Vickram Minhas—How a family business entrepreneur found the confidence to drive change
Vickram Minhas: Master of Business Administration, 2017
Based in: Grande Prairie, Alta.
Vickram Minhas is only 31, but he’s already built a career as varied—and successful—as it is short. A pharmacist, he owns his own shop in Valleyview, Alta., 350 km north of Edmonton. Now, he’s opening Valleyview’s first cannabis store, planning for a second in Slave Lake and a third in Grande Prairie, his birthplace. Minhas’ journey from pills to plants includes such stops along the way as car salesman, real estate developer, hotelier and—crucially—Athabasca University MBA graduate, the distinction he believes gave him the confidence to go for it all.
“I cannot exaggerate the value of what I learned through the MBA program.”– Vikram Minhas, MBA '17
“I cannot exaggerate the value of what I learned through the MBA program” he says. It’s also the case that an appetite for the new and unknown runs in the family. Minhas grew up in a household of two patriarchs: his father and uncle, who both arrived in northern Alberta from Punjab in the 1970s and took logging jobs deep in the bush. Together, they set up house with their wives and parents, and collectively, they raised Minhas, his sister, and cousins. At the same time, the family built a stump-to-dump logging truck business that peaked in the 2000s at almost four dozen vehicles. It was 24-hour work, especially in winter when the earth hardens to accommodate greater loads. Minhas watched his dad and uncle work tirelessly, taking midnight calls and stamping out logistical fires. He’d inherit their drive.
Minhas moved to Edmonton to study pharmacy at the University of Alberta, returning home each summer to sell cars at another family enterprise: a Mazda dealership. The summer before graduating, he came back home to learn they’d fired the manager; suddenly, at 21, he was thrust into the demanding job of running the dealership. “I was thrown to the dogs,” he says. “It was the most stressful summer of my life.” But he flourished. Today, the family owns 5 car dealerships along with 4 hotels—“diversify” may be the family motto.
In 2009, Minhas began working as a pharmacist in Grande Prairie. Shortly after, his uncle died, forcing the family to look at who would inherit his management role. Minhas eventually filled the job, stewarding three major land developments, totalling 300 acres and valued at nearly $50 million, including retail malls, hotels, and a seniors’ home. “Give me a raw piece of farmland and I’ll develop it,” he laughs.
Still, the pressure was enormous, and with little business experience, Minhas says “I found myself with quite a few confidence and competency issues—it was a big learning curve.” He looked around for a good MBA program. When he saw the Athabasca University curriculum he knew he’d found the one for him. This was around the time he and his wife had their first of three children. Every night at 8 p.m., after the baby was put to sleep, Minhas worked on his lessons, often hitting the books until midnight or later. “It really helped me to believe in what I was doing,” he says, “and get a proper understanding of it.”
“It really helped me to believe in what I was doing, and get a proper understanding of it.”– Vikram Minhas
Minhas wasted little time putting his newfound confidence to work, and built his own successful Valleyview pharmacy. A second venture followed when Minhas opened Grande Prairie’s first co-working business, which lets out shared and flexible office space to other enterprises (and which at the same time became his own headquarters).
“There are a lot of times in your MBA when you feel you're far from the light. It's just a matter of: okay, put your head down, keep going, keep going. And you do, and you will succeed.”– Vikram Minhas
Then, in 2017, came news that Canada’s cannabis laws would be changing. “I don’t smoke, but it was a new industry and that got my juices going,” he says. He incorporated a business—URBN Leaf Cannabis Company—and submitted an application to Alberta’s retail cannabis licensing body the day after they began accepting them. He fashioned a brand and store design, located properties, and built the shops. The company opened its doors in December.
None of it came easy. “You’re disrupting a lot when you open a cannabis store,” he says. “There’s push back from the city and community members saying ‘No, I don’t want a cannabis store.’ You’re disrupting old ways of thinking and doing business.”
All along, Minhas remembered what he learned at Athabasca University about perseverance.
“There are a lot of times in your MBA when you feel you’re far from the light,” he says. “It’s just a matter of: okay, put your head down, keep going, keep going. And you do, and you will succeed.”
Learn more about AU’s MBA program.