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Rafiq Punjani- Becoming an Entrepreneur in a Foreign Country

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Well before Rafiq Punjani became a Master Franchise Owner of Anago – a leading commercial-cleaning company with over 40 master franchise units and 1500 franchise units across the globe – he was an accountant working for a Fortune 500 firm in the United Arab Emirates.

“I had originally come from Pakistan and though there were a lot of challenges in terms of having enough financial resources, my parents saved up the little they had to give me the education needed to pursue my career,” says Rafiq. “The course of my life changed in 2002 when I moved to Dubai and took on a role at Ernst and Young.”

For the next ten years, he enjoyed his life, his career and the means it afforded him to help pay off some of his family’s outstanding debts. A man who loved working with numbers, it seemed like Rafiq had landed the perfect job.

That was until Rafiq and his wife boarded a plane to Manitoba, Canada in 2013. It was there he began considering an entirely new career: “I started realizing that Manitoba was a great place to do business,” says Rafiq.

The only problem was, as a newcomer to Canada, Rafiq didn’t know where to start. “When I came to Winnipeg, I didn’t know anybody. A successful business is a byproduct of good relationships, but I had no relationships, so how would this work for me?”

It’s a dilemma many first-time entrepreneurs face: how do you cultivate the right business relationships, especially when you’ve moved to a foreign country?

Rafiq’s remedy is straightforward: “Go out and form relationships.” It’s exactly what he did before becoming the successful business owner he is today. He attended numerous business networking events in Winnipeg and sparked connections with peers to understand all he needed to know about operating a franchise. “It’s important to be yourself, tell people you are new, and ultimately swallow your pride and say, ‘I don’t know.’ You do that and it will work out.”

Giving Comes Full Circle

When Rafiq left his corporate finance position in 2015 for the role of Master Franchise Owner, his wife, his sister, and his brother-in-law quickly followed suit. They now manage Anago as a family-run business.

For some, a family-run business would seem like a risky venture; after all, if arguments regularly arise over minute tasks, such as household chores, how can a family come together to run an enterprise?

“The truth is working with anyone can be challenging,” says the 39 year old, countering preconceived notions of the inherent risks associated with family-run businesses. “My family all have some skin in the game and they want to see the business do well. We take pride in what we are doing. The result has been a business of integrity and honesty.”

Along with the support from Anago, each family member has helped propel the business forward, paving the way for Rafiq to be a true pillar of his community. He currently volunteers as a mentor for Futurpreneur Canada and a committee member for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, where he was awarded Volunteer of the Year in 2017. On top of that, as a Master Franchisor, he helps Winnipeg’s entrepreneurs achieve their franchise dreams. “I get to meet people looking to start a cleaning business, understand their needs and if we see that the system will be a good fit for them we match them with a franchise,” says Rafiq.

Much of his ability to help people in this capacity stems from the skills he developed as an accountant, where he learned the value of perseverance and hard work, while his upbringing in Pakistan developed his spirit of generosity. “Growing up, my parents were very generous even with the limited resources they had. Our brains are wired to give back to the community in some way.”

While Rafiq’s career path was by no means a straight line, it has come full circle. Rafiq has stepped into a position where he’s able to give back in a big way. “It’s a role that is helping so many people because I’m not just focusing on the growth of my own business. Rather, I’m proud and humbled to be helping so many other people grow their businesses through franchising too.”