Tag Archives: leadership

Small Business, Big Dreams

Her first flight took her 13,400 kilometres away from her home in Chennai ten months after her wedding day. Selvi Thambimuthu landed at Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Toronto on December 4, 2004.

Three Generations

“I felt really happy to see my new husband and new country but also a little bit sad leaving my family back in Chennai. I was also very curious about snow,” she recalls.

Now thirteen+ years later, Selvi and Siva, her husband, and their three handsome sons Pragadheesh (12), Harshan (10), and Vadhanan (8), are busy getting ready to open their second restaurant franchise next week in Toronto – “Starving Artist”!

Stars Align – A Love Story

A match made by both our parents and confirmed by 4 different astrologists, Selvi and Siva were married within eighteen days of meeting one another in person for the first time in 2004. They came to know one another long distance by phone and her first thought was “he looks just like his photograph”. Strong faith in family and even stronger faith in dreams bridged the distance then and now.

Living the Dream

“Work for your dreams. It will happen whatever you dream. It will come true. You need to believe.” she repeats to her sons. “I want my sons to have their own dreams and I will support them as my parents always supported me. Education is important, first and foremost!”

She remembers how her parents set her up for success, always reading, exploring, and fuelling her curiosity about the world. At age 12, her father gave her a black radio and brought the world inside their home each night at dinnertime.

Her earliest memory of Toronto was “Everyone on the subway was reading!” She used to buy “packages of books” for her sons and read Dr. Seuss’ favourites including “Cat in the Hat” twenty to thirty times a day.

Entrepreneurship & Education in Progress

It’s not clear if “Green Eggs and Ham” set the tone as Selvi and Siva bought their first waffle restaurant franchise in 2016 and opened “Starving Artist” in Midtown Toronto. It was also the year Selvi started (and now graduated!) George Brown College’s Office Administration – Health Services two-year diploma program. And 2016 was the year Selvi’s Mom came from Chennai to help them realize their dreams.

The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in their family. Her father once owned a machine shop in Chennai. And as all entrepreneurs know, you do what it takes to make things work so they live above their restaurant which makes a whole lot of logistical sense.

Soccer Dreams

Listening to Pragadheesh talk about his passion, soccer, with his eyes shining brightly, he is like most young first generation Canadians. They are strivers, strong-willed with extraordinary grit and determination.

When his father suggested they should book their tickets for the World Cup 2026 (Canada, U.S. and Mexico will be hosting), Pragadheesh reassured his father, “Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll be playing so I’ll have tickets for everyone.”

The Next Big Dream

And what’s next you might wonder from the lady who once pushed a stroller dubbed “The Rocket” by her co-workers to get her son to school on time?

Selvi now dreams about how she will furnish their next house, a much bigger house as their home as she remembers fondly her childhood home in Chennai, 10’ x 50’, where her dreams began. And now 13,400 kms away, I have no doubt this dream will also come true. Small business, big dreams!

Wanted: New World Leaders

“Mom, when I grow up, I want to be the leader of the world,” says her four-year old daughter. “And we’ll be her advisors!”, chimed in her two older brothers. “Why not?” encouraged their mom, Tammara.

Indeed, why not? “Out of the mouths of babes” just in time to honour our moms today. Who are our young sages? Tierra (4), Kai (7), Kian (10) are our strivers and our future. They are Canadians who make us proud to be Canadian!

Tammara is one of our #Gals with Grit, a new movement launched this year on International Women’s Day to recognize newcomer professionals who are parents. We share their stories to inspire new newcomers and also leave a legacy for the next generation. You will know them as parents working sometimes at 2 jobs or running their own business while studying, or recently graduated post-secondary in Canada. They are remarkable people, everyday heroes, leaders in their communities, and also potential leaders on the world stage (if not already) as Tierra, our four-year old protégé exclaimed earlier.

We met four years ago while chatting at Eglinton Station waiting for the next train during rush hour. By then Tammara had already been to Canada, twice, the first time at age 6 years when her father did his Masters degree in Environmental Engineering at the University of Manitoba and again at 17 as a York University student. A couple of weeks later I was invited to her home for a very fine and full Indonesian lunch and met her young family – her husband and their two young sons. The “world leader” had not yet arrived. In complete awe of her amazing ability to do it all (studying for her PhD, working full-time, caring for her young family), I wondered who she really was and how she developed this remarkable fortitude, grit as we call it.

Fast forward four years, now a mom of three, with her PhD in Urban Planning, and also a Trudeau scholar, Tammara agreed to participate in our “Gals with Grit” project. Earlier this month, in our first interview, I asked her to describe for us her journey so far:

Tammara, can you please share with us some defining moments and who has made an impact in your life?

“When I was 13 years old, my parents sent me to visit my Great Aunt Irid, my maternal grandmother’s little sister. She is an accomplished public speaker. You see, I was very shy and was absolutely terrified to look her and anyone else for that matter, in the eye. My eyes were always downcast and I kept covering my face with my hands. When I was young, I was bullied and was very self conscious about my appearance, in particular, my weight. I believed someone was always judging me for one thing or another. Those few days with Great Aunt Irid helped me put my hands down and lift my head up and keep my eyes straight ahead, steady and confident.

Then my mother got a job in Winston-Salem, North Carolina so we all moved. This is where the biggest change happened in my life. I was 15 at the time.  My amazing American teachers were creative, innovative, and encouraging, which was different from the learning by rote which I was used to doing in Indonesia. I was very polite and was keen to learn, so my teachers helped me thrive and believed in me. I won the “Student of the Year” two years in a row!

I hope to inspire my students at the University of Toronto to believe in their potential,  just like my teachers inspired me.

What’s on the radar for you these days?

I wore a hijab on and off after I came to Canada. However, I decided to finally wear my head covering permanently a year after I became a Trudeau scholar in 2014. I felt more confident and less concerned about having to look a certain way to gain approval from others so my hijab felt empowering to me as a scholar. It also often sparks conversation and learning opportunities about the role of Muslim women in academia.  Now as an expert in my field, I sit at the table with CEOs and Ministers and I realized that I have opportunities to make a difference.

We need to dispel the stereotypes found in Orientalism and its monolithic framing of diverse Muslim cultures  as “ancient”, primarily middle-eastern, and “backward.” As a mother, a muslim and working professional,  I believe it is important for me to maintain a balance between the academic and spiritual aspects of my life so that my children continue to believe that women leaders are not unusual. There is no doubt in my children’s minds that a woman could indeed become world leaders.

Well, I know one four-year old who already has her eye on the job! Thanks, Tammara, for sharing your story and being a true “Gal with Grit”. Happy Mother’s Day to you and all Moms around the world!

The Power of Politeness

“No thank you” or “No, thank you”? Have you heard the one about the panda who walks into a cafe with a gun, orders a sandwich, fires the gun, and leaves? Ask British author, Lynn Truss. Her 2003 bestseller “Eats, shoots and leaves” bemoans the lost art of punctuation.

But what might be a case of “syntactic ambiguity” – when a reader/listener can reasonably interpret one sentence as having more than one possible structure – is actually me bemoaning the lost art of politeness.

On certain, not all, occasions lately, what’s been heard is silence, i.e. no thank you’s. Does the receiver of an act of kindness assume the giver has somehow understood “thank you” through telepathy? Or perhaps such an acknowledgement is passé or is rejected because it’s too de rigueur?

Look, I’m not from the #smartgen nor the #nextgen but from the #othergen. And I’m old school so that my favourite pastime is writing and sending notes of thanks, yes, paper and yes, snail mail. I purchase “thank you” cards so often that my friends have started gifting them to me and you can guess who receives the first one out of the pack.

Our lives are fast and fleeting. Has “thank you” disappeared along with “please, may I, pardon me”? Please say it isn’t so. The foundation of relationships is built on gratitude.  When you experience loss in life and need help,  what will ground you is gratitude. Wharton Professor Adam Grant says it best in his 2013 best-selling book, “Give and Take” and his 2016 TED talk , He describes how people are givers, takers, and matchers and how most effective leaders are givers.

 

When someone gives, offers, surrenders, volunteers, sacrifices their time to help you, will you remember to say those famous almost-forgotten last yet powerful words, “THANK YOU”?  Because if you don’t, you might not get another chance to say these words again. Ever.

The Power of Perspective – All the light we can see

The Power of Perspective

Scrolling my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon Daniel Pink’s , an American author of bestselling books about business, work, and behavior, 2016 convocation address at Georgetown University on the importance of perspective-taking.

He asked the grads to do a quick social experiment with three simple instructions. Try it!

1) Identify your dominant hand.

2) With your dominant hand, snap your fingers 5 times.

3) With the forefinger of your dominant hand, draw for me a capital “E” on your forehead.

Take note, did you draw your “E” facing you inwardly  or “E” facing outwardly? Pink: “If you drew the “E”  facing you i.e. inwardly, it means you are self-oriented and take your own perspective. If you drew  “E” facing outwardly , it means you take someone else’s perspective.”

As time goes on, you will draw the “E” differently, depending on context. As you grow and acquire power and success, you might lose your ability to see the world through another’s eyes. “Use your power but sharpen your perspective.” –Daniel H. Pink

Saul Bellow, a Canadian author and Nobel and Pulitzer prize winner quoted Proust as he talked about life’s “true impressions.” “With increasing frequency, I dismiss as merely respectable opinions I have long held – or thought I held – and try to discern what I have really lived by and what others live by.” –Saul Bellow

Thirty years ago I was “gifted” this rare perspective. I haven’t used it very often…not until this month.  This “gift” came from being hospitalized for an extended period with no vision and no mobility. So when I peered into my best friend’s (30 years) one open eye last week, I suddenly realized that in order to connect with her, I had to take her perspective. I had to communicate in such a way so that if she was inside there, she could use her facial muscles to answer.  Being careful not to overtire her, we “conversed” as she responded neurologically well – acknowledging accurately and quickly. She’s smart, strong, and resilient. We pray.

“Valuing the differences between people is the essence of synergy … And the key is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.”–Stephen R. Covey

Did you draw  the Capital E facing inwardly or facing outwardly? Know your power of perspective and use it aptly, wisely, and compassionately.