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Entrepreneur awarded for his hard work

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018  |  Martin Cash

Enterprising immigrant wins international recognition

Rafiq Punjani, the master franchisor of Manitoba for Anago Cleaning Systems, is in Washington this week at an event where he will be recognized as one of the franchisees of the year by the International Franchise Association.

On its own, that might be seen as a crowing achievement for many people.

But you get the feeling this is just one more marker along the road of success for this recent immigrant from Pakistan, via Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

With 24 franchises and about 100 employees in Manitoba, the province has become one of the fastest-growing regions for Anago and Punjani has already received internal awards from the cleaning company for its success here.

“We are very blessed,” he said. “The whole business community in Winnipeg has really helped us.”

But he’s not just talking about Anago. Long before Anago, Punjani — a chartered accountant by training — already had stints with Ernst & Young and the engineering firm AECOM on his resume.

He had a position with AECOM when he arrived in Winnipeg in 2012, but left after two years to start a book-keeping business, AccuRoot Financial Solutions, with his wife.

When it was running smoothly and he had time, he acquired the Anago franchise and built the business from scratch.

Now, he and an eight-person corporate team — made up largely of members of his and his wife’s extended families, three of whom are nurses — have secured the Winnipeg franchise for the home care company Right at Home.

And they have started their own telemarketing company to develop leads for Anago and have already attracted a handful of other clients.

Punjani balances all of this with his responsibilities as the imam for the Ismaili Muslim community in Winnipeg.

“It’s not surprising whatsoever he was named one of the franchisees of the year by the IFA,” said Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Oh, right. Punjani, 39, was the chamber’s volunteer of the year in 2016 and is a member of its board of directors.

“It’s a recognition of what we have seen from him for a few years,” Remillard said. “We’re very proud of him.”

Coming from a poor family in Karachi, Punjani’s financial fortunes greatly improved while he worked in the Gulf Sates.

But he said, “Abu Dhabi was tax free and we could save money. It was good, but we would never be citizens there. We wanted to come to a country that we could call home for the long term. We wanted to live in a country where you can feel like you belong. My wife and I started exploring and Canada was the obvious choice.”

Now he says he’s happy to pay taxes in a city that has been welcoming and supportive to him and his family.

His parents and several of his and his wife’s siblings have since joined them in Winnipeg, something he said would not have been possible without Manitoba’s provincial nominee program.

He said the fact that the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, Aga Khan, has such a strong connection to Canada helped influence their decision to come here.

“When we started the book-keeping business it took us some time for people to know who we are,” he said.

“I believe business is not about the brand but about the people who are running the show. If they are people of integrity, honesty and are hard working the customers will see it.”

His connection with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce helped him to become established in the community, which in turn helped grow his businesses.

Obby Khan, who also became active with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce when he started some restaurant and food businesses after his football career, met Punjani at several events over the years.

He eventually heard about Punjani’s book-keeping and cleaning businesses and has retained both those services.

“He is a serial entrepreneur. He is wild,” Khan said. “He’s so passionate, so smart. He and his wife and I have become really good friends. I’m so happy for him.”

Khan’s Exchange district business, Shawarma Khan, has an annual fundraiser for Winnipeg Harvest.

Punjani and about 15 people from the small Ismaili community came out to volunteer at the most recent event.

“They were the first volunteers on site and the last to leave,” Khan said. “It’s a fantastic show of giving back to the community.”

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca