Don grew up in a small island off the East Coast of Canada, and has built a capital-efficient business leveraging some key strategic assets. Very instructive interview.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Don Mal: I was born in India and immigrated to Canada when I was seven years old. We moved from Northern India to a small province in Canada called Prince Edward Island. I moved to a small, single-room schoolhouse in rural Prince Edward Island very close to where Anne of Green Gables went to school.
Sramana Mitra: How did that happen? Why did your parents move there? I know there are huge Indian communities in Vancouver and Toronto, but I’ve never heard of this small town.
Don Mal: Canada in the 1960s had an aggressive immigration policy to bring in teachers and nurses because there was a big shortage of those two skill sets. My uncle had immigrated to Canada as a teacher. He then sponsored us. My mom was a nurse and that’s how we were able to come to Canada.
Sramana Mitra: How did you navigate from there? What did you do for education?
Don Mal: Just going back to that Anne of Green Gables comment, the reason why I mentioned it is because if you know that story, Anne of Green Gables was bullied. I have actually spoken at various diversity events. I use the story to talk about my experience when I moved from India to this one-room schoolhouse. There was a huge opportunity for me to not be accepted.
In fact, the opposite happened. I had no racism experience there. I was accepted right away. I was integrated very quickly into the Canadian culture. My experience as a young immigrant in Canada was very positive. I talk about how that paved a way for me to live a very confident life in Canada as a business person and as a very successful entrepreneur as well. Going back to your question, I went through public schools.
Then I went to St. Mary’s University in Halifax and studied Commerce. I started taking business courses early on. It was one thing that I gravitated to in terms of what I enjoyed and what I thought I wanted to do.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of work did you do that triggered your entrepreneurial journey? What was in your childhood or education that triggered your entrepreneurial process?
Don Mal: My mom was a nurse, but my father was a serial entrepreneur.
Sramana Mitra: What field?
Don Mal: My father had a retail store. He had restaurants and had wholesale businesses.