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Suresh Sriskandarajah is a lawyer at Suresh Law PC with a background in engineering and entrepreneurship. He completed his articles at boutique firms in the areas of corporate, technology and administrative law. Over the course of his professional career, Suresh has held executive roles with various organizations, launched three ventures and mentored dozens of startups. He has also worked for leading companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and BlackBerry. Suresh speaks English, French and Tamil. Suresh has earned four prestigious degrees: Juris Doctor (JD) from Osgoode Hall Law School, Strategic Management (MBA) from Lazaridis School of Business & Economics, Electrical Engineering (BASc) and Liberal Studies (BA) from the University of Waterloo.
Anecdotally, I see a lot of inspirational stories like yours in the Tamil community. Each person has been shaped uniquely based on their experiences during the civil war and being forced to immigrate to a new country. How did this experience specifically shape you?
Escaping the civil war in Sri Lanka and immigrating to Canada has been profound for so many Tamil Canadians. My experience of immigrating to Canada when I was 9-years-old made me not only appreciate the opportunities this wonderful country had to offer, but also the entrenched values of respect, dignity, appreciation and celebration of human life.
Your story is remarkable. The fact that you are now a lawyer with your own law firm must have been unfathomable not too long ago. Why made you persist for years with the Law Society of Ontario to get accepted?
My life experiences inspired me to pursue a career in law, so that many especially in the underrepresented communities have their voices heard in the halls of Justice. I set my mind to achieve this goal and worked hard, so that our lives are not whimsical but purposeful and beneficial for society. Like many great institutions in Canada, Law Society of Ontario is part of that heritage.
Your criminal case was fairly high profile in the Tamil community (Article published by the National Post: "A man of good character: Law society answers whether a tiger can change his stripes"). Did you feel supported by the community when you were going through this difficult time?
I am grateful for the support that I received from family, friends and the community to overcome the challenges that I faced. Many great friendships were forged during this difficult time and I appreciate the many who never wavered in their commitment to support not just me, but always willing to support many in challenging obstacles in life.
What do you think you learned the most about yourself during the experience of going to trial and the time you had to spend incarcerated?
Humans are enriched and moulded by life events. The solitary times brought in so much of ethical enrichment and strength to face challenges, which I made sure to share with those who are in similar situations with education and discipline to better their prospects in normalcy.
You are obviously a person who values education - as you have an impressive trio of degrees in engineering, law and an MBA. Do you think these degrees will continue to hold value in the future?
Absolutely – a well-rounded education brings in a complete perspective of life and its potential. Education is never wasted but becomes a guiding light in putting together in forging a niche career with multidisciplinary expertise. Education combined with passion or interest can propel anyone’s career.
I know everyone gets 24 hours in a day, but looking at all the things you are currently involved with, along with managing your personal obligations, there must be 30 hours a day in your world, right? Kidding aside, how do you manage all your personal obligations and various business initiatives?
Besides planning the day, discipline to stick to the agenda is critical. My day starts very early since I must make sure that I spend quality time with the family. The obligation towards family is not compromised by entrepreneurial and career activities.
You fit the definition of a serial entrepreneur with all the various ventures that you have been a part of. Do you believe that in order to be successful you need to focus on one business at a time or do you think that working on various projects simultaneously offers cross-learning opportunities?
In my personal experience, I have been able to juggle different initiatives simultaneously. It depends on the personality of each entrepreneur and the type of venture they are working on. I am thankful that from an early age I was able to concentrate and manage multiple projects at the same time.
You’ve worked at both large companies (Amazon, Microsoft, Blackberry) as well as start-ups. Which environment did you prefer and what did you learn from each kind of experience?
I thrive in environments that foster innovation and entrepreneurship. That can be at both large companies and start-ups - it depends on the culture. Big or small, both environments provide opportunities and progress.
You’ve worked (or are working with) with some of the biggest Tamil-run businesses globally including Lebara and CSI in very senior roles. What made you select these opportunities?
I wanted to contribute my blend of technology and business backgrounds to help transform these businesses. I was particularly interested in initiatives they were involved in investing in technology start-ups and infusing them with expert know-how.
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Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?
I would like to continue my social mission of serving the under-represented communities by being a trusted advisor and mentor to start-ups and assist in building a platform for talented young professionals.
What is a great business idea that you would be working on if you weren’t focused on your current ventures?
I am interested in building technology platforms to provide better access to legal services, which in turn pass on the benefits to customers in many ways.
What do you think you would tell 16-year Suresh looking back?
Work hard daily to achieve your dreams while leading a balanced life.
How do you think your experience will shape the way you parent your kids or at least key values and knowledge you want them to have?
I would teach my children the importance of staying humble, pushing themselves to never give up, staying curious so that they keep learning, giving back, and being productive.
What is your favourite book(s) you’ve read recently and why?
Lately, I have been spending a lot of time reading Curious George and other children books with my young kids.
What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?
Trying to be balanced – that is critical. Being productive doesn’t mean overwhelmingly tilting towards one side but making sure to spend quality time with family while pursuing my career goals.
If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?
I would focus on children literacy, mental health and access to justice initiatives in addition to helping to eradicate COVID-19.
How connected are you to the Tamil community in Toronto? How would you describe the Tamil community in Toronto (or Canada) based on your experience?
I am fortunate to be connected to the Tamil community and community-at-large through social, professional and academic engagements I take part in. I am proud to see members of the Tamil community support each other to make meaningful contributions in various sectors, which put the community as a leading and positive contender within Toronto’s multicultural bedrock.
Do you think affluent members of the Tamil community contribute their fair share to philanthropic initiatives outside of the community? Any changes you’d like to see?
I have witnessed significant philanthropic initiatives to support everything from hospitals to academic endeavours in addition to community projects. With time, I am sure like many immigrant communities in transition, we will see more contributions that will have a lasting impact for future generations.
What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?
I have a sweet tooth so I would have to say my grandmother’s recipe for jaggery milk hoppers that my mother makes and my wife’s delicious buttercream cakes.
What is your favourite Tamil movie?
I do not have a TV at home so I do not watch movies often, but I would have to say my all-time favourite Tamil movie is Thalapathi.
What does Tamil culture mean to you?
A celebration of a way of life, rich in continuous cultural enrichment from classical times that gets passed from one generation to the next.
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