Enlightened entrepreneurs

More than 80 people engaged in a conversation about business at the third Entrepreneur Forum

BY ASHOURINA SLEWO

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The Chaldean News hosted their third Annual Entrepreneur Forum at the Shenandoah Country Club on November 14. The forum hosted some of the brightest members of the Chaldean community that have made great strides in their careers, including Jimmy Nafso, CEO of FortisPay, Christine Piligian, Chairman and President of Jonna Realty Ventures, Patrick Tomina, CFO of W3R Consulting, and Kevin (Karam) Bahnam of USA 2 GO.

Drawing a crowd of more than 80 guests, the Entrepreneur Forum was sponsored by Meijer, Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, Wireless Vision, Comcast Business, Happy’s Pizza, the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and the Chaldean Young Professionals Network.

The Chaldean News’ very own Co-publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa Denha Garmo, moderated the forum as she led the discussion and took questions from the audience. Each of the entrepreneurs shared with the audience their own stories and tips for success.

Kicking off the forum was Nafso, who is involved in a variety of ventures, as he talked about keeping up and adapting with the many changes that have gripped the economy. “Put yourself in a position to sustain when things go down,” explained Nafso. “When there are changes in the economy, there are things that we can’t control. So, we can’t control the external factors, but the one thing we can control is our effort. I’ve come to learn through the years that if I can control one thing, it’s my effort and to work hard.”

Bringing a different perspective to the forum was Piligian, who discussed her place in the industry as a woman. In addition, she addressed the obstacles that women still tend to face in the business industry and what can be done to successfully break into the industry.

“In my generation, you didn’t see that many women in business and that’s changed,” said Piligian. “The path is cut out for future generations and people are more comfortable working with women than they used to be. There are glass ceilings still, however. You have to work a little harder and be more persistent and make everybody aware of how good you are at your job so they feel comfortable and secure in working with you.”

On many different topics, there was one idea that was agreed upon by each panelist, one person does not have control over everything. However, learning to work with the things that can’t be controlled is important. According to Tomina, having a model that can serve as a foundation and be trusted is a good first step. “A model that you trust on a downturn is very important,” said Tomina.

In addition to working with the inevitable and being prepared for declines, the panelists also discussed topics such as being personable to clients and customers, building a meaningful rapport and business ethics. Bahnam stressed the importance of keeping ethics at the center of business.

“As Chaldeans, I think we’re very business minded and successful entrepreneurs, but unfortunately, I feel that many of us, including myself, were brought up with some kind of misconception that we had to separate our lives,” said Bahnam. “What I mean by that is creating compartments for your personal life, your business life, even your spiritual life. However, it’s very critical for us that we form ourselves properly. Formation here is not only by teaching someone how to be successful financially, but ethically as well.”

Bahnam believes that financial success is just one facet of success in the business world. When going about one’s business, Bahnam says they should always take their moral compass into consideration and have ethics become an integral part of everything one does.

“That’s the focus of business ethics; it is to bring some really successful people who have done a good job financially and show them that this is only one aspect of their life,” said Bahnam. “To have a successful life, you need to have multiple aspects in the right place.”

In addition to ethics, Bahnam discussed what he considers to be one of the most important parts of business when asked about what customers want or what they don’t know they want.

“I think people, when it usually comes to business, we start by thinking that we need to have a good vision to be successful in business and I think that’s really important, but I don’t think that’s not the first step,” said Bahnam. “I think the first step is really getting to know ourselves. That is something that people try not to do these days. We need to spend some time thinking and we need to spend some time praying about it. I personally think that’s the way to being successful and happy at the end of the day.”

In addition, Piligian believed that business acumen is a necessity when it comes to being a successful business person. With working hard as just one area of focus, Piligian believes that being business oriented and flexible are pivotal to becoming successful. One must be willing and able to change at the drop of a hat when dealing with business as the industry is rarely ever static in most aspects.

“We can work hard, and we all do, but you have to see ahead of yourself, you have to watch where things are going and be willing to change,” she said. “What you have to constantly be doing is looking forward and seeing what is lacking, what you are doing differently and what you can do differently. I think if you don’t spend some time thinking and praying about what can be, then you’ll just stay in the same place and staying in the same place is going backwards.”