Reprinted from The South Asian News This week we profile Liaquat Mian, President, LJM Developments, Burlington. A man with many creatively honed business talents and a builder par excellence. Your business is divided into different verticals, and we will address each of them starting with real estate development. Talk to us about your foray into this area, the projects that your company has completed, and what is to come.
LJM’s core focus has been real estate development in the GTA since the company’s inception. LJM has built townhomes, condominiums, and retail centers of varying sizes and as such has become a well diversified real estate development company. When I moved to Canada from Pakistan in the late 90s, I started investing in condos in Toronto and Mississauga. It was at this point of time that I realized the potential and scope of the industry for the future, and decided to become a more active player in the market by becoming a developer. Our first few projects were smaller in size and consisted for townhomes and luxury detached homes in Mississauga. In 2005 we moved in to Burlington where we envisioned the now landmark Appleby Line – which is a reality today. We also ventured into larger projects by first developing a retail center, Uptown Center, with more than 90,000 square foot of commercial space that invited tenants such as Starbucks.
Our next project became Burlington’s tallest building at the time; Ironstone Condominiums in collaboration with Davies Smith Developments. The 17-storey development is across the street from Uptown Center. Ironstone also employed green initiatives by employing thermal energy, LED lighting, and environmentally friendly initiatives – the development has been profiled in several industry magazines for its green initiatives. After Ironstone’s completion, LJM launched another condominium project, Appleby Gardens Condominiums, also on Appleby Line. Appleby’s architecture was inspired by Santa Monica and offers 71 condominium suites that are over 7 storeys – the building will be completed in June this year.
When I first took a drive on Appleby Line in the spring of 2005, it had a few cars and was literally farm land with a few commercial buildings around. It was scary to embark on projects in unchartered territory, but we noticed a desire by condominiums buyers moving westward and Burlington was new unchartered territory. We decided to pursue condominium developments over townhomes given the provincial and municipal government’s emphasis on intensification and our timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous. Today when you drive on Appleby Line you are likely to get stuck in traffic – the road needs to be widened to permit smoother traffic flow and the Uptown Center’s parking lot is rarely empty. We are thankful for everything we have been able to achieve in such a short amount of time. Since Appleby’s launch LJM has launched projects further west in the Town of Grimsby bringing the first condominium high-rise by the lake to Grimsby, Waterview Condominiums. Our company will also be launching a project in Stoney Creek and yet another condominium development in Burlington this year and 2017.
How about the real estate advisory services. What does this entail?
We keep a close eye on the real estate market both locally and globally. The real estate advisory division is a research function for the company and provides market information to our clients on the state of the market and growth potential. These efforts are geared more toward international investors to attract them to investment opportunities in Canada. As such we have successfully exhibited at prestigious international conferences such as MIPIM World Property Show in Cannes, and Cityscape Global in Dubai where we were one of few if not the only developer from Canada presenting the country as a place to invest and do business in. And we saw a lot of positive curiosity and interest toward the country, which was very encouraging. LJM is also working with municipalities to help drive their growth initiatives and attract investment toward various industries.
Other than that I manage an active blog on financial markets and have spoken at various conferences around the world about the real estate market in Canada.
What’s your foray into the small business investment and leap program? Care to talk with us about this enterprise, and success stories if any
We launched LEAP in late 2014 as an initiative to promote entrepreneurial spirit and support start-ups. Since then we have instituted a COOP program with Waterloo University in both real estate management and project engineering. The COOP program welcomes 2 to 3 students every 4 months to the company who are given a lot of responsibility and autonomy through their work term. As such they are able to think on their feet, learn quickly and think like entrepreneurs. The fresh ideas and energy brought to our company every 4 months promotes creativity and forward thinking at our company. We have had 3 students do return terms since our COOP program launch, which is a great compliment to our organization given that students have so many opportunities at their disposal.
In addition, LEAP looks to support start-ups. We are currently supporting the development of a mobile application in the hospitality space that is being developed by students and is set to launch this year.
We will continue to support entrepreneurship precisely because the business itself started as a start up with an entrepreneurial spirit.
If you were to access yourself for your leadership qualities, which characteristics would you showcase, and which ones would you prefer to keep in the background?
Openness to ideas, promoting talent, and a solution-driven approach to business are important as they often co-exist together. The real estate industry presents a lot of uncertainty and complications and there are times when you feel isolated when confronting some big problems. Hence having a mindset that always seeks solutions to problems serves as a great means to overcome these challenges. In addition, the changing landscape and evolution of the industry demands openness to ideas because architectural designs are always evolving and new methods of marketing and selling are being mastered at any given point of time, even as we speak. You cannot survive in the industry unless you are open to change.
Your story is characteristically different in regards to the many immigrants who come to this country and don’t leave their footprints. How would you encourage them not to lose heart, and what should they do to make it like you have…?
It is hard to be a newcomer in a new country and have to learn everything from scratch especially since most of us are well into maturity and as humans we get set in our habits and acclimatize ourselves to the things we are comfortable with. The best way to succeed is to have an open mind, in addition to a learner’s mind. Make new friends! And what I mean by that is new friends from different cultures and religions. This is Canada, which means there are no cultural barriers here – the more you expand your network, the more you will see you are getting exposed to new ideas and opportunities.
Understand the regulatory environment. A lot of immigrants move to the West with very little knowledge or experience of the regulatory framework that shapes our economy. For instance, if you are investing in a home you must understand what Tarion is, how it impacts the developer you are purchasing from, how you are protected, and how to conduct due diligence to ensure you minimize your risk of investment. These are basics but a lot of people overlook these factors. Learn a new hobby. For instance, I decided to get into Golf when I moved to Canada and I cannot tell you how many great friendships and business opportunities I have been able to garner through my favorite past time. It is also hard to manage family because all of a sudden your kids are in a new environment. A lot of parents feel worried about their child’s future and rightly so. But as parents our efforts should be to promote education and make friends with your children. Get them involved in sports, let them do that summer abroad program they will come back smarter and worldlier. Have open conversations with them and get to know their friends. Get involved!
One can feel lost in a new environment but its best to get back to the basics. Set a goal and a vision for yourself and your family. If you seek employment make sure it somehow relates to what you want to achieve in 5 years. It doesn’t have to be directly so, but has to have some significance to what you are trying to achieve, and what you like doing. Get involved in your community, volunteer and become visible in a positive way. Go to the City Council and learn about what your city is planning to do in the next 3 years and how you fit in that picture. Shape the policy if you can! If you do all these things and have an open mind, chances are you will not lose your heart and will find a meaningful career, business, and place in this wonderful society!
You have many talents and skills in which you know how to invest money and multiply your assets and that includes your foray into currency trading. In today’s day and age what do you think really works, and what doesn’t?
Discipline works. That’s the only thing that works in a chaotic financial market that vacillates far too often. A good investor is one who does his homework, and then manages his emotions properly to stay above the curve. For instance, with regard to currencies I have always been fascinated by world economies and particularly the economies whose currency I am trading. So I read about them. I also learn about the leadership attributes, what policies they are instituting, and the economic outlook through sources debating on different sides, and then I make my decision. When I have made my trade and this holds true for real estate development as well – you will probably face setbacks. Maybe the steering you had projected is not really moving forward, or trending in the way you had anticipated, so then you have to decide to the best of your knowledge and not get emotional but how to best remedy the situation. You must set parameters. So for currencies, if I am down by 15%, I exit my position. Regardless of whether I see the trade coming back to positive territory – I can modify the situation by entering another trade. There will be plentiful opportunities, don’t get stuck on one trade. Make sure you are working on your next move and refining your investment strategy every day.