Just before pulling herself together to deliver the acceptance speech after being named a co-winner of the Royal Bank of Canada’s Momentum Award last week, Gloria Rajkumar’s emotions ran the gamut from tears of sadness and joy to elation at the amount of ground she has covered in the last 10 years.
She made history last week by becoming the first Caribbean national to win an RBC Woman Entrepreneur Award since the program started in 1992.
“My only regret is that my mother is not here tonight,” the Guyanese-born entrepreneur said while choking back tears. “My dad died when I was just eight years old, leaving my mom to raise eight children. My business acumen came from watching my mother, who had no formal education, keep us on the right track while being a dressmaker which was her entrepreneurial undertaking.”
A decade ago, Rajkumar used her on-the-job experience and the skills she picked up in an 18-year insurance industry career along with her $26,000 life savings to launch Superior Independent Medical Assessment Centres (SIMAC). The company provides the insurance industry, employers and legal representatives with credible, unbiased and evidence-based independent medical and assessment reports.
“I identified a need for better quality and service within the insurance industry in terms of providing independent medical assessment service,” she said of her decision to start her own business.
The company has grown from one employee – her niece – to a 22-member, full-time staff operating in three locations and offering access to a network of close to 450 certified practicing physicians and licensed health-care professionals.
“When I started this business, I leased everything except myself and I had just my niece working with me because I figured if I could not make payroll, she was family and I could pay her later,” she said. “In my first month, I made $20,000 and that doubled the next month and the next month. In the first year, I made $1.2 million. That was a great start for me because all I wanted to do at the time was buy a home for my mom who also takes care of one of my sisters who has cerebral palsy.”
At a time when many businesses are struggling during the global economic downturn, SIMAC is thriving. The company netted $11.8 million in the last fiscal year.
“The volume of my business has increased in part because clients who don’t usually claim on their insurance policies when they are involved in an accident are starting to claim that benefit since that extra $100 or $400 a week in benefits makes a huge difference, especially if one of the spouses is laid off and not working,” she said.
“Another reason I have been able to grow my company is because I have a little bit more branding recognition.”
Major honours such as the one she received at the Women of Influence RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards also help to enhance SIMAC’s profile.
Last year, she was ranked fourth among Profit magazine’s Top Women Entrepreneurs of the Year and she was the recipient of both a Guyana Business Excellence and a Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement award.
Rajkumar also received an invitation from Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow to be part of a trade mission to China. The Confederation of Greater Toronto Chinese Business Association organized the trip.
The single mother of a 13-year-old son was a participant in this summer’s Rio de Janeiro-held Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network event that promotes networking and showcases female entrepreneurial success, and the only Canadian among 50 women recognized with an Enterprise Woman of the Year Award in Boca Raton, Florida in July.
Rajkumar is representative of the many immigrants who have seized every opportunity to make meaningful contributions in Canada.
Rajkumar came to Canada when she was 19 years old.
“As the plane was about to land at the airport, I saw all the lights down below and all I could think about was that this must be what heaven is like,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it but I made sure I grasped every opportunity to better myself.”
For the first time, there were co-winners of the RBC Momentum Award. Dr. Munira Jivraj of the Calgary-based Millennium Dental shared the spotlight with Rajkumar while Michele Leduc of ZIP Communication was the other finalist.
“You are both incredible women and you should both be proud of your accomplishments,” Rajkumar told Jivraj and Leduc.
She also thanked her staff for their unyielding support and promised to fulfil her social responsibility by giving back to the community.
“Canada has given me a lot and that’s why I would really like to give back by mentoring young immigrant women,” she said. “I feel the need to let them know that there is hope and opportunities.”
Rajkumar already supports many community fundraising initiatives and charitable causes and is a contributor to the cutting edge “SchoolNet” initiative to computerize every secondary school in Guyana.
The RBC Momentum Award recognizes entrepreneurs who have successfully overcome obstacles and capitalized on opportunities to deliver 10 per cent or more growth for more than three years.
“Through expanded management, empowered employees and demonstrated excellence, she has created a flexible and responsive business that is able to adapt to changing market environments and exploit opportunities for continued growth,” said RBC Greater Toronto Area regional president, Jennifer Tory, who presented the award to Rajkumar.
Prior to the awards, Rona Ambrose, federal Minister of Public Works, Government Services and the Status of Women, saluted the 17 finalists.
“Canadian women entrepreneurs have a long history of excellence and we can take great pride in their individual and collective achievements which have contributed positively to Canadian life,” she said. “The economy is our government’s top priority and we are proud to encourage Canadian women entrepreneurs who are contributing to economic growth and job creation in Canada.”
Awards were also presented in the start-up, impact, sustainability, trailblazer and excellence categories.
Since the inception 19 years ago, 105 awards have been presented for remarkable entrepreneurial achievement.