Steve Gupta – What the Visionary Behind the Easton’s Group Lacked in Resources He Made Up with Enthusiasm, Energy and Hard Work
A conversation with Steve Gupta — born in India some number of years ago (he isn’t telling exactly how many) — is like a journey of discovery.
Because not only does he have an amazing rags to riches story to tell, but because he also informs the listener of how his spiritual beliefs have informed every decision he has ever made.
It’s hard to tell the story of Gupta’s success without also talking about his spiritual life because the two are so intertwined.
“I’m a very old soul and I’ve learned many lessons during those many lifetimes,” Gupta tells me during an extraordinary conversation at his Markham office, suggesting that I, too, had many lives. “You’re an old soul, too, but not as old as me,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
A born visionary and risk taker — “I’m wired by the gods as an entrepreneur” — Gupta has built a portfolio of apartments, hotels and condominiums while adhering to a strict moral code that stems from his deeply-held Hindu principles.
“I have never bought property from somebody who was hurting or in distress,” Gupta says, “because my reputation is worth more than my assets.”
“We have a temple in our home and the entire family prays there before breakfast for blessings as we start our day. It keep our minds on the things that are truly important.”
Gupta credits his wife, Rashmi, for patience and strength while he was working long hours to bring his dreams to life. “Behind every successful man is a woman like Rashmi, who stands behind him and is his biggest supporter.
“Rashmi is my strength; the strength of my family. Family is the most important thing to me,” says Gupta, who has four children, Reema Balaram, Shelley, Reetu and Suraj, and one son-in-law, Nikhil Balaram.
Condo Life: Tell me a little about your background and your education.
Steve Gupta: I was born in the Punjab, about 150 kilometres from Delhi. I went to Punjab University, where I received a Bachelor of Science and a Master’s in science and math. I came to Canada in May of 1973 as a visitor. I wanted to stay, so I applied for my landed immigrant status and I got it very quickly.
CL:What did you do when you first arrived in Canada and how did you parlay one Port Hope truck stop into a real estate empire?
SG: I wanted to get into real estate but needed to be in the country for one year before I could become a realtor so I started selling insurance door to door. In the first year, I was the best salesman in the branch and I won a first-class ticket to San Diego. I traded in that first-class ticket for two economy seats and took my wife, Rashmi.
I then started investing in real estate, mostly small apartment buildings. In 1978, I had my eye on a gas station that was listed for $15,000, which was the amount of money I had in the bank. But it was sold before I could get it. A realtor told me about the Easton’s 28 Texaco Truck Stop in Port Hope, owned by Bill and Eric Easton. It had 10 acres of land and was listed for $1.35 million,with a down payment of $350,000.
I met with the Easton brothers a couple of times and we agreed on a selling price of $950,000 with $230,000 down, $15,000 immediately and the rest in five months on closing. I found two partners, each who held a 30 per cent stake, and I kept 40 per cent for myself. On February 28, 1979, the sale closed and I was the proud owner of a truck stop. But I knew the highway was going to expand and I was sure that the investment would pay off many times over.
Steve Gupta with family members (from left) son-in-law Nikhil Balaram, daughters Reema Balaram and Shelley Gupta, his wife Rashimi Gupta, daughter Reetu Gupta and son Suraj Gupta.
Within four months, one partner wanted out, so I bought 20 per cent of his share, and the third partner took 10 per cent. But he wanted out after one year because he found the commute to Port Hope and the workload too much. I told him I’d make him a millionaire if he stayed with me. But he wanted out so we signed the agreement at a McDonald’s restaurant!
CL: How did you get into the hotel business and then start developing condominiums?
SG: I always wanted to own a hotel and with the amount of land I had in Port Hope I was able to build a Comfort Inn. And then I built one in Peterborough and downtown Toronto. Now I own Marriotts, Hiltons and Holiday Inns, among others.
My goal with the hotels was always to exceed the expectations of my guests and every hotel has won awards. The Comfort Suites in Toronto was named the Best Hotel in the World (by the management company), and the Marriott is the only Canadian hotel to be honoured with the Marriott Circle Award.
In the hotel business, I created a hotel within a hotel, fashioning rooms that exceeded normal expectations and creating a real experience.I believe in excellence and treat everybody with respect.
I built up the service centre in Port Hope to include not only the hotel, but also a Tim Hortons, Swiss Chalet and a Harvey’s. I sold it three years ago. Condominium development is a natural extension of the service businesses – gas stations, apartments and hotels — that I was already involved with. I wanted to make my condos different than anything else out there, with the type of combined services that you find in hotels and provide different amenities than other developers. I want the condos to be the best quality in their class.
At King Blue, we’re thinking of adding a 24-hour restaurant that would offer healthier choices than you would normally find in the wee hours of the night, or morning. My daughter, Reetu, wants to have only unique boutique shops in the retail podium to make it stand out from the rest.
CL: You are known as a visionary and a big risk taker. Is that how you see yourself?
SG: I have taken a lot of risks but I’m a calculated risk taker; the greater the risk the greater the payoff. I try to think of doing the same old things, but in different ways. It’s all about creative thinking and believing in yourself. I find a project and I grind it and grind it until I get to the bottom of it and figure out the best way it will work. I have passion, fire, for what I do, but there is nothing that beats hard work; there’s only so much you can learn from books. And I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes; failure is the best teacher in the world. In the 35 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve done 100 years of work. People who succeed don’t waste one minute of their time and I try to take advantage of every minute I have. The harder you work, the luckier you get.
CL: You are also known as a giver. What is your philanthropic philosophy?
SG: I build not only for my family and myself but also for my country.
Canada has been good to me and other immigrants. Canada boasts 120 different nationalities living in harmony; this is an amazing multicultural society and I thank God everyday for it. So, I also work for my community and my country, to give back for my education at the University of Life. Learn, earn, return. That’s my philosophy.
I recently built a seniors’ home at Yonge Street and Highway 7. It’s the first Hindu seniors’ centre in the GTA and it has 40 units. The people there are so happy, and when I go there, they tell me how wonderful it is. Those blessings are all I need.
“With each unit sold (at Dundas Square Gardens), $1,000 goes to Ryerson and I will top that up to $1 million.”
I’m also donating $1 million to Ryerson University for a bursary program through the Dundas Square Gardens condos. With each unit sold, $1,000 goes to Ryerson and I will top that up to $1 million. I’ve also donated money to the arts (TIFF Bell Lightbox) and I’ve joined Adrienne Clarkson’s organization, which helps new immigrants.
I am thankful to God and to this country that I have been able to build the reputation I have.
EASTON’S GROUP PORTFOLIO
- Hilton Garden Inn Toronto City Centre
- Hilton Garden Inn Toronto Downtown
- Residence Inn Toronto Downtown
- Holiday Inn Toronto Yorkdale
- Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Vaughan
- Hilton Garden Inn Toronto Airport
- Courtyard Toronto Brampton
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Toronto Vaughan
- Springhill Suites by Marriott Toronto Vaughan
- Courtyard by Marriott Kingston
- Holiday Inn Pointe-Claire Montreal
- TownePlace Suites Sudbury
Coming soon: TownePlace Suites Thunder Bay, TownePlace, Suites Markham, Courtyard Marriott Markham
- King Blue Condos
- Dundas Square Gardens