Charan Sethi, focused determination
As I entered the office lobby with a gust of outside air, the first thing that caught my attention was a beautiful glass award. As I stepped toward it, I slowly realized that it was one of many, and that the four walls of the lobby were in fact lined with frames and acknowledgements. Some were for Georgie Awards, some for Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade, some were for community support and philanthropy, but all of them had one name on them: Charan Sethi.
I was a tad overwhelmed by the omnipresence of this name, and eager to meet the person that it belonged to. As I made my way through the lobby, I noticed a miniature city with tall and short buildings, and a sign that said ‘Whalley District’ which made me curious to know more.
“That’s at Whalley’s Corner,” he said. I whirled around and came face to face with none other than Charan Sethi. “The miniature, it’s of our next proposed project in Surrey.”
Whalley began in the early 1920’s as a three-acre triangle of land which is now the intersection of 108 Avenue, Grosvenor Road, and the King George Boulevard. The owner, an enterprising bootlegger named Arthur Whalley, anticipated the need for gas and services on the route between New Westminster and the US border, so he built a service station with a small general store that became known as ‘Whalley’s Corner’. And now, Sethi’s company, Tien Sher Group of Companies, one of the lower mainland’s leading developers and builders, aims to develop and revitalize the region.
Tien Sher, named for ‘3 lions’, is a symbol for honesty, integrity, and quality, which are integrated into each of his projects. “3 lions came from my kids,” Sethi shared thoughtfully. “Family truly is everything. The support that my family has given me, especially my wife, is something that has driven me achieve all that I could.”
Born in Jalandhar, India, in 1951, Sethi moved to England in 1963, where his father worked as a carpenter. Sethi trained as a machinist, but when Britain’s economy hit a steep decline, he decided to bring his wife and two sons to BC to start a new life. He worked several jobs including delivering pizzas at night just to make enough money to get by. “I hardly spent any time with my kids when they were young. When you have bills to pay, you have no choice but to have humility and take anything you can get,” advised Sethi. “Even with real estate, it wasn’t easy in the beginning. But I found an amazing mentor, Richard Van Slyke, who showed me the basics. After that, it was years of 10-hour days of pounding the pavement, door-knocking, cold calling, and a lot of rejection to finally earn $100,000 and become a Top Producer in Richmond.”
In 2001, Sethi began developing new single-family and multi-family communities and subdivisions throughout Surrey, Richmond, and New Westminster. Developments include Quattro 1, 2, and 3 which was touted as bringing Yaletown to Surrey with 1,900 residential units and commercial space, Balance which has 421 residential units that are among the smallest units in Canada and built to be affordable, and Venue which was aimed at young hipsters with 141 residential units.
Their latest development is Whalley District, which boasts 3 high-rise condo towers and 1 low-rise condo building over a mix of commercial, retail, community, and plaza space on the south-east corner of 108 Ave and King George Blvd in the historic heart of Whalley. The development boasts 1,119 residential units and a walkable pedestrian area for non-profit arts groups and their programming. “The beauty about this particular development is that it will form a complete community where people can live upstairs and have restaurants and other services available on the ground level,” explains Sethi. “It’s walking distance to major routes and accessible by skytrain too.”
Sethi was a finalist for the Surrey Board of Trade Business Person of the Year for 2017, which came as no surprise to those that have seen his rise and those that have their finger on the pulse in Surrey. His magnetism and drive aside, his dedication to revitalizing a corner of Surrey and contributing to the overall growth of the city.
“It is such an honour to be recognized in this way,” he shared thoughtfully. “I faced many, many adversities. Adapting to a new way of life and language, facing the double-edged sword for providing for my young family and having to stay away from them in order to do so, and fighting through every challenge that came my way was not a walk in the park. But I was determined to succeed.” He squirreled away money each month to save for his real estate license fee, remaining focused on his life goals. “I thank my wife for being so understanding as I worked to get my real estate career established. She was and still is my absolute pillar of strength.”
When asked for advice on how aspiring new-comers, or even established entrepreneurs can hit the success superhighway, he had this to say, “Stay focused, aim high, learn to use your time wisely, and look after your mind and soul because it will remind you to keep on course and remain in integrity. And find good mentors who are willing to share their life experiences with you.”
I was absorbing everything he shared with me like a sponge; I remember being hit with inspiration at the same time as feeling hunger pangs, hoping he hadn’t heard my stomach grumbling. I asked what his parting words were, to which he replied, “don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done.” Food for thought indeed.
by Junita Thakorlal