TORONTO: In a way, Canada Day on July 1 is what August 15 is to India. It is time for celebrations. And it is time for toasting success and success stories.
We, in the Toronto area, know a very successful turbaned face that often pops up in ads in major papers. With his index finger raised, this gentleman announces himself to be the officially anointed Super Fan of the city-based NBA team Toronto Raptors.
It is none other than Nav Bhatia, the top Indian-born car dealer here.
In fact, he is among the biggest dealers in Ontario province and among the top four-five in Canada.
“I am proud to say that we are also among the top three or four service providers in Canada…we are known for commitment and client allegiance,’’ says Bhatia sitting in his busy Mississauga Hyundai Superstore.
Indeed, this 60-year-old Sikh, who came to Canada from India in 1984 with a few dollars, is known among Indo-Canadian and mainstream communities for his steadfast commitment to clients and friends.
Among his friends are celebrities, leaders and big basketball players of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
“People come first for me. I value associations and friendships and that is the reason I am successful. I have known former BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie for years. We are great friends. This boy Peter Russell who is top Canadian comedian-actor is very close to me,’’ he says, pointing to a photo of Indo-Canadian comedian Peter Russell on his office wall.
Then he explains how his association with Toronto Raptors – the city-based team of the National Basket Association (NBA) has got him officially designated as Super Fan. Because of his unique status, he says, he has become the most famous Indian face on the most-watched NBA games in North America.
“As I have watched over 500 games, they have given me the status of Super Fan. During Vaisakhi and Diwali, I buy 3,000 tickets for NBA games for over $300,000 and give them to Sikhs and non-Sikh children so that they can enjoy matches. The idea is make the mainstream in North America aware about turbans and my Indian identity. The idea is to integrate my Indian community with the mainstream,’’ says Bhatia.
The multimillionaire Sikh says he also plans to sponsor the Canadian basketball Olympic team. “Right now, Canada is very low on the Olympic basketball table. But within the next few years, I want them to win the Olympic medal. I am roping in basketball stars to train our Olympic team. And don’t forget that we are Canada’s top car dealership when it comes to raising funds for charities.’’
According to Bhatia,“Bridge-building with the mainstream is the road to success, and this is what I am doing.’’
And he has his reasons to.
“Something happened in 1998. I was walking into a Bell cellphone repair centre when a gentleman – who was talking on the phone – looked at me and said loudly: `Honey, I have to hang up now as my cab is here.‘ This man thought that all turbaned guys are cabbies. I wanted do change stereotype by telling the mainstream who we are.’’
He also recalled the discrimination he faced when he landed in Canada. “I was a guy with a degree in mechanical engineering from California State University. But nobody would give me a job because of my turban. It was so bad back in those days.’’
But thankfully, a Chinese car dealer gave him a break as salesman. “I was desperate so succeed that I sold 127 cars within three months. And the Chinese gentleman rewarded with a promotion as a manager. I always tell new immigrants that you have to work twice as hard to succeed, and that’s what I did. I am on the job from 8 am to 11 am.’’
And so impressed was Hyundai with his commitment that they made him the manager of a failing dealership to turn it around.
Within a few years, he not only turned it around but also bought it in 1989. Over the years, he has gone to buy more dealership and become one the top dealers in Canada.
Interestingly, Bhatia is also the man behind introducing Bollywood in a big way in Canada. Beginning with Hum Saath Saath Hain in 1999, he would bring newly released Bollywood films to Toronto and screen them at multiple theatres.
“We also brought many top-notch Bollywood stars – the Big B Amitabh Bachchan, A.R. Rehman, Shahrukh, Aamir , Akshay and others to perform before mainstream audiences. This helped promote Indian culture and identity. Promoting my roots and culture remains my aim,’’ he says.
But more than his success, Bhatia is known for standing by his community, his people and his friends.
And he is not like so many other rich, pompous Indians here who speak with forked tongues and have zero record of helping fellow immigrants. Bhatia is genuine and down to earth, say his long-time colleagues. Others tell you how he has helped many fellow immigrants get their footing in Canada.