Window Washer To CEO. Six Tips For Newcomers On Starting A Business

by Ivy Chiu, Senior Director, Cultural Markets, RBC

In June Canadian Immigrant Magazine presented the RBC Top 25 Immigrant Awards to winners across Canada. Two additional awards were handed out to youth and entrepreneur recipients. While at the Gala Event in Toronto, I was inspired by the stories of determination and success shared by the many award recipients. We heard again and again from our winners of the determination and perseverance involved to turn pre-arrival expectations into a life they had envisioned when they decided to move to this country.

Ajay Virmani was the winner of RBC Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship. When Mr. Virmani first arrived in Canada from New Delhi, India, he first job was working as a window washer, next was a brief stint in life insurance sales before switching gears to work in transport. This last move set him on his path to business and entrepreneurial success in the transport industry. Ajay bought a struggling freight airline in February 2002, changing the name to Cargojet and reviving it from the ashes to create what is today Canada’s largest cargo airline, where he reigns as CEO and President.

His perseverance to forge his own path in Canada – a new and unfamiliar country – is a story that resonates with many new Canadians. On his journey from window washer to CEO, Ajay has learned more than a few things, but here are six tips from him on creating a successful business:

  1. Change challenges into opportunities: Newcomers face many challenges when they move to a new country: language barriers, finding employment or credentials not being recognized, and the weather to name just a few. But what Ajay quickly learned is that he could not let these challenges stop him. While working his way up at Cottrell Transportation, Ajay earned his MBA to increase his opportunities.
  2. Don’t follow the crowd: Ajay’s strongest piece of advice is not to follow the crowd – let the crowd follow you. He believes that entrepreneurs are made, not born – meaning it takes hard work to be the boss. It is important to believe in your vision, forge ahead and be stubborn. And don’t let problems derail your focus, including financial challenges. Many people may think they do not have the capital to start a business; however the truth is if your ideas are good and you create a solid, well thought-out business plan, capital will follow.
  3. Stand out: If you want to start a business you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Ajay believes that success can come from being first to market or better than your competition. However if those aren’t options, be different! Find a way to differentiate yourself by considering a niche or underserviced segment. The market is always changing, so keep an eye on trends recognizing opportunities and go for it.
  4. Stay motivated and keep pushing: There are many ways that entrepreneurs stay motivated, and for Ajay a big factor is his employees. He started out with 40 people when he bought the bankrupt airline and has grown to more than 1200 people in 15 years. The responsibility to help them grow, be challenged and create bright futures at Cargojet is huge – and it’s also incredibly motivating.
  5. Have a plan, but leave room for flexibility: Like many business owners, Ajay adjusts his plan as necessary to keep growing and adapting. In Mr. Virmani’s experience, he has a vision, goals and a plan for his company that they all work on every day and setting measureable and actionable goals is key to his company’s success. But he keeps himself open to new opportunities; this brings us to the last point.
  6. Have a grand vision: While the dominant player in the Canadian market, Ajay has his sights set beyond our borders and is exploring the opportunity to grow internationally and wanting to double the size of the company in five years. Celebrate your successes while continue to set new stretch goals. International growth is a great way to expand your offering to new markets, and as an immigrant, his perspective has always been a broad and inclusive world view.

Ajay was recently recognized as a winner in the annual RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards, an award that celebrates the outstanding accomplishments made by Canadian newcomers. He also won an additional distinction as the winner of the Entrepreneur Award for his contributions as a Canadian entrepreneur.

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