You could pass the unassuming Bob Singh on the street and never even remotely suspect he is a self-made Canadian immigrant success story. A man with an enviable net worth of many millions who attaches little importance to it. He converts anything he touches into a successful venture but that is due to ingrained diligence and discipline over the years through his life’s journey.
He is the man behind the highly respected and wildly successful The Karwal Group of Hotels, a Canadian-based, privately held company involved in the acquisition, development, and management of prestigious brands of hotels across the country. He’s always in the market for new acquisitions and building his portfolio.
It would be a cliche to say Bob has come a long way, but he has risen from humble roots and was in the eyes of many at the time, an unlikely success story.
Bob’s Journey to Canada
When 21-year-old Bob Singh immigrated to Canada with his family in 1990, there were signs of a recession everywhere, the economy was stagnating, and the people he encountered were bitter and pessimistic. But Bob, a young immigrant, had nothing to lose apart from the $20 his father gave him to travel to employment agencies where he sought any available job, even if it involved sweeping floors or climbing rooftops.
In the next few days, he got his first job at a warehouse working 10-hour shifts 6 days a week, from then on there was no looking back. His relative Sonny Dhillon was by all accounts his first friend when he arrived in Canada. “We were about the same age and instantly became buddies,” he recalls.
“Bob was always curious about everything and wanted to understand his new country and how things worked here. We talked a lot and his success today does not surprise me. He came across as ambitious, positive, and willing to work hard,” he added.
The reason few individuals outside of his tightly-knit orbit of family and friends know little or nothing about him is because of his intense need for privacy. You could say he avoids the spotlight and is known to skip high-profile profile events in favor of spending time with family and close friends.
Riz Amla, who has worked with him since April, in the year 2000, points to one example. As a top-performing broker at SunLife, he’d qualify for the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) for many years in a row which meant he could go on a one-week company-sponsored vacation for two to exotic sunny destinations. “He never went for a single one, instead he sent me because he would rather spend that week with his wife and kids.”
Bob Singh’s Story Before the Hotel Industry
Bob came to this country in 1990 with his parents and three siblings from Sri Ganganagar, in Rajasthan. “Back in India I was a medical student but here I abandoned my studies to help my family. Getting jobs without experience and not knowing spoken English very well wasn’t easy. I got my first factory job at Suzuki Cars Warehouse where we shipped out auto parts. However I realized that such a job would never allow me to gain the kind of lifestyle I desired.
I wanted the best and realized that to do so I had to upgrade all areas of my life. My brother-in-law was doing well in the insurance field and I was impressed by his success and lifestyle. I joined SunLife in 1991 and learned everything necessary for success in that business. I cold-called hundreds of potential leads every week, made countless visits to clients, and put in 12-14 hour days seven days a week. It was very hard work but the results ensured I quickly rose up in the company to become a top producer.
People who know Bob attest to the fact that he makes genuine connections and keeps his word. Riz Amla points to numerous examples where he has gone over and beyond to ensure his clients received not just what was due to them but also went on to become their family friends. “To this day, he is invited to many of their family weddings and other celebrations. He has been with these families in good times as well as in bad,” she says.
According to Riz, Bob never wanted his staff to be known as insurance agents if we
couldn’t follow up with good service when the time came.
“In Life insurance policies, the part of the business that counts most is when someone passes away. I would prepare the paperwork, and my boss (as he’s affectionately referred to) would personally visit the bereaved family. Later when I processed the claim, the boss once again would go personally to hand over the cheque. We never mailed forms or cheques. It was the personal touch that made him so successful.”
People close to Bob will attest to the fact that although he never talks big, he thinks big.
Raj Singh, one of Bob’s closest friends for decades says: “Aside from our obvious common cultural background, we share a specific personality characteristic-perseverance. We don’t give up and don’t give in —always striving to break barriers and push through to achieve ‘better’ in life and in business. I’ve seen how Bob perseveres despite setbacks, he refuses to give up and continues to push forward and onward. He has many qualities and attributes too many to list. But to note two of them at the very least, they would have to be his unwavering loyalty – to his family, friends, and business associates—and his humility.
No matter how much success Bob has achieved, he has remained humble, a steadfast beacon- the calm in the storm- and true to himself and to those around him. His success in his personal life has served him well and has been the foundation for his success in business. His level-headed approach has paid dividends time and again.”
After working with SunLife for 1 year, Bob got his home and auto license and became an independent insurance broker. In April 2000, at a small back office behind the clothing store he owned, he started with two telemarketing employees who made calls for three hours in the evening, to make appointments for him. He worked around the clock in those years as he built his business. Within six months, he had saved and was generating enough money to buy the whole two-storied building as he had wanted to expand and scale his business.
He always believed that anything he did, he had to do it three times bigger. He went ahead and hired ten marketing Agents. And at this point, there was no turning back. All that hard work was paying off because, for the next seven years until 2007, he was the top producer in Canada. He always qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), a global, independent association of the world’s leading life insurance and financial services.
So how did Bob grow so big so fast? A combination of doing his homework, hard work, and a fearless mindset that allows him to take calculated risks. His willingness to go that extra mile has yielded results quite literally. Back in 2009, he started to make presentations to big transportation companies like CNTL, to the union and management, and successfully convinced them of a partnership.
As Bob interacted with his clients over the years, many ended up counting on him as a friend/adviser. In conversations, several truck drivers expressed an interest in buying their own
trucks but didn’t know how to go about securing truck loans. Bob instinctively saw the potential for a new line of business- truck loans.
Riz says: “We presented to the banks all the paperwork, drew up the contracts, and locked in rates with leasing companies. Through word-of-mouth referrals, we got plenty of business. Over the years we have helped thousands of clients with truck financing. We stayed with them all the way until they got their truck ownership in their name. Although we don’t actively pursue this line of business anymore, we still do truck loans when approached by some of our
Entering the Hotel Industry
So how did someone like Bob, who was at the time immersed in the world of insurance get into hotels? It happened after he read a book gifted by a friend back in the 90s titled Dare to Dream: The Life of M.S. Oberoi. “That book taught me to think about business differently. I was inspired by the hotel tycoon M.S Oberoi and back in my mind always wanted to one day own a hotel or get into that business, “ he said.
Besides running his insurance business, Bob was also dabbling in commercial real estate. “I was already buying and selling real estate. In 2012, a realtor friend told me of a hotel deal he thought we should consider getting into together. I didn’t know anything about hotels, it wasn’t my line of business and was definitely not like owning commercial real estate where you only have to collect rent and deposit cheques. Owning a hotel was very hands-on. But the story of M.S Oberoi came back to haunt me. Here was my opportunity to get into the hotel business. Along with my friend, we bought the Best Western Little River Inn, in Simcoe, a small town in Ontario.
The hotel business he discovered was different from what he had ever done before. He was on a steep learning curve, but that excited him. “I used to go there twice a week, read everything about hotels, talk to the managers and staff, and learn everything I could about how to run an efficient and profitable hotel. This hotel needed renovation and being involved in every aspect of it taught me how you can add value by renovating things.
Initially, it was hard, but I have always believed in hiring the right people, giving them freedom, and learning as we run the business. The way I learned the business was and is always keeping the existing staff, reading not just about the industry but also biographies and history, because a lot of one’s success is disciplining the mind and learning from other great minds,” he says.
Tony Ventresca VP-Operations who has been with the Karwal Group for 7 years observes that Bob’s success is knowing instinctively the right place to invest and his grasp on finance. “He knows just how to put together deals with banks. “Having done a few good deals, Bob has built contacts in the industry and has had great success in the underwriting of the business,” he says.
When it comes to operations, there is a proper team in place. Bob does not micro-manage and believes the trick is to hire the right people and give them the freedom to make decisions. We
learned as we ran the business. Mr. Ventresca echoes that point: “Although Bob and I work out of offices in two different cities, we are on Zoom or on the phone three or four times a day discussing day-to-day operations and potential hotel acquisitions. We also travel once every six weeks or so to look at new properties as well as see our current operations. Despite a busy schedule, Bob is available at any time,” he says.
Bob bought his very first hotel which had 60 rooms ten years ago and since then has added to his portfolio nine more. Prior to 2022, Karwal Group tended to acquire one hotel, make the necessary improvements, and turn it profitable before turning their attention to another property. But last year, Bob had the swaggering confidence to buy up four properties in the province of New Brunswick in one go, and that has cemented his reputation in the market as a savvy investor and operator of hotels, turning them all into lucrative businesses.
“This deal has been my biggest and best investment so far. The four hotels comprise 350 rooms. I call it the deal of a lifetime. I got a Marriott, as part of the package and I can say with confidence that I made money on every hotel I bought,” says Bob brimming with confidence.
The Future for Bob Singh
Bob is currently looking into new acquisitions to add to his growing portfolio. And while Bob works hard for his money, he is also known to play hard. He lives life in the fast lane and loves fast cars.
“Cars have always been my passion. I also like collecting watches. It is not just a matter of making money, but he enjoys spending it on his family.
He has a taste for exquisite cars and luxury timepieces, but his true passion lies in indulging in extravagant vacations alongside his beloved wife and five children. Each year, he diligently works on fulfilling items from his Bucket List, relishing every opportunity to check off new experiences.
“What’s the purpose of amassing wealth if we can’t relish the luxuries, embrace a lavish lifestyle, and ensure a high quality of life?” he contemplates. It’s hard to disagree with his sentiment.