“I think it helps engage them, and it opens them up to the possibility or idea of what’s going on,” says Sofia, who remembers when she entered her parents’ business how important it was that her mother and father included her and her brother, Salim Sayani (who is now the CEO for Executive Group Development).
“We always maintained a good balance to not overdo it because then when you are in business together and when you’re family it can become quite a strong focus.”Farida Sayani and her husband Noordin have worked hard to build success and ensure family and community remained a priority. Now with Executive Group being one of the largest development and hospitality companies in the country, balancing these priorities remains top-of-mind for the Sayanis.
Family finds a way to contribute
The Sayanis first immigrated to Canada from Uganda in 1971, choosing to make Vancouver their new home. Noordin was self-employed, purchasing raw land in Vancouver and Seattle then subdividing it into lots and building homes, which later expanded to commercial and condominium development as well. Farida was a stay-at-home mother, raising her two children and pursuing her hobby of painting.
However, opportunity came knocking in the mid-‘80s with visitors from all around the world poised to come to Vancouver for Expo ’86. Noordin seized this chance and decided to build a new hotel to welcome the world. He looked to his wife Farida as being the perfect person to run this first Executive hotel in Richmond, B.C.
Sofia has spotted what made her family’s hotels different from others around the Vancouver area. She points to the fact that this first hotel offers nothing but suites, with separate bedrooms and living rooms in every unit as opposed to the single room units typically found in hotels. With a passion and interest sparked in the business, both Salim and Sofia joined the company after they completed university and quickly found ways to help the business expand.
“The hotel arm of the business was expanded by my mom, and she really had a hands-on approach in all the different properties from the décor and design to management — every aspect of it,” says Sofia, explaining how her mother’s vision and drive helped push the Executive Hotels and Resorts brand forward. “I think having the owner and operator be so involved in all of those elements really made it successful.”
Finding a way to give back
Executive Group’s development has expanded from its original Vancouver and Metro Vancouver roots. Locations now include 15 hotels total, eight in Vancouver alone, plus one in each Squamish, Whistler, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco and New York. Executive Group’s success is due in large part to their ability to identify the perfect location and use an in-house team of experts and designers to build and operate the hotels.
With all of the success that comes with owning and operating hotels across North America, Farida knew that she had to find a way to give back to her community. She found roles on many boards for foundations around the Vancouver area and continues to contribute to local charities to this day.
“I’ve always made a point to give back into the community and make time for it,” says Farida, whose community involvements include being a part of the BC Women’s Health Foundation, the Board of BC Cancer Foundation, the Millennium campaign for Cancer Research Centre, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Simon Fraser University Council. Farida was also the recipient of YWCA Women of Distinction award in 1998.
“That has been my very strong value. I am very passionate about what I do. It really makes you feel that this is not work but it is something you enjoy doing and make it successful.”Continuing in her mother’s tradition of finding ways to give back, Sofia find charities in the cities that each of her family’s hotels are in and partners with them on fundraisers and events. She also works alongside her mother with the BC Women’s Health Foundation, chairing the annual GLOW Gala and making family contributions towards the health centre’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
The power of a day off
With a growing business and active community involvement, there’s a strength in knowing that you need a day away from it all to get your personal life in order. Sofia makes an effort to take one day off every week for her exercise classes and to de-stress. Watching how busy her mother was while the hotel brand was taking off made her appreciate knowing when to take time for yourself.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why does my mom want to do this? Why doesn’t she just keep being my mom?’ So, it was an eye opener for me when I went to the hotel to see her in action actually managing, running making decisions,” says Sofia.
“The earlier years of the business were of course a lot of hard work but being a mother was at the top of my mind,” Farida echoes Sofia’s memories of life being so busy when the hotel brand launched. “It’s never a perfect balance. I did try very hard to keep the balance between the family and the work. As it expanded and I got more confidence and more hotels, I started to take a day off from work, which I wanted to spend with my family and my husband.”
Working with CWB on both personal and business banking feels like a natural extension of the business for both Sofia and Farida. They explain that since they switched one project’s banking needs to CWB nine years ago, they’ve noticed a close alignment in values and business approach that’s made for a strong partnership.
“CWB is very hands-on and customer service oriented. It feels similar to what we do and it just works,” says Sofia, pointing out that the treatment of her personal investment portfolio and the company’s banking needs makes it feel as though they have a personal banker.
The personal touch is what makes the biggest difference for Farida and Sofia. They see CWB as the bank that better understands the needs of businesses based in Western Canada, and how the smaller team and more accessible team members makes it feel like it’s not a nameless entity they are dealing with, but instead people and friends.
“You really want to have a strong relationship with your bank, which I tell my girls,” says Sofia. “Your banker is your friend! Get to know them. And that’s exactly it.”