Majid Kazmi is a banker on a mission to help new immigrants to Canada. He aspires to start a social enterprise to help immigrant entrepreneurs and write a book chronicling success stories of first generation immigrants.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Majid. Tell us something about yourself that not many people are aware of.
Majid Kazmi: First of all, I would like to thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak to your prestigious publication. Perhaps, the thing that most people wouldn’t know about me is that I always wanted to go into liberal arts. Despite the two vocations being worlds apart, I considered myself as much of an artist as a banker even long after I had completed my business education and taken up banking as a profession. And to this day, I consider myself an artist of sorts, fascinated by subjects like fine arts, design, music, creative writing, history and philosophy. I recall how some of my friends and colleagues humorously insisted that I was an artist stuck in the body of a banker.
Vinita Kinra: What made you immigrate to Canada from Pakistan?
Majid Kazmi: Well, firstly, I’ve always had a strong perspective on human purpose. I passionately believe in the higher reason for human existence than merely taking up space in this universe and traversing through time aimlessly. Having embraced this perspective since childhood helped me uncover my inner calling later in life; to use whatever potential I had to do something beyond what was expected of me most naturally. For me, having a successful career was not enough if it didn’t allow me to contribute at a higher level to the human society I was part of. In fact, being successful professionally was becoming more of a hindrance 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 development sector. However, 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 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.
Vinita Kinra: Was it easy for you to find work in your area of specialization when you first arrived in Canada?
Majid Kazmi: For the last many years before moving to Canada, my specialty had been product development and management within retail banking. This is one of the few areas in the financial services industry that require a myriad of skillsets and expertise, not only to do with banking, investments and insurance products but also finance, marketing, technology and business strategy. I considered this diverse skillset and experience a critical advantage I had as a job seeker. Therefore, I did not expect any major challenges in finding work in my field. However, after spending the first few weeks looking for work, I realized that my expectation couldn’t have been farther from reality. Despite being an educated, skilled immigrant who had been in leadership roles in the past, I went through a struggle—both physical and emotional—that was unknown to me.
Posting resumes online for positions simply didn’t yield results. It was frustrating to say the least. At one point, I decided to put aside my laptop and literally stopped applying for positions online. Over the following few months, my singular focus was staying positive and connecting with as many professionals in my field as possible. I connected with people through LinkedIn and professional networking events and built personal rapport with them so that I could learn what I lacked as a job seeker and how I could quickly become job ready. My networking strategy materialized when I got my first interview call through an event I attended at ACCESS Employment.
Vinita Kinra: What draws you to the world of finance?
Majid Kazmi: Interestingly, my decision to get into the world of finance was partly conscious, and partly accidental. During my MBA, I was required to do two internships. The first offer for internship I had was from a major multinational company that is considered a leader in consumer packaged goods around the world. My classmates fervently described it as a dream employer and spent hours convincing me to take up the offer. For me, however, it was clearly misaligned with my lifelong goal of making a difference in people’s lives through my work. Without much thought, I accepted an alternative offer from J.P. Morgan. This decision proved critical early on in my life and helped me set sail in the world of banking and finance. In hindsight, it was purely a personal decision. As a young student I needed a rationale to convince myself. My rationale at that time was that in modern capitalism, banks have a far greater power to effect a positive change in peoples’ lives than any other sector of the economy. The other inspiration, perhaps to a lesser extent, came from seeing many bankers in my family rise to success.
Vinita Kinra: What are your other passions and how do you like to spend your leisure time?
Majid Kazmi: I am passionate about helping people achieve their highest potential in life. I cherish the joy of providing help to people who need it the most. Taking up a less demanding professional role in Canada allowed me to free up the time to do just that. Over the last few years after migrating to Canada, my particular focus has been on developing leadership potential among individuals from immigrant communities in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. I do this by volunteering for non-profit organizations as a public speaker and mentor. I advise immigrant job seekers on job search strategies and achieving longer terms career success in the Canadian context. I like to spend my leisure time with my family. I also love to write articles on various topics, particularly concerning business and professional success.
Vinita Kinra: According to you, what key elements are needed to succeed in one’s adopted country?
Majid Kazmi: I believe at the core of an immigrant’s personality is an incredible element of entrepreneurial intrepidity. It takes enormous courage to make the bold decision of uprooting yourself and your family from the country you called home for many years—a country where you were born and raised and had family and friends you could turn to in hour of need. However, what is also important to note is that since not all immigrants are able to achieve the same level of success in their adopted homes, there is more to it than the decisiveness needed to take up a challenge. Beyond the decision to migrate, the element that makes immigrants successful is multifaceted. In its simplest form, it is the resolve and determination to make the decision work in the long run. But it is also the ability to be flexible; to unlearn and relearn in the context of your new social, cultural and economic reality. I feel that it has more to do with attitude than with skill. The legendary Muhammad Ali once described champions as those whose will is stronger than their skill. To me, this will is nothing but grit and perseverance. People who have those elements are inherently more open to new ways of approaching challenges and to turn tragedy into triumph. They are more action-oriented, creative, socially engaged and strategic in their approach to settle in their adopted country. They understand the value of networking and effective personal branding to stand out from the crowd.
Vinita Kinra: What is the biggest obstacle facing new immigrants choosing to settle in Canada?
Majid Kazmi: In order to quickly settle down in Canada, an immigrant looks to have a stable source of income. This requires finding work in their fields that relates to their education and past experience. Unfortunately, most immigrants do not have the professional connections that could introduce them to prospective employers. Inevitably, they have to rely on applying for jobs online during their initial months and this becomes a major obstacle. Many immigrants are either not aware of networking opportunities or are not comfortable reaching out to strangers. On the other hand, due to the economic recession and a clear imbalance between employment demand and supply, immigrants find it challenging to compete with job seekers who have Canadian education and experience. Limited understanding of Canadian workplace culture and social norms, as well as less than ideal communication skills further compounds this challenge. While these are common challenges that all immigrants face, they serve to highlight the importance of networking for newcomers.
Vinita Kinra: What is the one thing you miss most from your native Pakistan and why?
Majid Kazmi: Contrary to my expectation, it was fairly easy for me to get quickly integrated in the Canadian society; thanks to the enormous generosity and support from my friends and mentors here. Canada made me feel right at home. Still, there are things that I miss from my years in Pakistan. What I miss most is the comfort of living at five minutes’ drive from my parents’ house, the causal get-togethers with friends every once in a while, spending time with my brothers and their children; and of course the mouth-watering flavours of authentic Pakistani cuisine.
Vinita Kinra: Share with us a memory, old or new, that stands out in your mind.
Majid Kazmi: One of my fondest memories is related to an experience I had not too long ago. Soon after I started helping job seekers find work in their fields, I came across a young educated immigrant from Brazil who had a university degree in Public Relations but was unable to find suitable work after having spent almost two years applying for positions in his field. He had almost given up. After a few meetings with him, I could see his passion and determination rev up to the extent that he was willing to try out new job search strategies with an extremely positive frame of mind. Through some encouragement and positive reinforcement, he had come out of his ostrich syndrome and was excited to take up new challenges and learning opportunities. I introduced him to some connections and he was able to land a great job in a matter of a few weeks. My warmest memory is of the moment when he thanked me with teary eyes for helping him open up opportunities for his school-going daughter. It was a humbling moment for me as I never expected my small act to create such an incredible impact in his life. Every time I look back at that moment, it reinforces Leo Buscaglia’s famous words in my mind, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Vinita Kinra: Are first generation immigrants ever able to completely adopt a new country as their home?
Majid Kazmi: While this largely depends on factors such as age, education, intellectual awareness and individual personalities, I have no doubt in my mind that if an immigrant has a real desire to make a new country his home, there’s nothing that can come in his way. Still, we see many first generation immigrants failing to do just that. Their predicament is understandable, too. The way I look at it, it’s all about one’s attitude. There is a distinctive mental attitude that a successful immigrant needs to have. To be able to adopt a new country as your home, you firstly have to think of it as your home. There has to be a strong sense of ownership. Just like you wouldn’t blame others about the peeling paint in your bedroom, you shouldn’t complaint about the difficulties you face as a new immigrant. Immigrating to a new country is a life-altering decision that involves many trade-offs. To enjoy the benefits of that decision, you have to live up to your end of the bargain. Again, the most important element is to have a positive mental attitude. It is the primary prerequisite to be able to put your strengths to the best use and to make most of the opportunities. Canadian society cherishes individuals’ contributions to building strong communities. Having a passion to embrace new challenges and to find joy in selfless giving is what determines an immigrant’s trajectory to success in Canada. This is what makes one feel at home.
Vinita Kinra: What difference do you notice between work environments in Pakistan and Canada?
Majid Kazmi: Based on my experience having worked in the private sector in Pakistan, there aren’t many differences between the work environments in Pakistan and Canada. However, two differences are somewhat noticeable to me. Firstly, Canadian workplaces are extremely diverse, with representation from virtually all cultures around the world. This requires that you adapt to the demands of the particular social setting you are in and make the best use of your emotional intelligence and communication skills to be able to maintain a positive and productive relationship with colleagues. Secondly, in Pakistan leaders are inclined to use a direct communication style that is more instructive and prescriptive. Most organizations encourage following formal hierarchical protocols when communicating at the workplace. For instance, a team member doesn’t typically address a senior by first name. In Canada on the contrary, the social interaction is at a lateral level and hence the communication style is softer and indirect.
Vinita Kinra: What are your future projects?
Majid Kazmi: There are two things I am focusing on right now. Firstly, I want to start a social enterprise that would provide support to immigrant entrepreneurs looking to start businesses that would have a positive social impact as the underlying objective. I envision it to be the go-to place for immigrant entrepreneurs seeking mentorship, expert advice, access to capital and resources needed to start up innovative social enterprises. Secondly, I would want to write a book on the key elements of success from the perspective of successful entrepreneurs, particularly first generation immigrants of Canada.
Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.