They came without money or English. They hoped to get a job with their brother Tony, who preceded them ito Canada and was working as a logger in the B.C. interior.
The brothers worked hard to survive and within a few years found someone who would finance them to buy their own equipment. They got some contracts and built their business. One day, Tony overheard that a local sawmill was coming up for sale and the brothers scraped all their equity together and bought the mill.
They had some tough times in those early days, but the Novaks stayed focused on building something for their families. The brothers divided the operations of the Dunkley Lumber Ltd., one running the business office, one the woods division and Joe running the sawmill. Despite having only a Grade 3 education, Joe had a brain for engineering and designed a mill that was one of the most efficient in Canada. This allowed the business to thrive.
For many immigrant families, coming to a new country is a risk and a necessity. The Novak brothers escaped a communist regime that left them few work options. Other immigrants come to escape war or poverty, or just to find new adventures.
But why do so many immigrants end up starting or working in their own businesses?
A study published in 2014 by the Kauffman Foundation found that in 2012, immigrants were twice more likely to start their own businesses than native-born Americans. These businesses provide jobs, pump money into the economy and contribute to communities. Look around your communities and see that most immigrants are working hard to provide a better life for their families, many times in family-run businesses.
But do immigrants really work harder than those people who are established in a country?
When immigrants like the Novaks come to a country, in order to find opportunities other than baseline jobs they need to own businesses. Upward mobility is limited if you can’t get a well-paid job because you lack connections or language skills.
Running a business for anyone can be very difficult. But imagine if you don’t clearly understand the language or expectations of your customers. Having worked as a business coach with a number of immigrants in their businesses, I can tell you that the stress of not clearly knowing the culture can lead to difficulty.
Many immigrants find opportunities serving their own people in their new country. Others open restaurants or businesses bringing their food, flavours and products to the new land. And others bring skills, knowledge and technologies that transform and revive existing or traditional businesses in their new land of opportunity.
I’ve never worked harder than when my business was on the rocks. I had to fight for every dollar to make the business work. Immigrants starting businesses and trying to establish new lives face similar situations. Either they make the business work or face the failure, shame and discouragement that any business entrepreneur experiences.
The difference might be that having lived in my community for decades, I knew that if I lost my business, I could get a job working for someone else because of my connections and skills. This might not be the same for a new immigrant. For them, failure is not an option.
I discussed this issue with a friend who’s an accountant. He told me that he noticed that first-generation immigrants do work hard, save money and build wealth to provide for the second generation. The second generation, who seem to have the same work ethic and are upwardly mobile, get educated to be professionals. The third generation seems to become acclimatized and engrained in the culture and don’t have the work ethic or determination of their parents and grandparents.
The Novaks and so many others came to North America in search of a better life and found one. They struggled through tough and good times to create a future. Our culture needs more of that entrepreneurial mindset to ensure a vibrant and diverse economic future.
Look around you and be thankful for the immigrants who provide jobs and run businesses that contribute to the community in so many ways.