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Finding Balance: Building the Life You Want

Charan Sethi has made it his life’s mission to redevelop one of Surrey’s roughest neighbourhoods. How does he balance this lofty aim with maintaining his personal life?

Finding Balance: Building the Life You Want

Struggling neighbourhoods aren’t often a draw for developers, but not everyone can see potential rather than issues. For Charan Sethi, owner of Tien Sher Group of Companies, potential lies in Whalley — a community in the centre of Vancouver’s Surrey suburb that has had its fair share of growing pains.

“So many people have told me ‘Whalley is such a bad area,’ and that just made me want it more and work harder,” says Charan, who has been developing new housing in the Surrey community for more than a decade.
“It’s about having the ability to take an older neighbourhood with challenges and make it into something very special.”

The Whalley development project began back in 2005 when Charan bought a piece of land east of the now-closed Flamingo hotel. He was driving from the Richmond area to Fraser Heights and spotted the ‘For Sale’ sign, sparking a dream that has been growing ever since.

"I'm not here to build condos and go home,” says Charan, pointing out that much of his company’s success is tied directly to the connections he has in the Surrey community. “I'm here to make sure the area and the history is respected."

Bringing balance home

For Charan, the question of how to balance running a company that’s working on a massive development while having a family can be answered with smart scheduling. But more importantly, Charan keeps his perspective from his past, knowing what it means to work hard and struggle while still always being there for your family. With this in mind, it’s easy to spot the through-line between this mindset and Charan’s approach to the Whalley neighbourhood.

Early in his career, Charan worked as a machinist. He remembers struggling to support his wife and three children, sometimes working three separate jobs to keep things afloat. Through his determined hard work, he was able to enroll his children in activities like hockey and martial arts while still finding the time to attend those events.

“Schedule your pleasure time as you would your business life,” Charan advises, pointing out that keeping a strict schedule helps him manage all the different roles he needs to play in his life. “I’m pretty good at scheduling. I always say I can always make time. People will tell me that I’m too busy, but I will make time.”

A community invested

Charan’s history of struggling to support his family, but still always finding time to be by their side, has informed much of his business decisions concerning the Whalley neighbourhood. Though the Vancouver area is known for skyrocketing real estate prices, he’s focusing specifically on average income earners, offering condominiums and other residential options that may have been out of reach for many looking for homes in the Greater Vancouver Area.

Over the period of Charan’s investment in the neighbourhood, he has helped build more than 700 condominium units across six buildings. The suites offer affordability along with easy access to the SkyTrain and library, City Hall, Simon Fraser University, Douglas College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University campuses in Surrey.

Many local officials quickly took notice of Charan’s improvements to the area and began to offer help in any way they could to see this community improve. This was especially true after a fire ravaged one of Tien Sher Group’s projects. Some may have given up on the development, but Charan felt nothing but bolstered by the community and its support of his work.

“There was absolutely no shortage of help from everybody,” says Charan, explaining that this helped the flagging project flourish. “The Mayor, city council and even Canadian Western Bank (CWB) all came to the media event that we had. Everybody came together to help out, and we saw great success.”

Partner with purpose

How Charan finds balance in his life and business goes much further than just smart scheduling. It stems from knowing how far he’s come: from a struggling machinist working three jobs to a real estate developer working to improve the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in his community. Having the right partners by his side — from public officials to his financial backers — has helped make all the difference in Charan’s goals.

“I think every time we’ve had an opportunity to grow, every time we’ve bought a project or piece of land, CWB has been right there with me,” says Charan. “I look at my bank as my investors. They are my partners, and I work with them to make everything happen and to help me achieve my goals.”