spotlight on Shazma Charania, president.

Shazma Charania, president, ZS Holdings

Shazma Charania, president, ZS Holdings

RED DEER, Alta. — The full name of ZS Holdings is Zainul and Shazma Holdings, named after the two daughters in the Rajan family, who own and operate seven IHG hotels and two restaurants in three Alberta communities.

Afzal Rajan emigrated to Canada from Tanzania in 1972 at age 20, and in 1973 he married Gulzar. Over the years, their goals were first, to provide a good life for their daughters; and later to “become the industry leader in selected small municipalities in Western Canada.”

Those selected municipalities are Red Deer, Edson and Hinton, Alberta. All of ZS Holdings' multi-award-winning hotels and restaurants are in those communities. 

They have stuck to the IHG brand as well, developing a relationship that started in 1994. “My dad always says, one brand and one wife,” said Shazma Charania, who is now the president of the company.

“Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inns, said 'put opportunity ahead of security'. His strong vision has been our family’s 'North Star'. No matter what is occurring in the world, in Canada, and in this province,” Shazma said recently.

“They further built relationships with financial institutions, IHG franchise development, and networks of support such as lawyers, accountants, governments and the communities that they did business with.”

Over the years they started a family, they bought and sold hotels/motels, moved to Red Deer, and Gulzar joined the business. The path of hard work and success was clearly defined for the Rajans.

In the beginning, all Gulzar and Afzal wanted to do was to be able to establish themselves in a new country, work hard and provide a better life for their two daughters, Zainul and Shazma. In 1983, the company was named after their daughters becoming Zainul & Shazma Holdings Ltd. or ZS Holdings for short. 

Both daughters have MBAs and one choose to work externally and one chose to work in the family business.

Zainul completed her B.Comm at Queen’s University and then her MBA. She was valedictorian of her graduating class at Richard Ivey School of Business. Today, she holds a proud role as president, Home and Small Business Solutions at Telus.  She brings an outside perspective to the family business, and is the sounding board for major decisions.

Shazma Charania was born and raised in Red Deer and resides there with her husband Jamil and their two daughters.

“As the annoying little sister (six year age gap) and always following Zainul around, I sort of followed her post secondary path of completing my B.Comm at U of A and then further completing my MBA with a specialization in hospitality. I joined the family business at my father’s 50th birthday and have never looked back. Since 2004, I was able to watch, learn, live and breath the business with my mom and dad.”

At the recent opening of the Staybridge Suites Red Deer, from left: Gulzar Rajan, Afzal Rajan, The Honourable Jason Kenney, Zainul Mawji, Shazma Charania, Jamil Charania and Ashif Mawji.

At the recent opening of the Staybridge Suites Red Deer, from left: Gulzar Rajan, Afzal Rajan, The Honourable Jason Kenney, Zainul Mawji, Shazma Charania, Jamil Charania and Ashif Mawji.

Shazma Charania was named president of ZS Holdings in 2016, and since she became president, she has steered the growth of her family business from two to seven hotels.

Her educational background mixed with her experience and community involvement enables her to make decisions in a well-rounded manner. Her vision is “To be the industry leader in selected emerging markets in Western Canada” and to maintain a corporate culture.” 

Using the values, culture and strategies that ZS Holdings were founded on, Shazma is a firm believer of using those foundations and building upon them.

Community and corporate involvement are part of those foundations. Shazma has held local board of director positions at AHLA (Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association) and Red Deer Tourism just to name a couple. Since 2010, she has also served the IHG Owner’s Association and currently the chair of the Holiday Inn Committee for The Americas Region and is also the in-coming chair for Canada for all IHG Brands. 

In order to expand her thinking, broaden her network and seek support Shazma is engaged with two Global Organizations; WPO (Women’s Presidents’ Organization) and more recently, EO (Entrepreneurs Organization). 

Other family members are also involved in the business. Zainul Mawji, the oldest daughter, plays an important role externally in the business as a board director and consults with the family on major decisions. In 2017, Jamil Charania, Shazma’s husband also joined the business as VP Business Development by bringing his 12 year automotive experience into the business. As the baton is slowly passed from generation to generation, Afzal and Gulzar are still involved in the business and continue to teach, guide and support in whichever capacity is needed. 

“As most everyone of you in this room have experienced disruptors in your industry, so have we,” Shazma said at the recent opening of the Staybridge Suites Red Deer. “The hospitality industry had has its fair share that we fight through. Some include short term rentals, Airbnb, online travel agencies, the increase in minimum wages, and the prolonged economic recovery and uncertain economy.

“These challenges make us stronger, fight harder and extrapolate the positive.”