On April 30, 2015, the unthinkable happened: The recipient for the 2015 Brampton Business Excellence Award for Spirit of Innovation goes to........ Interforce International Security & Investigations from Brampton, Ontario. "I didn't even prepare an acceptance speech because I really did not expect to be the recipient, to be quite honest," says Kien Hoang, a 33 year old business owner from Brampton and Toronto. "I basically told the crowd that this award was totally unexpected because so many wonderful businesses in the community were nominated, and my hard work was inherited from my parents. I thanked Canada for allowing me to come here in 1982, and vowed to work hard to not rely on the system for survival, but hard work."
Kien Hoang, 33, is an entrepreneur who migrated to Canada from Hong Kong during the Vietnam war. His parents, who are now both nearing their retirement, were displaced from their homes in northern Vietnam. After seeking refuge in Hong Kong, the Canadian government with their federally sponsored refugee program allowed Kien and his family to start a fresh new life in a country on the other side of the globe, away from the violence and chaos that was left behind. They all settled in a growing city in Mississauga.
At the age of 12, he entered the work force as a newspaper delivery person for the Mississauga News. At age 15, he landed a major job at a food distribution company, National Grocers. His hourly salary? $8.50/hour. Some of his co-workers were astonished to see a 15 year old kid working at a distribution company. They thought he was too young. And while his friends partied every night and weekend that they could, Kien on the other hand was gaining valuable real life experience in the workforce. Things like constructive performance criticism, getting disciplined for being late for work, work politics, working hard to achieve incentive bonuses, working long and late hours, and becoming mechanically inclined operating heavy machinery was what Kien was learning after school. And it paid off big time.
"Working at such a young age gave me the valuable life experience that no one my age had at that time. It prepared me mentally for what was to come"
So how exactly did Kien enter the entrepreneur world might you ask? The answer was a lack of leadership and clear vision from the security guard company that he worked for. He refuses to name that company, but he states that the security company he used to work for is still in existence today and they are constantly in direct competition for business in the greater Toronto area. "Basically I got frustrated with the way my employer was running things, and then a light bulb lit in my head and never turned off since." As a result, in 2011, Interforce International Security & Investigations was born: A Provincially licensed security guard and private investigations company headquartered in Brampton and Toronto. After a 8 month lengthy application process, which included several interviews with the Ontario Provincial Police, his application to open his protection and investigations practice was approved by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. But wait, there was a major twist that virtually no one knew about in which is has publicly announced for the first time. Originally, Kien's career path was to become a Police Officer. He recalls training hard in the gym to get and stay in shape in order to pass the physical examinations:
"What no one knew about my law enforcement career path was that I had an inside source, someone with a lot of influence in the recruiting department to get me in the force, bypassing the long and tough lineup of potential Police recruits. Basically I was told to show up at a specified date, time, and location to commence training. That date was a mere 4 days away. After requesting additional time to make suitable arrangements, I was told over the phone that if I do not show up on the specified date, time, and location, I would never hear from them again, and then I was hung up on."
At the same time, the G8 and G20 summits were being held in the greater Toronto area. After witnessing the carnage that unfolded in Toronto, Kien never showed up for Police training. Instead, he chose to pursue a challenging and more risky entrepreneur direction instead. This new unexplored career path was did not go well with his most hardest critics: His parents. At this time, Kien was employed at the Coca Cola manufacturing facility in Brampton. They were extremely upset that he had left a well paying job, paying in excess of 80K, full benefits, and a secure pension for something so risky; which was described as one of the most absurd decisions ever made by him. He also describes the level of support he had for his entrepreneur dream as non existent. But he knew one person that had faith in himself, and that was the person was who he sees in the mirror everyday. That was all that he needed to succeed.
Since 2011, his company grew from a 1 man company from his parent's basement to a 45+ strong employee workforce, consisting of security personnel to investigators subcontracted to work across the greater Toronto area. The company has won numerous awards at the Association of Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs, and most recently, at the Brampton Business Excellence Awards, held by the Brampton Board of Trade. The company holds numerous contracts at warehouse facilities, truck yards, manufacturing facilities, residential apartments, condominiums, and construction sites. His dream of owning and running his own business has made him experienced in many different fields such as operations management, payroll administration, human resources, bookkeeping, business relations, and most of all, sales.
Kien wishes to show everyone that as long as you believe in yourself, anything can be achieved, wants to shed some light on some of the most common misconceptions in entrepreneurship. He states:
"If you expect entrepreneurship to be a Monday-Friday, 9-5 job, you are gravely mistaken. You must double the hours. Then reality will sink in"
"Don't venture into entrepreneurship if you quit easy. Hard times will come and you will fail miserably. I guarantee you this.
"A company's earnings is like a roller coaster: The unfortunate thing is, when the roller coaster goes down, everyone frowns on it and you immediately and assumes that your business is poorly and won't survive. They do not understand the roller coaster concept. In fact, I would say that this is probably the most misunderstood fact about entrepreneurship. One month you can net $20,000. The next month you can be in the red $10,000!"
"You learn something new everyday when you have a challenging career. When you own the company, you learn 10 things everyday. The learning process never ends, and that's a good thing"
"Last but not least (and is the most important for those who have entrepreneurship ambitions): Don't focus too much on academics. Some people will roll their eyes at me for saying this, but the fact is, too many focus too much on academics, leaving no room for learning real life skills. They aren't satisfied with their 80% grade in math, so they spend their entire summer redoing the course to get at least a 90%. If the passing grade is a 65, why would it matter if you got an 80 or 90? A number is just a number. Instead, get a job for life experience. You're learning something that can never be learned in a classroom. You have no idea how crucial this is when preparing yourself for a senior role. So you have the academics to be a big shot in a senior role at a fortune 500 company? Great! But the learning experience starts when you first sit in that cushy office seat with people staring at you, awaiting your leadership. Always remember that."