By Jamal Malik
I entered food-service franchising last fall, looking for an opportunity that would let me offer healthy choices to customers … and stay ahead in a changing economy. When I got the chance to open a Mr. Greek franchise in a prime location in Richmond Hill, Ont., it seemed like the perfect way to start my restaurant career.
From military to marketing
I grew up in Pakistan, where I lived for most of my life. I was born in Karachi, the cosmopolitan city. It was fun living there at first, until political conflict made things much worse. With bomb blasts, shootings and violent crime, I never knew if I would make it home alive. In 1987, my whole family moved to Lahore. It was like starting a new life.
My childhood dream was to be a pilot. The best way to achieve that was to apply to the air force, so that’s exactly what I did. I actually applied to all branches of the military—the army, navy and air force—but the first to call me back was the army.
Even though I had been hoping to go into the air force, my father said I shouldn’t wait for another call and it was best to just take the offer I was given. I took his advice, but found I didn’t enjoy it, especially because it didn’t fulfill my dream of becoming a pilot. Then, when I was 18, I left the army after two years of service and pursued a career in advertising instead, which I liked almost too much!
Advertising was a growing profession and there was a lot to learn. I wasn’t just doing the same job every day. Each client had different products, customers, and issues. To come up with the advertising strategy best suited to each brand, I had to have a very strong understanding of the market. I learned all aspects of advertising (media, account management and creative and film production) from my mentor, Taher A Khan of Interflow Communications. I liked the creative aspect the most and pursued all the in-house training I could, as well as taking a film production course in Singapore.
In 1992, I got married. It was an arranged marriage, but we fell in love afterward. My wife and I have two boys together. The elder has just graduated from the University of Toronto (U of T) with his degree in mechanical engineering, and the younger is in his third year studying film at the same school. Both my sons also help me at the restaurant in their free time and off days.
After 10 years at Interflow, I opened a branch of marketing communications company, J. Walter Thompson, in Lahore. Another 10 years later, in 2005, I decided to start my own advertising agency. My company, Velocity, did a lot of TV commercials, documentaries and other video-based projects. It was a 360-degree agency, which means we did everything from composing creative to buying space to conducting qualitative market research on competition and consumers to actually running ads.
I made the decision to come to Canada because of my family. Since both of our sons were studying at U of T, my wife moved to North York with them five years ago. She didn’t want to leave them on their own in another country. At first, I was travelling between Pakistan and Canada every two months, which was a very difficult lifestyle to maintain. In the end, though, I decided the most important thing was for us all to be together. I sold my company and moved here last year.