As a television journalist, Caroline Jeba is a household name in Toronto. It all began with her passion to pursue her dream at OMNI TV, and later at the local CTV-CFTO newsroom where she was the first South Asian woman to report in that newsroom. In her words, “This was my passion. No one was going to say no to me. And if they did I was going to find someone who was going to say yes.” Today her strategic marketing and communications agency, Catur, has made its mark in real estate by selling close to 200 million dollars in condos and low-rise homes. From growing up in different parts of Africa, to excelling as a young professional in Canada, find out more about Caroline’s story below!
TamilCulture: Tell us a bit about yourself:
Caroline Jeba: My sister and I were born in Nyeri, Kenya, where my parents had migrated to from Sri Lanka. From there we moved to Lesotho, a tiny homeland in South Africa, and then to Zimbabwe. I then returned to South Africa during the Apartheid years to pursue my first year, at the University of Natal. A previously whites only institution, it had just opened its doors to everyone. What surprised me was that for the most part the university was extremely open minded with many students and professors bent on eliminating apartheid. However outside the gates of the university, was a different story as apartheid thrived. While my time there was priceless, my parents had decided to move once again and this time to Toronto, Canada. They chose Toronto because a large number of our family members moved here. It was like revisiting my culture—Tamil culture—and reconnecting with my family. And there was the freedom to pursue your dreams. That was something that I’d never envisioned when I was in apartheid South Africa. However, post apartheid I am sure things have changed today.
TC: How did you enter the field of journalism?
CJ: After I graduated from U of T, I wanted to go after my dream of being a journalist. Initially, people said to me “it’s very challenging” and “there’s no room for someone like you to enter this field.” One thing I always learned is never take no for an answer. I dropped my resume off at different stations, and I started off hosting a Tamil show on community cable. Then I went to OMNI. Even though no positions were available I insisted on interning. Since I had no experience in the field, I wanted to get my feet wet and this was the best way to go about doing it. It was actually, at that time, senior producer Stan Papulkas who was gracious enough to offer me a platform to learn and experience all that journalism had to offer. OMNI then hired me full-time as an anchor/reporter and producer, and from there I went on to CTV.
TC: What inspired you to make a transition to online marketing and entrepreneurship?
CJ: I had always wanted to start my own business, and I wanted to try to bridge the gap between the newsroom, the corporation, and online marketing. There’s a big disconnect. When I worked at OMNI and CTV, we would get these beautiful PR packages, that you could always tell a corporation spent thousands of dollars on, but would never hit the news.
TC: What was the transition from journalism to online marketing like for you?
CJ: After researching the mechanics of the Internet for a couple of years, I started Catur Agency. So far we’ve won two awards—one for public relations and one for social media from BILD. What we do is very cutting edge in terms of online brand marketing. We use very little conventional advertising and instead almost always use online mediums. We also try to reach out to different language and cultural groups because the target audience has changed—something a lot of corporations are slowly but surely responding to.
TC: What are your goals for the future of Catur Agency?
CJ: We want to grow, and garner more clients within and outside of real estate as well. Eventually we would like to get into retail industries. I would also like to see more women engage in technology and would like to be a role model to inspire them to do so.
TC: What inspired you to start up the website ZestyPink?
CJ: It was started as a case study to show our clients how you can garner traffic to your website from an online perspective. The online world is still a mystery to a lot of corporations, as much as the masses utilize it. There’s a tremendous decline in conventional advertising and so we challenge our clients to experience online outlets that actually lead to sales. When it comes to the internet there’s still room for education and growth, however one should be guided by real experts.
TC: You’ve had success as a journalist, marketer, and entrepreneur. Are there any other arenas you would like to explore?
CJ: I would like to engage youth with the knowledge of how to break down barriers, and be wise about their ambitions and how they invest. I would also love to inspire men and women to build their wealth through real estate.
TC: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met throughout you career?
CJ: The most intriguing person I ever met was a single mother of ten. The passion she had for her children and her resilience—was just phenomenal. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many interesting and famous people, but that woman truly touched my heart.
TC: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
CJ: IIf you want to become an entrepreneur the best people to study are good real estate agents because they don’t have very much overhead yet they have a fair profit margin. If you need to borrow millions to start a business then don’t do it. It’s good to be ambitious, but try to do it within your means and leverage yourself. Start with a solid business plan which requires very little to be invested (e.g. Sell a product and get a deposit up front. That could fund half of what you need and you can grow it that way). Ultimately if you utilize what Canada offers to its maximum you can do really well. You can achieve your dreams, you can live by your visions. It’s not easy. But no one said anything was easy. It’s just a matter of resilience. That’s what sets people apart.
TC: Facebook or Twitter?
CJ: Love both
TC: Blackberry or iPhone?
TC: A favourite quote:
CJ: “I’d rather die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity.”
TC: If you were stranded on an island, what 3 things would you need to have with you?
CJ: My android, my laptop, and food.
TC: To me, Tamil culture is…..?
– Nive Thambithurai