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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - On his first day of work as a car salesperson in 1984 at a Hyundai dealership Rexdale, Ont., Nav Bhatia was the recipient of racially offensive jokes and name-calling because he was wearing a turban.
Bhatia, a Sikh who immigrated to Canada from India with a mechanical engineering degree, had a choice.
Either get upset and fight back with insults or take a positive route.
He took the positive route, sold 127 cars in the first three months, became manager and today owns that dealership along with two others in Ontario – Hyundai Mississauga and Genesis Mississauga.
“At the end of the day, when they found out I could really sell cars, I was professional in that, they started respecting. It was a turnaround,” said Bhatia, also known as the Toronto Raptors “Superfan”.
Bhatia, 66, was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s Advancing Island Connections event at the Delta Prince Edward hotel.
Around 400 people attended the event, which also included networking, a trade show and a discussion of business industry insights.
Bhatia told his story to the crowd while wearing a Toronto Raptors jersey with “Superfan” on the back and the number 95 to mark the Raptors’ inaugural season in 1995.
“I’ve never missed a (home) game, never been late for a game and never left early. And, that’s a record in the 24 years – nobody’s done that,” he said.
During his presentation, Bhatia also recalled the time when he was the manager of the Rexdale dealership and head office asked him to go to Mississauga to help turnaround that Hyundai dealership, which was six months from bankruptcy.
His first day there as general manager, eight of the 10 salespeople quit.
“They didn’t want to work for a general manager who had a turban and beard,” he said.
Again, Bhatia didn’t get upset. He took to the showroom floor, started selling cars and put in place a new sales team.
He turned around the dealership that he owns today.
Bhatia said he hoped the audience walked away with some messages from his speech – that Canadians born here appreciate the country they have but also to make Canada a better place through integration with newcomers.
And, from a business point of view, he wanted the audience to think about how they treat other people.
“You take care of the people. You treat people like you want to be treated yourself. And, if you’re in a business, it will grow itself because the word spreads. Good people will spread the word,” he said.
Patti Devine, the project manager with Island Advance, said Bhatia’s message resonated with the audience.
“This is for a business crowd, for sure, but sports kind of unites everybody in a community. Just the melting of the two, and his own compelling story about immigrating to Canada, the hard work involved with building that business and the positive attitude that ‘you can attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar’ ”.
Besides being a business owner, Bhatia has a foundation that raises money to build basketball courts for kids.
At Raptor’s games, he is often seen sitting next to Drake, the team’s global ambassador. He laughs when asked what it’s like knowing the rapper and celebrity.
“I knew Drake before he was Drake. So, I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a good man. He’s done a lot for the Raptors. It’s all good.”