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A Purpose-driven Entrepreneur

From humble beginnings, Perminder Chohan has become a giant in financial services and philanthropy

Chohan runs seven offices with 500 employees

From humble beginnings, Perminder Chohan has become a giant in financial services and philanthropy

Growing up in a small village near Chandigarh, India, Perminder Chohan recalls he always desired a better life for himself as well as his family. With his dad being a teacher, money was tight and barely enough to send Chohan and his two brothers to university.

As fate would have it, in 1990 Perminder made his way to Canada, filled with hopes and dreams. With a Master’s degree from Punjab University, the only job he was able to land was at a plastics factory which lasted only six months.

“I could read and understand, but I barely spoke any English when I first got to Canada. It was hard to adjust in the beginning, with the language barrier. The first six months were very tough, but I knew I had more opportunities here than back home.”

He knew early on that in order to find success on Canadian soil he had to start his own business. Upon a friend’s suggestion, Chohan started his first entrepreneurial venture, by launching a plumbing business. Though at the time he didn’t have his trades certification, he partnered with someone who understood the trade, while Chohan took care of the business side.

“I realized if I worked hard here I was going to get somewhere,” says Chohan. “Once I believed that, I went all-in, 100 per cent.”

Ironically, for this self-declared “rotten student,” Chohan’s big break came from Registered Education Saving Plans (RESPs). Having researched them for his six-year-old daughter, he impressed an interviewer by asking a few astute questions. Promoting RESPs and recruiting salespeople was relatively easy because people valued Chohan’s willingness to share his own mistakes and experiences.

SOAR Philanthropy gala

In 2003, a tragedy propelled him further into the financial industry. A friend died suddenly, leaving his family without any means of support. Now Chohan saw that insurance was not just a product, but another means of helping people.

“Selling life insurance was secondary to me until I delivered my first death claim cheque for $450,000. The money paid off their house, their debts and education for their kids. I saw first-hand how I could contribute to someone’s life.”

In that light-bulb moment, Chohan saw that he could help other young people achieve their dreams through financial literacy and services. He started his own brokerage, Lifewise Financial Group, the same year. Handling life insurance, RESPs and financial planning, its rapid growth caught the attention of Quebec-based Desjardins Group, the largest financial cooperative in Canada. Its credit-union philosophy of putting member needs before profits resonated with Chohan. In 2009 he brought Lifewise under the umbrella of Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network.

“I was a little sentimental because it was a total change. But I knew where I was going and that it was going to be good for me,” says Chohan.

It was good—so good that Chohan earned the distinction of being Desjardins’s top recruiter in the country for six years running. His operation grew by 20 per cent every year. He now employs 500 people at seven offices in B.C. and Alberta. Most of these recruits are fresh to the industry, either through changing professions or by immigrating to Canada. Regardless of their education or work experience, Chohan trains them to build solid careers to support their families and, with luck, give back themselves one day.

Team Punjabi sports event; ‘everything is possible’

“I try to teach newcomers, or someone starting out with me, there is no such thing as impossible. Everything is possible if you are committed, focused and honest. Those are the ingredients for success.”

For Chohan, financial success is important not just because it allows him to buy luxuries for his children that he never had, but because it allows him to help so many people out of the poverty that chokes their ambitions.

“I found myself where I always wanted to be: having the resources to live my dream and make a difference in somebody’s life,” he says.

Now Chohan gives substantial amounts to 36 charities carefully selected for their prudence with donations and positive actions amongst the economically disadvantaged. He particularly favours charities that assist low-income families with education and medical expenses. These include the Soar Philanthropy Society scholarship, Eagle Ridge Hospital, Sikh Motorcycle Club, Kids Play and a scholarship for students of L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey. His foundation sponsors a debate competition for Grade 11 and 12 students in the public school system with $15,000 in scholarship prize money. He also donates to Richmond Hospital Foundation (where his son was born), BC Children’s Hospital and Ronald MacDonald House in Surrey. Full proceeds from Chohan’s two best-selling books, UnCommon (with Brian Tracy) and Performance 360 (with Sir Richard Branson), go towards supporting Entrepreneurs International. Chohan discovered oral cancer was most prominent in the South Asian community, so he helped set up camps for oral cancer screening. Out of many people screened, 38 were found positive and six needed surgery right away.

Every year, Chohan tries to outdo himself in regards to community involvement and giving back, and has made that one of the prime purposes of his life.

“For me it’s very important to connect and support emotionally someone going through hardships,” he says. “I consider it my responsibility, to give back to the community. I saw my father helping everyone, in whichever way possible.”

Speaking at the 2017 Drishti Awards gala

In 2017, Surrey-based Drishti Media recognized Chohan’s efforts with the aptly named “Spirit of Generosity” award. For Chohan, financial rewards have always been about having enough to share. Now, as a trusted mentor to hundreds of financial advisors and a sponsor of many ambitious young people, he hopes to instil this spirit of generosity in others as well. His winning philosophy is simple: “If you take care of people, the money will come.”