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From Window Washer To CEO, This Canadian Immigrant Made It Big In Business

Ajay Virmani's perseverance to forge his own path in a new and unfamiliar country is a story that resonates with many new Canadians.

09/27/2017 16:05 EDT | Updated 09/27/2017 16:59 EDT
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I am constantly inspired by the stories of determination and success shared by the new Canadians that I meet — and in particular the ones who go on to start new and thriving businesses here in Canada. The determination and perseverance involved to turn pre-arrival expectations into a life they had envisioned when they decided to move to this country is inspiring.

Take Ajay Virmani, for example. When Mr. Virmani first arrived in Canada from New Delhi, India, his 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.

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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 the company 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 are 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 continuing to set new goals. International growth is a great way to expand your offering to new markets, and as an immigrant, Ajay has always had a broad and inclusive worldview.

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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