From running several businesses and creating thought leadership on the future of postsecondary learning to codifying his philosophy on personal purpose with the “The Maestro Mindset” and overseeing his family’s philanthropic foundation, Canadian entrepreneur, educator and changemaker Muraly Srinarayanathas wears many hats.
After bouncing between the UK and Sri Lanka in his early childhood, Muraly immigrated to Canada where he grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Here he learned to embrace the cultural values of his Tamil heritage while dealing with the challenges many immigrants face when settling in a new country, such as systemic racism and financial hardship.
Muraly recounts, “My father qualified as an engineer in the UK where my mother worked as a nurse but once they come here Appa had to work odd jobs while Amma worked in daycares and libraries to provide for us. Seeing that you could have professional credentials from the UK but still not be qualified to work in Canada really didn’t make any sense to me.”
This realization early on in his life eventually led Muraly to purchase Computek College in 2015, an Ontario private career college that primarily helps newcomers by providing them with practical learning to help them pursue job opportunities that they deserved. Since becoming CEO, Muraly has been architecting an impressive turnaround of the college which will soon be celebrating 30 years.
“A lot of our students have great work experience and are highly educated in their home country but lack the opportunity to connect with the right jobs in Canada. Through our curriculum and career services, our faculty and staff equip our students with not only a practical education but also soft skills they need to get their foot in the door of the Canadian workforce and build their confidence to excel in it. Having seen how hard my parents had to work in this country and having benefitted from their labour, I see Computek as an opportunity to run a business that is driven by a purpose bigger than its bottom line”, he said.
Muraly addressing students at Computek College’s 2019 convocation ceremony
Advocating Mental Health
Immigrants are a core component of any economy’s success, and this is especially true in Canada. The age of newcomer students enrolled at Computek primarily ranges between 35-45, and 75% of their student base is made up of women. Many of these individuals come from war-torn areas and wrestle with managing their mental health. That is why Muraly emphasizes mental health advocacy as a key priority especially in newcomer communities that do not have all the social supports that the rest of us do.
“Mental health is something we try to actively address at Computek. We see first hand the mental agony that our students go through when some of them have to put aside even a doctoral degree they have from their home country in order to get a job at a factory here to provide for their family. I mean we’re not mental health experts by any means but by setting up a supportive classroom environment and creating a familial campus culture, we’re trying our best to support our students. Given that many of our students are women and mothers, I’m also mindful of how supporting them on campus can also positively impact their families at home – it’s something that I’ve realized from my non-profit work especially in Bangladesh”, he noted.
The Maestro Mindset
Muraly’s learned his greatest life lessons as a young man far away from Canada’s borders.
Muraly explains, “I had just completed my undergrad in 2000, and my father – who is my biggest role model – had the first of what would be three heart attacks. Literally overnight, I went from being a typical 21-year-old drinking with my buddies in bars in the Peg to living in a village in Bangladesh to take on the responsibility of helping my father run his business since I was his eldest child and eventually start up some of my own.”
This period in Muraly’s life turned out to be his darkest. Living in a foreign country, not knowing the language and having to navigate a culture that was rather alien to him caused Muraly to question his purpose. This eventually pushed him to seek out and create the code by which he lives his life today: The Maestro Mindset.
“In retrospect, my time in Bangladesh was a tremendous environment for a young entrepreneur. I learned how to take something that others would consider a lost opportunity and make it my own success. To quote the Invictus poem, it’s all about realizing that ‘I’m the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.’ I really believe that if you have this mentality, and the capacity to be the master of your field and master yourself, you begin to perceive obstacles that life throws at you in a very different way. I try to look at life as a conductor would their orchestra. We all have a unique sound – it’s just about figuring out what kind of tune you want to create for yourself in this universe”, he said.
Muraly with the Sylhet Royals cricket team in the Bangladesh Premier League – he acquired the franchise as a surprise gift for his father’s 60th birthday
This mindset was instrumental in giving Muraly the ability to overcome his challenges in Bangladesh, and to also live and do business in other countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, France, and the United Kingdom. More recently in Canada, it has helped him grow Computek from 50 students a year to 600 students a year in less than five years! Leveraging lessons he learned from these successes, Muraly is currently preparing to launch his next big venture – a creative agency called station369 – that will focus on creating innovative omnichannel brand experiences.
Muraly’s spiritual roots in Hinduism also inspires his Maestro Mindset.
“When my Paati used to teach us from the Bhagavad Gita, one of my biggest takeaways was that part of the discourse when Lord Krishna tells the warrior Arjuna that hesitation could mean the difference between life or death. Taking from this, I believe that when we live with intention it’s easier to forge our path. When you’re ready to make your next move, it’s important to carefully reflect on what you want to do, create a strong execution plan, and then follow through without any hesitation or self-doubt whatsoever. That laser focused mindset will ensure that you prevail over any obstacles that comes your way.”
Muraly speaking at a large event in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Upon returning from Bangladesh, Muraly began applying to law schools to fulfill a childhood dream. However, his father’s third heart attack would delay these plans. Eventually, Muraly went on to graduate from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law with his Global Professional LL.M. degree.
“I’m a big believer in lifelong learning. My aunt, who is the CEO of CancerCare Manitoba, is a great role model for me as someone who is constantly learning and improving herself. Even my mother, who actually took a class with me during my first year in undergrad because her nursing credentials weren’t being accepted in Canada, set a great example about the importance of never staying complacent. This is something that I hope to instill in my own children, which my partner also feels strongly about being an immigrant herself from the Ukraine”, remarked Muraly.
“Studying law has also been a great foundation for understanding the legal aspects of running Computek, my family foundation, and other ventures. I’ve even found it relevant for the work I do in helping lead comdu.it as we pursue different strategies to move our community’s goals back home forward.”
Muraly with comdu.it volunteers taking a break from meetings in Colombo, Sri Lanka)
Beyond his personal dreams, Muraly’s decision to complete his education was also driven by his ambitions to build his network in hopes of taking Computek College to the next level, one where it is recognized as a key educational institution in Canada, and then globally. For his efforts, Muraly was named by the Canadian Board Diversity Councils to its 2017 Diversity50 cohort to impact Canada’s corporate boards and improve global competitiveness.
Encouraging Tamil Entrepreneurship
Drawing inspiration from his family and cultural heritage, Muraly’s request to the next generation is that they remember their Tamil roots even as they advance their careers. He strongly believes it is important to be driven by a passion to elevate our community as a whole and not just be motivated by money alone.
“The elder generation has this rich history which the next generation isn't always able to tap into. I really feel that having intergenerational conversations and connections is what will help us uncover new wisdom from our shared history that will enable to us scale even greater heights. While money is necessary to survive, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Passion and tenacity are what determine success. It’s the reason why Tamils are a driving force in today’s global economy, whether it in business with Google’s Sundar Pichai or in politics with U.S. Senator Kamala Harris or Singapore’s Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam or in entertainment with the likes of M.I.A., Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari to name a few. With the way our world is moving forward in a new digital age now further accelerated by new post COVID-19 realities, I think there is a huge opportunity with things like blockchain and so forth, and it’s waiting for whoever amongst our people is hungry enough to chase it down.”
Inspired by nearly a century-old tradition of giving back that began with his grand uncle philanthropist Muhandiram Narayanar in Jaffna, Sri Lanka and which continued with his father, Navaratnam Srinarayanathas, Muraly setup the Srinarayanathas Foundation which currently supports a wide variety of causes in education, health, and economic empowerment – both in Canada and around the world.
“Since working with 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus with whose guidance I co-founded my first social purpose business with some friends, I created what I call the “philanthropy promise” to harness my varied networks to give back to the world at large,” he explained.
Muraly with Prof. Muhammad Yunus and Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain
The foundation has made significant donations to the Endowed Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, and is currently raising money for the SAAAC Autism Centre. The foundation also recently launched a charitable initiative called Paddle for Good that brings together business leaders and influencers in the 6ix for a competitive and fun ping pong tournament to raise funds for deserving causes.
Despite his passion for finding new business opportunities and driving change within his community, Muraly emphasized the importance of not neglecting family in the process. While appreciating the sacrifices his own father made to raise his siblings and him, Muraly has also become appreciative of the opportunity to make up for lost time with this father – something that he does not want to see repeated with his own children.
Muraly with his partner, Dasha, and their children Sofia and Leonardo
Even though my focus is to build a great life for my family, I don’t want to do it at the cost of not having a work-life balance. As much as I am a business leader and philanthropist, at the end of the day I am also a son, husband, and father. I want my work to be an inspiration to my children and the Tamil community in the same way that my father’s work has been a source of inspiration to me. That’s why I’m planting seeds knowing that I probably won’t be around to enjoy the shade of the trees that will grow one day – and I’m okay with that.
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