A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that small (and medium) sized enterprises owned by recent immigrants to Canada, are more likely to export, and they are also among the fastest-growing SMEs. This series highlights some of their stories.
Alejandra Russo was destined for the world of international trade. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, her parents took their family to Italy to pursue their own business interests when she was 17. She learned her new country’s language and 10 years later, she moved again after visiting Canada and falling in love with a friend of her brother’s.
“Canada was a country of opportunity,” she says. “My brother was already living here and my whole family was planning to move here. My parents came 10 years later.”
Fast-forward 22 years: Today she is a Toronto resident who runs AR Mining Parts Ltd. She sells mining equipment, parts, and components to clients in 10 different countries. Her customers are mines and mining contractors who maintain the machinery.
“My parents always had businesses, so it’s in my blood,” she says.
She got her start in the mining construction and forestry industry when she started working in the administration offices of a Canadian mining equipment independent distributor company in 2004. Her boss saw she had a nose for business — perhaps developed from being the child of serial entrepreneurs — and moved her into a sales position.
“I was a rare female,” she admitted. “Maybe that’s why I was so successful. In the beginning, it was intimidating because I was talking to engineers and contractors — all mainly men. But I kept learning and reading and educating myself and things worked out.”
She did indeed excel. In fact, the day she left the company, she increased her sales by more than 200 per cent and, after tiring of the office politics, she carried out her dream of starting her own business.
EDC resources to help you export
“Starting my own business was really difficult in the beginning, but now I’m really glad I did it,” Russo says.
Today, she has customers in the U.S., Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Korea, Mexico, Bolivia, and Venezuela. While she doesn’t currently have customers in Argentina, she is working on trading with her home country.
“My customers are from all over the world,” she says. “Initially, I was selling to Mexico and South America, but then other markets came along.”
When she branched out on her own in 2011, she started in South America because she spoke the language, but also understood the culture and their ways of doing business.
Like any new business, things were a little slow in the beginning, but this year started off very strong.
“I always wanted to have something that was my own,” she says. “It’s a nice feeling. It’s very challenging, but there are a lot of rewards. At the beginning, it was really hard, but now I’m glad I did it.”
Along the way, she got some help from Export Development Canada (EDC) through its accounts receivable insurance. “[EDC] is amazing — invaluable,” she says. “It opens many doors.”
Her biggest challenge has been warding off the competition, who kept a watchful eye on her moves, and also finding suppliers, who were initially hesitant to deal with a young company such as hers.
“But now I have a reputation and I do a good job, so it’s going well,” she says.
She does wish the government had more grants for small businesses just starting out. “There isn’t much help out there,” she said.