Do you enjoy what you do for work? For entrepreneurs, it’s a bittersweet journey of highs and lows. As an award-winning serial entrepreneur, Hilda Gan (President and Chief People Officer at People Bright Consulting) has been through it all. But she credits her cultural upbringing and heritage toward shaping her core values as an entrepreneur.
What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?
“For me, Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity for all of us to learn more about Asian culture, customs, cuisine, and history. It is a chance to celebrate and share stories of people, learn more about our heritage, and help others learn too. I am proud to be a second-generation born in Canada and a third-generation living in Canada on both sides of my family. Asian Heritage Month helps me affirm my gratitude for being both Canadian and Chinese. I embrace both and love the person that combination has made me,” expressed Hilda.
“When I was growing up, there was no recognition outside of our Chinese community for celebrations such as Lunar New Year. We would spend the weekend celebrating with family eating great meals, wishing a happy new year to our elders, and getting “hong bao” (lucky money in red envelopes). We would go back to school, no day off, and no acknowledgement of the Lunar New Year—but that was the norm then for many ethnicities in Toronto.”
“We would celebrate within our communities, but what and how we celebrated would not be widely known. Most people who came to Canada managed to live in two different worlds. In my case, it was one where we would celebrate our Chinese heritage and one where we lived, schooled, and worked in our suburban community which fitted into the standards and norms of our local society. I am Canadian-born and have been comfortable living in this dual world. I lived and grew up in the suburbs, being a very distinct minority. Besides my brother and myself, there were possibly one to two Asian families in our public school and less than 20 in high school. As an adolescent, I wanted to know about my roots and, with other Asian teens, formed a series of Chinese cultural events under the Chinese Cultural Reorientation Program,” explained Hilda.
“In 2002, thanks to a motion from Senator Vivienne Poy, the Government of Canada signed an official declaration to designate May as Asian Heritage Month. Before that, media, marketing, and society exposed people to cultural diversity. Today, we celebrate and learn so much from others about their uniqueness and difference. “
Why and how did you start your business?
“I am a serial entrepreneur. My parents owned a grocery store and I learned the creativity of creating your own business and the pleasure of working with people at a young age. In 1996, my husband wanted to start an engineering company. He was a Vice President heading up transportation engineering in a large consulting firm, while I was a Director of Nursing with years of managerial experience and compassion for people. We wanted to create a place known for its quality work and where people loved what they did and loved where they worked. It grew from two people to 125 people in seven offices across Canada, and we did it! iTRANS Consulting became recognized as one of the top 10 Best Workplaces in Canada®️ twice. We sold that business in 2009.”
“In the 12 years we had the business, I always thought of him as the entrepreneur and myself as the one who managed operations. But after I left and started to work and start another business, I realized that I was an entrepreneur. I loved the idea of supporting and helping other entrepreneurs be successful. I love talking for hours about the details of running a business, the successes, and the struggles. In 2017, I realized I had entrepreneurial blood and decided to start my current business, People Bright Consulting,” explained Hilda.
“Of all the roles and responsibilities I managed at iTRANS Consulting, it was the human resources and strategic planning that I loved the most. I want to help companies who value people as a key asset to success to have the knowledge and foundation to create a positive work culture and loyal, dedicated employee base. But I want to provide a cost-effective way that balances risk and rewards of decisions and practices that will increase retention, loyalty, productivity, and profitability. To visualize this success, I created the REVUP Your Potential concept. REVUP is based on the principles of Respect, Equality, Valued, Uniqueness, and Potential. People Bright Consulting is an HR consulting firm that builds HR foundations and practice, and helps businesses bring strong, healthy work cultures and inclusivity into the workplace by training leaders and team to REVUP their Potential. We’re on a mission to help leaders engage, motivate, and uplift staff.”
What role does your heritage play as an entrepreneur?
“As a minority and expected to be high achievers, my brothers and I gained the confidence to feel we could achieve anything on our own merits. As an entrepreneur, my heritage is an inherent part of who I am. My heritage and upbringing have created my core values of honesty, hard work, integrity, and fairness.”
“I am proud to be a Canadian-born Chinese who recognizes her heritage. My maternal grandfather came in the days of the railroad being built. He was one of the few Chinese men who had a wife living in Canada. All of my aunts and uncles were Canadian-born. I am proud of that fact. We were part of the first wave from China, specifically Southern China. Being born in Canada and raised in the suburbs, as a family we enjoyed our neighbourhood and community where we got to meet so many wonderful people, mostly of British, European, and Italian descent,” explained Hilda. “The REVUP values that came from the success of iTRANS Consulting are part of what I believe are values we should all have as human beings. We should all treat each other with respect, look at each other as equals, value others, then look at the uniqueness we have and tap into that potential.”
What’s one of your most proudest moments as an entrepreneur?
“When iTRANS Consulting was 10 years old, we were very proud of what we had created: an engineering company that was considered a leading firm in transportation engineering, a company that my husband and I wanted to create—a place where people loved to come to work and love the work they did. As we grew the business, we kept working to develop a place where people grew and worked in a positive culture. We were consistently improving our achievements, we had a strong learning culture with a mentoring program, iTRANS University, Lunch n Learn, and Toastmaster’s Club. We had recognition and awards for our engineering work, our Board of Trade, and the Best Small to Medium-sized Employers. There was a sense of pride amongst our staff.”
“Each year, we read about the best workplaces and found many of the perks that these companies provided. So, we decided we would submit to the Best Workplace in Canada™ by the Great Place to Work®. We were riding a high; it was our 10th anniversary milestone, we had seven offices across Canada, and about 75 staff members. We also won our Community Volleyball Championship against rival engineering companies as well as the post-season Softball Championship. Then the news came that validated we were a great place to work,” expanded Hilda.
“We were recognized as #9 of the Best Places to Work in Canada™️. That year was a special year and a proud moment. For our anniversary celebration that year, we invited staff from across Canada to celebrate an amazing year and journey. It is a proud moment in our company’s history. Building a successful company was the most wonderful experience of my life. It had its high and low points like any business, but the overall memories are joy and pride in creating a place that provided great work, allowed our team to grow professionally, and enjoyed being part of a great company. Even today, former iTRANS staff share with pride that they are part of the iTRANS Alumni. That whole journey of building iTRANS is a great source of pride.”
This piece is part of Startup Canada’s wider campaign to celebrate and honour Asian Heritage Month. Find more entrepreneur stories such as Hilda’s in our full list of Asian entrepreneurs who are shaking up Canada.