Entrepreneurial instincts kicked in at an early age for Manik Dhir. Even the most mundane walk to school held a sliver of opportunity.
“In England, I profoundly remember there being a corner store on our walk back home from school,” recalls Manik with a smile in his voice, “where my mum would stop so I could pick out a candy bar, perhaps a bribe for the big hill climb that was ahead.”
As any budding entrepreneur soon learns, big decisions aren’t made solely on gut instinct but on comparative research, a mother’s patience notwithstanding. “My mum would say that my value for money approach would cause us to be in the store for a great amount of time.” Manik had an innate curiosity that fuelled his imagination and deep desire to understand how things work. His parents “would often find me dismantling R/C cars or building Lego structures,” says Manik, “I was always trying to figure things out.”
Decades later, that early curiosity and drive continued to grow and in the process, he’s become one of Kelowna’s prominent entrepreneurs. Lauded in the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Top 40 Under 40 celebration for his business acumen and community service, Manik is an entrepreneur in every sense.
He’s also a proud graduate of the Master in Management degree program from UBC. Graduate school didn’t come without its own unique set of challenges but for Manik, that was what made his UBCO experience so rewarding.
A Critical Moment
As an entrepreneur focused on growth, Manik has continually sought opportunities for self-improvement to up his game and he saw it in higher education: “It wasn’t like I needed career progression; I’m more interested in the learning.” For Manik, finding the right program was key. What he was looking for was to acquire new skills to help him do what he already did—only better.
Manik booked an info session with program staff. His most pressing question was how the degree would benefit him as an entrepreneur and further his skills set. The answer was simple: its focus on critical thinking skills.
He recalls it being a “lightbulb moment” as it aligned with his existing desire to hone his critical thinking and learn how to apply it in his decision making. The real-time, on-site, hands-on “blended learning” woven throughout the 25-month program also meant a network of opportunity that Manik knew could only expand his learning and life in a positive direction.
Change for the Better
It wasn’t an ideal time to embark on a graduate degree. As a husband and soon-to-be father, managing one business while launching another, the first term of the MM was, recalls Manik, “the perfect storm”.
“It could have been so easy to be negative, and say ‘You know what guys, this is too much; I’m going to walk away from this.’ But Manik, being the kind of guy to rise to challenges rather than shy from them, found the value of the education he was getting worth it.”
Managing change was something Manik had first-hand experience with throughout his life. He’d grown up amid change and exposure to diverse people, cultures, and ideas. Born in New Delhi with a father who was a career diplomat for the Indian government, and mother who worked for the United Nations, young Manik and the Dhir family shifted continents and countries several times: India, the United Kingdom and then to Canada in 1997.
The last major move in his life was to Kelowna in 2013, a result of acquiring Hollywood Market (a commercial real estate plaza with a business): “My wife was born and raised here and I always saw myself living here, so I expedited my search for a viable business in this community. In my opinion, I couldn’t think of a place more desirable to work and live.”
In his work with both the Kelowna General Hospital and the Rotary Centre for the Arts, he discovered that the critical thinking skills he developed in the MM degree could be “used anywhere to benefit any organization.” This takeaway he says, led him to be a more effective director because for him, “that’s a key component of my life. To have the ability to give back in a meaningful capacity.”
Collaboration and Cohorts
The cohort model for the MM degree was what enabled Manik to keep going through the challenging times when screen time was up and life was demanding. Like most students in the MM degree program, homework after a long day at work wasn’t always easy. But Manik credits the MM student cohort for maintaining much of his positive outlook; classmate support buoyed the rigours of online learning, and the diversity of perspectives deepened his understanding of the curriculum. “The fact that we all brought a different skill set to the equation and really got to share in discussions that were fruitful made all the difference,” says Manik.
Being an extrovert by nature, Manik developed an in-person ‘buddy system’ to balance the hours of solo study required by the degree’s blended format. Every Saturday, he’d meet a fellow student in his cohort at the local coffee shop and collectively hit the books and hash things out.
“We’d sit down and if there were pieces that he wasn’t so comfortable with, whether that be the financial piece or some of the other entrepreneurial subject concepts, I’d help him out. And some areas that I struggled with, he could help me out with,” remembers Manik.” The balance worked for them both. Having a ‘buddy’ to “figure it out with was extremely beneficial,” says Manik.
The cost in time (and caffeine) versus the benefits of committed, scheduled four-hour Saturday study sessions was “absolutely worth it”, and Manik recommends that anyone considering a blended degree build in a buddy system. The value isn’t just about the academic learning; it’s about the career connections that can follow; his MM study pal remains a close friend and confidante today. “In fact, I’ve developed some wonderful friendships with those in my cohort and I’m still in contact with almost all of them. This for me has been an invaluable resource; the diverse skill set and learning that brought us all together has allowed us to create long term fruitful relationships.”
An Okanagan Perspective
Standing in Quail’s Gate winery, with the warm Okanagan sun above, Manik and fellow MM students listened to owner Ben Stewart talk about the company’s success as well as challenges over three decades in the Okanagan region. The winery visit was part of the in-person intensive residential sessions for the MM degree, an essential program component that brings together the cohort with regional organizations to dig deep into management topic areas.
Manik lauds the MM program’s inclusive focus and links to regional economic development in the Okanagan. The close connections with industry fostered by the Faculty of Management brought to life its promise of a ‘living lab’ for its students, one where Manik experienced the value of having time with leaders he might not have had otherwise.
The in-person, on-site intensives are essential to the MM degree. Via its close links with the regional business community, the MM program’s industry partners, not-for-profits and organizations share the economic, technological, socio- and economic issues facing them. With three summer intensives, Manik’s cohort had an opportunity to spend time with faculty, and industry partners. “I think if you asked each and every one of us, they would say the exact same thing, and that is, even as exhausted as we were on some of those 12-hour days, we absolutely loved what we learned and saw immense value in the intensive sessions” attests Manik. “We would sit down all together and have face-to-face discussions, whether it be about regional or global issues, or economic development. I relished the discussions because these were subjects that I hold close to my heart being an entrepreneur.”
He adds “hearing the different perspectives in his cohort on these subjects was “amazing” and inspired him to look at issues in ways he wouldn’t have had in his day-to-day life as a business owner.
But what was perhaps most invaluable for Manik was the focused time talking with leaders and business owners. “The cherry on top,” says Manik, “is having the chance to actually sit down and talk one-on-one with key leaders in industry and ask them, what challenges is your industry facing right now? And how do you plan on overcoming those challenges?”
Manik believes the MM summer intensives offer professionals in any sector a unique, dynamic, experiential learning opportunity. “Where else would get that kind of first-hand knowledge? This program allows you to do that.”
A Blend for Business
For any business owner, managing growth is demanding. Add in a young family, ongoing business demands and a master’s degree program and the degree can feel long at times. Still, he credits the MM’s blended model as being key as it allowed him to complete his degree while balancing the demands of his personal life.
Today, Manik says his three-year-old daughter is his “biggest de-stressor” and keeps him grounded. “It has taken me some time to strike a balance with my entrepreneurial activities and family life, but I feel like I’m getting better. Time management can be especially challenging when you have multiple ventures on the go; this is where I’m blessed to have my family support my vision.”
He recognizes part of that newfound balance comes from the practice of journaling which he picked up during his MM degree. Slowing down and taking the time to, as he explains it, “think about thinking” has become part of his ongoing professional practice.
That practice of self-reflection has brought him to a place where he now feels he can ‘send the ladder down’ to others in the Okanagan and beyond, acting as an ‘angel’ investor and mentor. Admittedly, he has a little more time now post-degree to focus on where he can make the most impact locally and beyond. He pauses, adding, “I’m in a very blessed position.”