The future of entrepreneurship in Canada is global

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Muraly Srinarayanathas is the executive chairman of 369 Global Inc., a rapidly growing business conglomerate with interests in education and training, financial services, entertainment, venture capital and more. Having lived and worked in North America, Europe, South Asia and Southeast Asia for nearly 20 years, Muraly possesses not only a strong business acumen but also a unique global perspective and the ability to bring together diverse groups of people around a common goal, which he has termed “the Maestro Mindset.”

You wear a lot of hats, and your career path covers a lot of ground. How have your experiences shaped your approach to entrepreneurship?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to travel, live and work in a lot of different countries. I was born in the U.K. and grew up in Canada. When I was 20, I started working overseas for almost 15 years. Although most of my time was in South Asia and I looked like the people there, I had a very Western mentality. It was eye-opening to understand the perspectives people have on the choices they want to make toward a good life. Understanding the different types of entrepreneurship ideas that were around all over the world, from somebody who wants to attract customers to their tea shop on the street, to a massive cement factory business, was a tremendous experience.

My father’s an engineer and my mom is a nurse, both are qualified in the U.K. When we came to Canada, I thought they didn’t have Canadian experience so they weren’t “up to the mark” here. It wasn’t until I started working overseas that I realized the value people have in terms of education and work experience—as engineers or as physicians in their own country. It gave me a great perspective on the mental torture that immigrants go through as they come to Canada with qualifications, but end up working in fast-food restaurants, driving taxis or working for Uber. Organizations need to step up and do the work to tap into this inherent value. It’s about partnership. Arriving at a solution is tough, but it’s a much stronger solution. Diversity is our greatest strength, and it’s also our greatest challenge.

How have you seen philanthropy evolve over the course of your career?

My early experiences with philanthropy were limited to wealthy families contributing money to causes. It hit my heart when I had the opportunity to see firsthand the work that [Professor Muhammad] Yunus was doing around the concept of social business. One of the core elements is an understanding that businesses do a lot of social work for their branding, whereas many NGOs are focused on a social need and not necessarily looking at their bottom line. Being an entrepreneur with a passion to help communities was an example of how I could merge the two, which is what we are trying to do at the Srinarayanathas Foundation. With the way the world is going, it’s crucial for leaders in the corporate space to be about more than just money. As new entrepreneurs emerge, we have an opportunity to be so much more. It isn’t one or the other—it’s the way forward.

What is “the Maestro Mindset,” and how can people apply this strategy?

There’s a quote from Invictus: “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” I really believe in the knowledge that we are all masters. We have everything we need, and it’s about tapping into that passion within ourselves. It comes down to three core things: first is the pursuit of progress within your mind, body, and soul. Where can I push myself in terms of my knowledge, health, and spirituality? Second, the dedication and discipline I put towards these areas of my life will influence the people around me, my community, and society. As I improve myself, I also improve society.

Especially in the tech sector, people have this concept of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Everyone idolizes leaders like Steve Jobs—someone who is removed from society while fully dedicated to their goal. It’s important to have people who are passionate about their purpose, but if your purpose doesn’t tie into society’s needs, it doesn’t really benefit. The Maestro Mindset is about elevating yourself as an individual and connecting back to your community. The third point: you’re not a master without an apprentice, and unless you give the apprentice the tools to overcome the master. It’s not for everyone. It can be, but people must commit themselves to their passions.

How is being a “purpose-driven leader” different from traditional ideas of leadership?

You’ve got to have the courage to stand up for your purpose, which you set out to define as a team. We’re in a time where people are worried about their image and what other people think. We need leaders who can stand up and say, “This is the right path.” And it always comes back to purpose. It’s not always easy to make the environmentally friendly choice. If you’re purpose-driven, you’ll do it even though it’s hard. Those are the types of leaders we need right now.

Prior to the pandemic, Toronto was being internationally hailed as a tech talent hub. As a city, are we maintaining that status?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in many places around the world, and I chose to set my base in Toronto. It’s a city like no other. While our political landscape is polarized, we’re still a global village. What’s happening in one part of the world affects all of us—Covid-19 is a great example of that. Understanding how all these different cultures can communicate and come to a solution is a global concern, and the micro-experiment of that is in Toronto. To be a part of that, and for my children to grow up in this environment, is a tremendous opportunity. On the business side, it’s great to be in a city on a growth horizon.

Your perspective on immigration, education and economic success is shaped quite a lot by your family’s story. What did that experience reveal to you about what needs to change in Canada?

There are a lot of changes happening quickly in the workforce, and we need to make critical policy decisions about how we onboard new technologies. In my view, there is not enough support for the middle class. Many entry-level positions—traditionally filled by youth, women returning to the workforce [following early child care] and immigrants—are being automated. Where do these people go? What options do they have? Canada is great at bringing people here, but we’re less good at incorporating them into society and giving them the opportunities they deserve. I hear this frustration from our newcomer students at Computek College almost every day, which tells me this continues to be a missed opportunity. Immigrants don’t just bring value to Canada in economic terms, they also bring rich perspectives to the table.

What advice do you have for aspiring Canadian social entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is about the joy of getting a group of people together to focus on a specific purpose and discover our shared passions. For young people, it’s about exploring that passion, not trying to be the next Canadian unicorn. My parents came here and sacrificed for me to enjoy the benefits I’ve been lucky to have. In Tamil culture, we’re used to having parents intertwined in all our activities. I talk to my parents every day and I’m very appreciative. These are the kinds of cultural norms Canada should incorporate. It’s important for my generation not to get too caught up in social media-fuelled ideas of luxury travelling and living. I hope that people recognize the value in relationships—taking care of our parents and spending time with our kids. And I hope people see that through my work and my brand, I’m doing my best to take action, not just talk about it.

Join us for a TL Insider Fireside Chat with Muraly Srinarayanathas on June 23, 12 p.m. Register for free with password TLJUNE here.