Entrepreneur Interview: Majid Kazmi

This week we will be interviewing Mr Majid Kazmi. Our focus on Mr. Kazim’s immigrant background, as we would like to inspire others in the same position to do the same as him. Mr. Kazmi will be reading the comments to this piece, so you should feel encouraged to ask more questions on the comment area. image-0

 

Q: Hello Mr. Kazmi and thank you for participating in this interview. Let’s begin with you introducing yourself to our audience.

A: I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak to your audience. I am a senior banking professional with over 15 years of experience working with retail and small business clients. Although my work has predominantly entailed developing new banking products, my clients consider me a trusted advisor when it comes to matters of personal and business finances. I am based in Toronto and work for CIBC as a Business Consultant. I also sit on the board of directors of Toronto Workforce Innovation Group that conducts research on workforce dynamics, demographic trends and employment demand and supply.

Q: Thanks you Mr. Kazmi. Could you please tell us a bit more about your considerations to leave Pakistan and move to Canada? Why did you choose Canada in particular in comparison to any other country?

A: For me, it was not enough to have a successful career if it didn’t allow me to contribute at a higher level to the lives and work of people around me. In fact, being successful professionally was becoming more of an obstacle for me in reaching for higher goals in life. I wanted to be more active in the community at large and to explore opportunities in the social enterprise sector. However, I would admit that for some time I was too afraid to give up my comfort zone—economically and socially—and to venture into an uncharted terrain. Moving half way across the world necessitated that I step out of that comfort zone and give up the privileges that came with being a successful banker. So I took up the challenge.

Secondly, the fundamental socio-political construct of the Canadian society, based on diversity and equality for all, immensely appealed to me. Canada’s reputation as a country with the utmost respect for civil liberties, dignity of labour, freedom of expression, and the enormous opportunities to explore and nurture an individual’s entrepreneurial potential all contributed to my decision to make Canada my home.

Q: What should immigrants who are moving to Canada expect? How is the daily life any different than the daily life in Pakistan?

A: The important thing to note about immigration is that it is a start to a new life. It takes an entrepreneurial mindset to be successful as an immigrant. Immigrants moving to Canada should firstly own their decision to immigrate and be prepared to give it their best shot without looking for people to blame. This positive mindset is at the core of success for immigrants. They should expect that life in their adopted country will be different from the country they called home for many years—a country where they had family and friends to turn to in hour of need. They should also expect and be prepared to work at a lower professional level than in their past country of residence.

The struggles of daily life in Pakistan are very different for people coming from the educated urban elite segment and the masses living in the rural and quasi-urban areas. This dichotomy is not so pronounced in Canada where the daily lives of people do not significantly differ based on where they live or which socioeconomic class they belong to. So the immigrants coming from cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad should be prepared to live without the help of chauffeurs and household staff and to do most of their chores with no or limited assistance. This is a blessing in disguise and makes immigrants more independent and self-reliant in the long run.

Q: And how about business, how much greater are the opportunities than they are in your home country?

A: Canada is a great place for entrepreneurs and I see a promising future for innovative new businesses here. A new ecosystem of business innovation is taking shape due to the collaboration between the government, private businesses and the non-profit sectors. This is a relatively new phenomenon here in Canada compared to the UK or United States where a cluster-based approach to incubate and accelerate startups in more evolved. This is a welcome development in Canada especially since Canada is a smaller market and businesses typically need external support to raise capital and reach a critical mass of customers quicker to attract clients from beyond the borders.

On the other hand, Pakistan is a growing economy with a large urban population. This translates into an enormous market for international and domestic businesses as well as a great human resource pool for export-oriented companies or businesses looking to outsource production or service to highly educated experienced professionals. Another area of potential growth in Pakistan is transfer of technology for sustainable production and alternative energy generation. What is lacking in Pakistan however, is a robust infrastructure needed to fuel rapid business growth and efforts on part of the government to frame policies that attract domestic as well as foreign direct investment.

Q: Do you think being an immigrant shaped your character? Are you more motivated or hungry than Canadians who are born on Canadian soil?

A: Paradoxically, what is the greatest disadvantage for most immigrants is also their biggest advantage. Consider my case as an example. Coming out of the Toronto airport with my family on the day I arrived in Canada three years ago, I had no clue what the future had in store for me. All I knew was that I had no choice but to make my best effort to quickly settle in Canada and integrate in the new culture as a permanent resident. The result of that best effort was not completely in my control and I was fine with that. This thought made me stronger and gave me the motivation to do better than Canadian born residents. So to your question, if immigrants are really determined to succeed and are flexible to adapt to new ways of life, having to start anew puts them at a relative advantage as it broadens their horizons beyond their natural learning capacity and makes them go farther than they would in the comfort of their countries of birth. Thanks to the struggles I went through as an immigrant, this constant forward movement has become a permanent part of my character.

Q: Could you tell us more about your current venture?

A: Currently, I am working to establish a social that would be the go-to place for prospective immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada. I believe that the immense potential of immigrant entrepreneurs remains largely untapped in Canada. This is because immigrants who want to start businesses in Canada have a set of unique needs that are not fulfilled by traditional business incubators, early-stage startup accelerators and the venture financing model prevalent here. Immigrants typically do not get the same head-start that a Canadian born and educated entrepreneur would naturally have. They need to build their understanding of the business environment, cultivate a network of prospective early adopters and strategic partners and learn the ropes of growing business with minimum capital outlay. To address this challenge, my social enterprise would provide the resources, advisors, investors, strategic partners and clients to immigrant entrepreneurs to make their businesses profitable revenue generators and active contributors to the economic progress of the diverse communities they operate in.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

A: I try to keep an eye on the trajectory of my personal and professional growth. That said, I am always willing to readjust my action plan based on new realities that may emerge during the course of my journey to the next success. In the next 5 years, I aim to bring the government institutions, private and non-profit organizations in Canada closer into a relationship that would build a vast and sustainable ecosystem of entrepreneurial innovation. I realize that this is a gigantic task and I will need help from many stakeholders—from private investors to large corporations, and from educational institutions to my friends in the government—but I am willing to take the first step and gradually make that vision a reality. The end goal is to make Canada a dynamo of small business growth that leverages the talents and innovative business ideas of all Canadians. Creating a culture or entrepreneurialism will create enormous employment opportunities and convert taxpayers into serious stakeholders in the country’s economic progress.

Q: Would you consider moving back to Pakistan at any point under any circumstances?

A: Yes, but not in the conventional sense of relocating. I foresee my company having investment stakes in multiple countries, especially in the developing economies of the world. At a personal level, I owe a lot to Pakistan. I was privileged to have my upbringing and education in the best of environments. I went to IBA Karachi, the oldest business school outside North America. Also, I strongly believe in giving back to the communities I am part of—in Canada as well as in Pakistan. But most importantly, I am passionate about creating better economic opportunities for people living in the developing economies of the world. To that end, I intend to replicate the model that my social enterprise is creating in Canada, at a global scale. I envision a global community of entrepreneurs to create a movement that would be universal in its appeal and outreach. However, in terms of family and home, I intend to reside in Canada.

Q: If you could speak to your younger self, what would be the top tips for him?

A: I would have three pieces of advice for my younger self. First, be a risk taker early in your life; don’t worry too much about making ends meet, take up adventures, travel across the world, always be hungry, always be curious, and become the best version of yourself before you turn 30. Secondly, do not rely too much on formal education, rather spend the time looking for mentors—people who are successful beyond the material sense of success. Associate yourself with people better than yourself in every way; always learning and growing. Lastly, never underestimate the power of selfless giving. It is never too early to start giving back. Every day, think of how your work is contributing to making the world a better place. Do not be overwhelmed by the bigger goals in life. Rather, dream big, start small and act now.

Q: Thank you for this interview! Good luck in your venture. We will continue following closely.

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