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Manjit Minhas, beyond the comfort zone

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Forget work-life balance. That’s not how you define success. At least not if you’re a growth-minded entrepreneur like Manjit Minhas. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride.

Photo by Dave Laus Photography

Manjit Minhas, a fixture on CBC’s Dragons Den is co-owner of the Minhas Brewery, Distillery and Winery, which is wildly popular and the first successful company to enter the Canadian beer industry in decades. The company sells over 90 brands of beer, spirits, liqueur and wine in five provinces (Ontario and the West), as well as in 47 states south of the border, and in 16 other countries.

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, it’s perhaps no surprise that Minhas would see success. But it’s not that simple.

In 1999, when she was 19, Manjit and her brother and business partner, Ravinder, launched their first spirits brands. Beer followed in 2002. Little did she know the adventure that awaited. Now 20 years into the business, they’re still seeing incredible growth and change as they conquer new markets.

Even so, Minhas has learned firsthand that being an entrepreneur is no straight line — there’s certainly no such thing as quick and easy. “People often see me on TV or hear my story and ask how I achieved my ‘overnight success’,’” she says. “My overnight has been 20 years in the making and I’m still working on that day in and day out — that’s the fun part of being an entrepreneur.”

Along the way she has co-chaired the Calgary United Way and picked up a Canadian Top 40 under 40 Award. She is currently a director of ATB Financial, the 2026 Olympic Bid Corp., telehealth firm, and Spiritleaf, a cannabis retailer – all based in Alberta. As well, she’s an in-demand speaker and regular source for media interviews.

Looking back, Minhas realizes she was young and naive about entering a very competitive market. The upside was that this helped her see obstacles in a new light – not in the traditional way of industry veterans. With the experience she has now, she can look back and ask “What the heck was I thinking!”

Part of her secret is the opposite of a rule most people follow.

“I always try to get uncomfortable as often as possible, because I believe that’s how we get stronger as individuals, as women and as entrepreneurs,” she says. “True growth doesn’t come from comfort zones.”

This brave, bold, and competitive attitude gradually pushed her into her position as a powerful woman who is a role model for women in Canada – and not just in the world of business.

It turned out that starting her business young had many advantages. Not only did she build an empire before the age of 40, she felt that there were fewer risks. As a university student, she had to make sacrifices to grow her business, but the risks weren’t too high.

“The challenges you have when you’re starting are different from when you are growing,” she says. “If we knew how tough it would be, I’m not sure I would have done it. Being young made me naive enough to take the plunge.”

Being an underdog from the get-go also enhanced her natural inclination to learn and to ask basic questions every step of the way. Early on she learned the importance of negotiation – a skill she never stops honing.

The happiness rule

Every successful woman will have her own set of tools and tricks that helps her along her unique path. What works for one may not work for another. Minhas takes self-care very seriously.

“I listen to what my body needs,” she says. “I need to come first. If I don’t have the time to recharge, or if I’m not happy, I’m not a productive individual.”

Being happy on her own terms makes her a better CEO and investor, as well as wife and mother. That’s why she makes her wellness a priority — it makes her happy! What the world sees on the outside reflects what’s happening on the inside.

“We as women need to do what makes us happy,” she says. “When you do what makes you feel good, it reflects on your happiness. Have your cake and eat it too!”

She has several basic wellness rules:

She prioritizes sleep, a minimum of seven hours a night, which can be difficult for a mom running a multimillion dollar empire. No matter how much fun she’s having, she always leaves events by 10 pm to accommodate her nighttime routine.

She has been a vegetarian since she was 16 years old. She believes this helps her stay healthy and avoid overindulging in food and alcohol.

She also works out regularly, even if it means just going for a walk on a busy road trip.

The 1% advantage

Everyone who performs well over the long term, especially in challenging fields like business, knows that having a healthy mindset is key to seeing massive success in your life. Your mindset controls everything: your emotions, your thoughts and your energy.

“It’s all about the mindset from the moment I wake to the moment I go to bed,” says Minhas.

If you don’t have a strong mindset, how do you expect to overcome the hurdles and negativity you’ll face on this life journey? Your mind is how you forge ahead and keep going when things get tough.

Building a strong mindset is a discipline in itself. You can do this, she says, by pursuing the best version of yourself — working on your own personal development on a daily basis.

Minhas encourages others to go to bed 1% smarter than when you woke up. How do you do this? By asking questions, reading more, consuming media, and taking a variety of courses. You’re never too old – or too young — to learn!

“Despite what I tell my children and husband – I don’t know it all,” she says. “It’s important that we all realize that we need to continue to learn about things that interest us.”

No regrets

Women tend to be amazing multitaskers but that doesn’t mean you need to do it all on your own. As successful entrepreneurs know, everyone has their own unique set of skills for a reason and it’s important to team with those who play to our strengths.

“Women often believe we have to do it on our own, but there’s nothing further from the truth,” says Minhas. “We are all successful with a team and a great support group. We need to learn to reach out. We don’t have to do it all. We can’t do it all.”

As her family grew, her priorities changed. She learned how to be successful both as a mother and a business owner. Her key to success is a “no regrets” attitude — whether it’s a meeting or recital missed, we need to remember that we can’t do it all and can’t be everywhere.

“I hate the word balance,” she says. “Work-life balance is bullshit because every day is different. My goal isn’t to have balance but to be happy every single day. Some days are all work days, some days are all fun days, and most days it’s a combination of both.”

Welcome to the Dragons’ Den

It takes one to know one, right? Hard working entrepreneurs, that is! The Dragons are a force to be reckoned with and they know what it takes to build a successful business.

Minhas is currently on her 6th season of Dragons’ Den, the CBC reality television show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch business and investment ideas to a panel of venture capitalists (the “Dragons”) in hopes of finding a partner for both financial and business support.

She uses her own experience to encourage entrepreneurs through the highs and lows, helping others to create successful businesses while following their passions and dreams. “I’ve met some really amazing entrepreneurs,” she says, “and had the opportunity to be a part of some exciting new industries!”

Over the last five years, Minhas has invested in 31 businesses, in everything from fashion to baby items, fire extinguishers, hardware, wellness products, food, and technology. “I get to be a part of start-up success stories and help fuel entrepreneurs with lessons I learned the hard way,” she says. “Hopefully, they can skip a few setbacks with my guidance!”

Along with the opportunity to invest, Minhas values the strong relationships she has made with the other Dragons in the Den. “I’m learning from their philosophies, models, teachings and beliefs,” she says. “The relationships and friendships among the Dragons is remarkable and something I cherish.”

From mentee to mentor

As a child, Minhas was surrounded by support. Her parents, who were entrepreneurs themselves, were a guiding light into the competitive realm of creating and selling alcohol products. As her business grew, so did the variety and types of mentors.

Through the different stages in business and in life, the need for mentorship changes. It’s important to have personal as well as and professional mentors.  “Mentorship is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction when challenges come your way,” she says.

The growth and guidance she received from her own mentors lead her to become a mentor herself. Today, she acts as a mentor to many young women, both on Dragons Den and beyond.

Helping women believe in themselves makes a big difference. “That is one of the great things that has caused my success — belief in myself,” she says. “If you don’t have a mentor, you should seek one out.”

What goes around comes around. Manjit Minhas has learned to cultivate and expand her own personal power. Now she wants to help other women to do the same.

More Insight: Manjit is also one of our Top 10 Power Women in Canada for 2020, check out the rest here.

Author: Jessica Clerke is the digital editor for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Optimyz Magazine. She is also a writer nd is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


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