Drive a taxi for 12 hours a night. Head to school for a full day of classes. Grab a couple hours of sleep. Repeat.
Jassi Sarai built his life in Canada on that foundation.
The CEO of Action Auto & Collision Centre says, “When I was driving a taxi, sometimes I used to save only $5 to $7 after a 12-hour shift. I didn’t quit.”
Now Sarai, along with brother, also owns two towing operations – Comtow and SD Transport & Recovery. To voice community issues, he diversified into the media with a 24-hour Punjabi television channel – 5AAB TV.
Never giving up is a theme that runs in the family. Sarai’s father, who passed away last month, was a farmer who left India for economic reasons in 1981. For two years, he walked and hitchhiked while traveling from Nepal to Greece, sometimes hiding by day and moving out at night.
“We were worried about him,” Sarai says. “He was uneducated, had to get people to write letters for him and to read our letters to him.”
In Greece, he found work at a stone quarry. In 1985, he availed of an opportunity to move to Canada and arrived in Montreal aboard a ship.
Sarai, his mother and three younger siblings reunited with their father in Canada in 1988, seven years after they last saw him.
The family moved to Toronto a couple of months later. Sarai’s first jobs included work in a foundry and bakery. Thereafter, he began driving a taxi. A few months later he also worked as a part-time taxi dispatcher.
Working and studying
His father insisted he get an education, so Sarai completed high school studies while working as a taxi driver at night.
“I didn’t do very well at school, obviously because I was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says. “Because my father wanted me to stay in school, I felt guilty that he had to work. I didn’t have a choice, but to work and study at the same time.”
Sarai then began an electrical course at Humber College, but only managed six months of it. “I couldn’t keep up, working and studying at the same time.”
“I have worked for 40 cents, 50 cents an hour, but I didn’t give up.”
Jassi Sarai, CEO of Action Auto & Collision Centre
That was when he started operating a tow truck. Sarai is thankful to the people who helped steer his journey. “One gave me the keys to the tow truck, another took me to school and the third showed me how to apply for a taxi licence,” he says. “If these people were not around me, I probably would still be working at the foundry,” he adds.
In 1998, a friend facing financial problems asked Sarai to join him as a partner in his auto body shop. “I started managing the shop and am still running it. My partner left in 2000 for personal reasons,” he says.
The Sarai family is involved in all the businesses they own. “Everyone in the family works for me, for the business, we all work together,” Sarai says.
His brother manages the tow truck companies along with Sarai’s younger son. Sarai’s wife sometimes helps with banking work and his sister-in-law takes care of the accounting. His elder son manages the body shop.
“I have worked for 40 cents, 50 cents an hour, but I didn’t give up,” Sarai says. “I thought, if I stay home, and I’m only earning $5 or $6, I would spend another $20 shopping. So, in my mind, I made $25-$26 and not $5 or $6.”
Sarai has a word of advice for new arrivals to Canada. “This country will take you somewhere if you have a vision. Don’t focus on the money.”