Canada is my home country. When civil war broke up (the former) Yugoslavia, which was one of the best countries in the world, in my opinion, my family settled in another world-class country – Canada.
We came to Canada in 1994 with two daughters, one five months old, and one five years old. First, we settled in Winnipeg. Our first winter in Canada was sunny with no clouds, but a constant -40C. I didn’t speak English, so I would go out on the streets to test my emerging English skills. I met a man from Ghana who told me there is a lot of sunshine here, but it doesn’t work. That’s why it’s -40C!
After a few ESL (English second language) courses, I started working as a volunteer for Manshield Construction (now M Builds) in Winnipeg. Before my volunteer work was over, friends asked me if Manshield was going to offer me a job. My answer was, “I don’t know.” They asked, “what will you do if you don’t get a job offer?” I said I would keep volunteering. Even if I worked without pay, I would be the “goods” in a window display; someone would see my hard work and offer me a job.
My strategy worked. Soon I had the opportunity to help build a new Canadian Tire and a Home Depot. However, on those jobs I didn’t see a lot of opportunity for personal and professional growth, so in 1999, we opened Tiki International and used our experience to build big-box retail faster and better.
This was not an entirely new concept for me. In Sarajevo, my wife and I owned Tiki Engineering. We are both structural engineers and equal business partners – both in Tiki Engineering and now in Tiki International Inc. With our engineering background, it was much easier to start a construction work/management company.
When we moved from Winnipeg to Calgary, it felt like a transition from a small town to a big city. In friendly Manitoba, everyone has time to stop and talk to you on the street; in Calgary, time is money, and everyone is in a rush to complete work and do more. But the move to Calgary did have major advantages, including its proximity to the mountains. Every weekend we took a trip with family to the Rockies to charge my batteries and give me the energy to do more even faster!
In 2004, we completed an Extra Foods in Olds in just 16 weeks, and then did a similar schedule for Extra Foods in Innisfail – both projects were four weeks ahead of schedule and we received bonuses from our clients for this achievement.
In the following years, major projects kept coming, including work on the largest new Superstore in Western Canada, a shopping mall redevelopment in Calgary, the Towerlane mall in Airdrie, several new Canadian Tire stores, and much more. In fact, when the recession hit in 2008, we remained very busy. We switched from new builds to renovations and kept going strong.
When friends asked how I could keep up with this workload, I joked that I woke up two hours early so I could work 26 hours per day!
Our success did not happen without the support of others. I am incredibly grateful for family. They understood my schedule and that I had to miss some birthdays and other family events. I’m thankful for my team, including Jeff “the man” and Stefan “the kid.” As with five fingers on one hand or five players on a basketball court, one cannot do much, but together, a team is powerful. I’m grateful to my clients who trust us and keep providing new and interesting challenges and projects. I’m thankful for our competitors who push us to do better. I also thank our subcontractors who I consider part of our team, our surety company that supports us on major projects, and Tijana and Boba, who manage our books. Also, our legal and accounting team helps us stay on track – among many other friends and professionals who support us on a daily basis.
And yes, for every success, there have been just as many challenges. After one holiday in Europe, I came back to find a project had fallen behind schedule. I went from the airport to the job site and worked 20 hours a day to get the project back on track.
Currently, we are in negotiations to work on management for a historical reconstruction of Vancouver’s Sun Tower in Gastown. This 17-storey building was built in the early 1900s and will get a new roof with conservation of its historic masonry envelope.
I’m proud of each project, large or small. I’m proud that after 20 years in business we are still going strong, completing projects in Western Canada and the Yukon.
The future is bright. I still have a lot of energy to work and to help the new generation learn skills as we carry out our succession plan. We continue to be community supporters, assisting many worthy causes including para-athletics and being a major sponsor of the Calgary Tesla Society.
I have learned a lot on my journey and using my experience, I advise the younger generation to know that hard work pays off if you are patient. Always keep the door open. You never know when a new opportunity will knock. When you have balance in your life, you are happy to go to work in the morning and happy to leave work at the end of the day for the family you love.