NNSL Photo/Graphic


Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

From one taxi to big business
Resolute Bay's Aziz Kheraj talks about growing his companies

Thandie Vela
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 9, 2011

If anyone knows about doing business in the remote communities of Nunavut, it's Resolute Bay businessman Aziz Kheraj.

NNSL photo/graphic

A C-17 Globemaster is unloaded by an employee of Resolute businessman Aziz Kheraj, who runs several businesses in the hamlet, including aircraft ground handling, petroleum distribution, construction and two hotels. - photo courtesy of Aziz Kheraj

Known about town as "Ozzie," Kheraj, 57, is the owner of the hamlet's South Camp Inn hotels. His numbered company, 953731NWT Ltd., runs all the fuel distribution in the municipality, has held the petroleum products contract for the Government of Nunavut for more than 10 years, maintains the water and sewer systems for the municipality and, with his general contracting arm, carries out construction projects, airport ground handling and other heavy equipment work in Resolute.

A typical day in the life of Kheraj starts at 4:30 a.m. at the hotel business where he shuttles guests to the airport before refuelling the aircraft at about 5:30 a.m.

Breakfast is followed by time spent monitoring hotel staff "to make sure everybody's working," answering the phones and checking on his various construction business projects throughout the day before picking up guests when the evening flight arrives.

"You never succeed without hard work, that's the long and short of it," Kheraj said.

A mechanic by trade, a young Kheraj moved to Newfoundland from Tanzania in 1974 and made his way to Resolute in 1978 where he earned $7.50 an hour working for a resource company.

Out of work after being laid off, Kheraj turned from mechanic to entrepreneur in 1984 when he and his wife, Aleeasuk Idlout, paid about $1,000 to buy a Ford stationwagon, which became the hamlet's first taxi service.

"They let me go so we started our own company and slowly but surely, we grew," Kheraj said. "We started with the taxi and then there were construction contracts on bid, and we bid one, and we bid another, and just grew from there.

"One step at a time," he said, recalling putting in up to 20 hours a day to get his businesses off the ground.

Nowadays, Kheraj gets more sleep and relies on about 25 employees across all of his operations.

All of his employees are flown in from southern Canada, highlighting one of the biggest challenges for running a business in a remote community.

"It's difficult to find reliable workers locally," Kheraj said. "It's a tremendous labour shortage."

Cost challenges rival labour challenges, he added, in addition to logistics. He relies on an annual sealift or air transport to get things in and out of the community.

A key to business success for Kheraj has been diversifying his operations, which has allowed him to subsidize any struggling divisions with other parts of his company.

"If you are in your own business you have to be able to reinvest your profits in your business and not spend it all away," Kheraj advises aspiring entrepreneurs. "Reinvest everything to grow."

And despite Resolute's small population of about 250, there is still competition, Kheraj said, emphasizing the importance of customer service.

"Everything we do is related to customer service," he said. "If you provide good service and your customers are happy, they tell somebody else, and it's word of mouth and you slowly grow from there. "If you're successful it means you provide good service, you look after your clients, you do everything on time ... it's a whole array of things but it's being able to keep everyone happy."

Kheraj has drawn his share of critics as well, and has become a target for others due to his success, he said.

Despite the critics, and the challenges of doing business in a small remote community, Kheraj could not imagine having built up his business anywhere but in Resolute.

"It's home," he said.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.