People

Sonny Sekhon

April 15, 2016

Sonny Sekhon is a man of many talents, but his super power rests in his knack for connecting with his community. Not only is he the general manager of one of Edmonton’s top menswear retailers, he is a member of two (soon to be three) fundraising boards, and plays for four ball hockey teams within the city. While it’s easy to praise the man for his entrepreneurial skill and philanthropic endeavor, Sonny is quick to credit his father’s resilience and humility for shaping who he is today. We were very lucky to have a moment to catch up with Sonny and chat about everything he has on the go, and why he’s proud to call himself an Edmontonian. Thank you, Sonny!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the General Manager of Henry Singer’s flagship location in Manulife Place. I currently sit on two boards: North of Lipsky and The Brick Invitational board. I am the co-founder and co-captain of Movember Powerhouse, North of Lipsky and the volunteer coordinator of the Brick Invitational Hockey tournament. Recently, I have begun the process of joining another local board, the Bird-Dogs, who actively fundraise to support prostate cancer research in Alberta.

Beyond that, I am an avid ball hockey player and at any given time can be involved with four teams: the Edmonton Mighty Ducks, Southside Seahawks, the Edmonton Blackhawks and Henry Singer in the Punjabi Ball Hockey League. In my downtime my girlfriend, Kaela, and I love eating out and catching up with our families. Lastly, I am a pop culture nerd. I love all things ‘super hero’ and would drop everything to become one –now I’m just waiting for a radioactive disaster to give me some powers.

My father, Nindy Sekhon, came to Canada from Punjab, India in 1974. His journey to where he is now has had a huge impact on who I am, and what I wish to accomplish. His story shapes my story. He came to Canada, like all the immigrants before him, with the dream of making a better life for his family and himself. He took odd jobs and saved aggressively eventually finding a career he excelled in, sales. He never commits to anything without giving 100% of his effort. He is a risk taker in business and life, but always has a backup plan and savings to help.

I turn 30 this year and it has taken 30 years to realize that I see a lot of my dad in myself and that’s a good thing.

Are you from Edmonton? Why do you call Edmonton home?
I grew up in Riverbend and lived there for most of my life. For the last two years I have lived downtown, right in the heart of the Ice District development, and am so excited to see where Edmonton is going. I can’t see myself anywhere else.

I have been lucky enough to visit the likes of Bangkok, New York, Toronto, San Francisco, and Prague; as amazing as these cities are, I always look forward to coming home. There’s so much about the city that makes it magical, but sometimes you have to work a little harder to see it. As an Edmontonian, it frustrates me that we almost seem to keep some of these things secret. I want people to stand on top of mountains, and yell, and scream about how amazing our city is.

How did you end up in the retail fashion industry?
Growing up I had a few different retail jobs. I worked for Game on Sports, Finesse Furniture and MEXX. It was at MEXX that I started to enjoy the challenge of helping people discover their personal style. While I grew to like the MEXX collection, after a while I got a little bored of working for mono-brand store.

Ten years ago, if someone were to tell my family, friends, or even me, that I would become the General Manager for Edmonton’s iconic Henry Singer Fashion Group, I would have laughed. I spent my university days in tracksuits and denim; I didn’t know that I had any affinity for fashion at all. I did know that I loved people and relationships –honestly, I sort of just fell into the fashion industry and never left.

As an aside (sorry Fred and Jordan), I took the job at HS because at the time my best friend was working at HS, he ensured that we would be working together. We would essentially be earning money while hanging out. This prospect was too good to pass up, and the decision to ‘go for it’ changed my life.

After a year at HS, my Divisional Leader at the time asked me if I would be interested in managing my own store, and we all know how that turned out. Eight years later, I am still here, still learning, and still growing.

Henry Singer has been a wonderful place for me to learn about much more than just fashion. Fashion is really just a small piece of my work; the most valuable skill I’ve earned is the importance of relationship management.

We took a gamble and hosted a black tie pizza party in a community hall, we sold out in days, and have sold out every year since.

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What piece of advice could you give to someone who aspires to move from a sales position into a management role?
Honestly, I think the biggest thing is never to lose sight of what is important today. Too often, I see new sales associates come in, fresh out of school with a desire to make $100,000 a year and every idea to make the company better. They lose focus that their number one job is to make sure our clients are happy, which results in sales. If you want to succeed, do your job, and do it well. Do it religiously and your talents will be recognized and rewarded.

How have you observed Edmonton’s fashion scene evolve over the years?
It’s improving immensely –our suppliers always comment on how surprised they are when they come here. They see how our customers shop and the outfits they choose. In a small, but growing portion of the population, our looks are on par with what you would see walking around New York. The perception of fashion seems to be changing. Gone are the days of a suit being a uniform. Edmontonian’s, and certainly our clients, are embracing the notion that your clothing is a representation of your personality and how you feel about yourself. It looks amazing.

You are quite involved in the community. Can you describe some of your community work and how you became involved with those organizations?
I am deeply committed to community service on both the local and national levels and have been fortunate to be involved in several community organizations and initiatives.

Through Henry Singer Fashion Group, I co-chair our United Way fundraiser, where we raise between $15,000 and $25,000 for the United Way annually.

I also sit on the board for the Brick Invitational Novice Hockey Tournament; the world’s most elite hockey tournament for novice-aged players. For one week in July, kids aged nine and ten come from as far away as Sweden to West Edmonton Mall to compete for the coveted Brick Cup. Recently, our tournament has enjoyed some strong press as we have been called “an NHLer factory.” The likes of Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are members of our ever growing and very impressive alumni. I have assisted with this annual tournament for seven consecutive years. Our board meets on a monthly basis to ensure the tournament continues to be the best of its kind in the world. Throughout the year, I invest over 120 hours of time recruiting and coordinating volunteers so that this busy tournament proceeds smoothly and efficiently.

As stated earlier, I am currently involved with as many as four ball hockey teams. Perhaps most importantly, I have been able to leverage my position within my company to support a grassroots hockey league called the Punjabi Ball Hockey League. Henry Singer has always tried to serve all members of the communities we are in and saw this as a perfect opportunity to approach a growing community. Currently, Henry Singer is entering its third season of sponsoring the league and is proud to be part of such a diverse league.

North of Lipsky was founded by Alec Heffernan and I nearly seven years ago. We began with a silly goal: a reason to wear the tuxedos we had decided to buy from Henry Singer Fashion Group. We did not have the means to attend an event like the Snowflake Gala or the other swanky black tie events in the city, but we had this burning desire to wear those tuxedos. We figured there must be others in the same position as us. We decided to organize our own event, in our own way, in support of a cause that these types of black tie events just didn’t support. Movember was perfect; it was a tongue in cheek approach to a serious issue. Grow a moustache, raise money and talk about men’s health.

To echo this theme, we decided to host, what we believe to be, the first ever black tie pizza party in Edmonton. Our success was immediate and huge. We sold out Crestwood Hall in our first year and with 100 people raised $10,000 while spreading awareness about prostate cancer and men’s health in general. Over the course of the next five years our momentum and presence has continued to grow. We have held successful events annually in some of the Edmonton’s great venues: City Hall, The Muttart Conservatory, Fort Edmonton Park, The Alberta Gallery of Art and the iconic Alberta Ballroom at the Chateau Lacombe hotel. To date we have raised nearly half a million dollars and are consistently one of the top fundraising teams in the world.

Henry Singer has been a wonderful place for me to learn about much more than just fashion. Fashion is really just a small piece of my work; the most valuable skill I’ve earned is the importance of relationship management.

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What does the ‘behind the scene’ of North of Lipsky look like in terms of planning?
It is crazy. We are small and agile and react quickly. Our board is made up of young professionals who are all very busy in their daily lives. Our meetings are fast, furious and all over the place. It’s chaos in motion. There is a level of trust between the team, however, and we know that the necessary work is being done. There are hundreds of emails, WhatsApp conversations and phone calls. We have it down to a science, sort of, not really.

What are the keys to hosting a successful fundraiser?
I think the most important thing is to try and be different. There are literally events happening 365 days a year and if you want to stand a chance at having people come back, and more importantly spend money, you need to give them a reason to. Lipsky tries to reinvent itself annually, never uses the same venue twice and tries our best to remain relevant to our supporters. When we first started we wanted a reason to wear a tuxedo and did not want to attend a $400 per plate gala with people our parents’ age. We bet that if we felt this way there were likely others who did too. We took a gamble and hosted a black tie pizza party in a community hall, we sold out in days, and have sold out every year since. We remain price sensitive to those who got us to this point and deliver a fun experience that you get dressed in your best for.

What advice would you give someone looking to host their own fundraiser?
Find something that sets you apart from the crowd, sell it hard once, execute well and people will return. Also, I was once told a winning formula is good music, great food and beautiful people, that helps I suppose.

What type of goal setting do employ to help you progress in your professional and personal life?
Athletically, I have been programmed to hate losing; it’s a cliché, but it is also very true. Losses sting, they leave a bad taste in my mouth and I do not like it. In my professional life, I am lucky to be able to measure both my and my team’s success in absolute measures. I make a goal, we make a goal or we miss. Misses equate to losses and losses sting. I want to be a winner at everything I do so I have a burning desire to do whatever it takes to get there.

To help focus me I use lists daily. Lists of tasks, ideas or jobs that need to be achieved to win the day. I check my list at the start and end of the day and without fail, when that list is all scratched out we usually win. These lists are my goals.

What was your biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to reach your goals?
My biggest obstacle has always been my age. At Henry Singer Fashion Group as I climbed the leadership totem pole I had to pass guys who had literally worked for the company longer than I had been alive. It was a challenge to enter a team where, by and large, you are a kid, and then be expected to lead it. I never let myself worry about this, I never focused on my age, or the age of the staff. I just did the work. I let my results and my attitude speak for themselves.

Is there a piece of advice that you received when starting out that has stuck with you?
Never do up the bottom button on your suit jacket or blazer. Also, if you are always the hardest working person in the room, you will succeed.

 

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What are your next short term and long term goals?
Short term, I want to win some championships with my ball hockey teams. Long term, I want to be in the driver seat as we take Henry Singer from an iconic local menswear brand to a globally known and respected company.

Can you take us through the beginning of your day and how you plan out your activities and tasks?
The start and end of my day are always the same. I sit at my desk quietly and think through the day. Think through our target. Think through what Is happening in my personal world. I think of what needs to be accomplished and then I begin making lists. Throughout the day I go to those lists to keep me focused and to cross items off. At the end of the day I revisit the list to see if anything has been missed, assess if it was necessary and then reassign it to the next day. This keeps my focus sharp and fills my days with purpose and a system to accomplish a great deal. 

What do you love about Edmonton?
I love the people. We work so hard and remain so humble. Frustratingly humble. I look at things like our River Valley, our festival scene, and the local food scene and it’s incredible…but we don’t boast about it. In a way, I sometimes think we are keeping it secret for ourselves, but I see so much potential for this city on a global scale that if we boasted about some of Edmonton’s amazing things we could get there faster.

Probably my favourite thing is the local food scene. In recent years, guys like Daniel Costa and the Rostizado crew have really stepped up and delivered amazing products downtown, but the food scene has been strong for a long time. Red Ox, Characters, Hardware Grill; these guys have been delivering world class dining to Edmontonian’s for decades. During the Brick Tournament I am lucky enough to have dozens of visitors to the city ask me about places to eat; it gives me immense satisfaction to hear them rave about how good the food is at our local iconic restaurants.

 

To help focus me I use lists daily. Lists of tasks, ideas or jobs that need to be achieved to win the day. I check my list at the start and end of the day and without fail, when that list is all scratched out we usually win. These lists are my goals.

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What keeps you motivated? Where do you find inspiration in your day-to-day life?

Honestly, my Dad. My dad is a 62-year-old man, who has worked hard his entire life, and could quite easily take the foot off the gas and coast comfortably for the rest of his life. He won’t. He still wakes up at 5:00am daily to do research, tend to his businesses and to make a difference. I am inspired by a man who came to Canada with nothing, achieved great success, and remains humble, focused, and hungry to continue down his path.

Any time I think of taking it easy I just have to think of all he accomplished and it pushes me to try and do something similar.

Do you have a personal mantra?
That’s a tough question. I suppose I truly believe that if you work to the best of your ability in any career, success will follow. Also, always remember to have fun.

What is your favourite coffee shop or restaurant in Edmonton?
I don’t do coffee. For years my personal quote was “I drink chocolate milk on coffee dates.” I thought I was funny. I know better now. I do like Credo, I love the vibe in there and all of the familiar faces.

My favourite restaurant is Sabor. The quality of the food, the consistency of the service, and the setting of the restaurant are amazing. I give them full marks.

I truly believe that if you work to the best of your ability in any career, success will follow. Also, always remember to have fun.

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Is there a book that inspired and influenced you that you would recommend to our readers?

Growing up I read a lot of comics. I still do but am less impressionable now. One of my favourites was Batman. Batman is a man in a suit. Of course he has skills, training from the league of assassins, money left from his parents, but most importantly he has a plan. I never read a Batman comic in my life where he didn’t have a plan A, B, C, D and E for any possible scenario. He was organized. He was thoughtful. He was prepared. Today, I am Batman, or at least I try to be when approaching life on a day to day basis.

On a more serious note, I have read every book Sir Richard Branson has published. To me, he is the most interesting man on earth and has achieved immense success while still having a lot of fun. Anyone who needs inspiration and wants to read about someone who works hard and plays harder should pick those up. It was Mr. Branson who gave me the idea of lists, he still carries notebooks for lists to this day.

What is something that you have seen abroad that you would love to bring to Edmonton?
Uber. I would like to bring Uber back to Edmonton. The other big thing I would like to see a refocus on is ending urban sprawl. I love what comes along with having a high density of people in a small space; ideas, movements and innovation happens when people are in close quarters. The Ice District is certainly a start, but with more people concentrated downtown, more opportunities for new and different local businesses will come.

What is your favourite place in Edmonton to take a breather, to let loose, or to soak up the city?
I am a little unorthodox but I have three. The Edmonton Sports Dome, this is where I go to play ball hockey and escape from real life. Something about playing the game takes me back to my childhood were I would spend days outside playing street hockey. It’s fun, it’s carefree and I love it.

I waste a lot of time at Happy Harbor comics. In the same vein of losing myself at ball hockey, I can lose myself in any number of worlds, and stories, in that unbelievable shop.

Lastly, I love stopping by the Courtyard Marriot downtown. Their patio, in my opinion, is not only one of the best-kept secrets in the city but the best patio in the city. The views are stunning, the beer is cold and the company is always great. Many a day has disappeared there in good conversation and in good cheer.

 

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What are you currently excited about? What’s next for you?
I am so excited that my sister, Preeti, is getting married in a year. She is two years younger than me and has beat me to the punch. I love her, I love her fiancé Shawn and I am happy for them.

I am excited about the direction of my work. Henry Singer is in almost product renaissance. I am so thrilled to see our focus on crafted luxury and delivering the most exceptional products from suppliers globally. I am excited to see the evolution of a company that has 77 years of history in bricks and mortar stores in Alberta, into a global brand powered by e-commerce and social media. I am excited to see the landscape of our city change over the next decade. I am excited for the Connor McDavid era of the Oilers. I am excited to be in Edmonton.

I can’t tell you what’s next for me because I believe that as long as I do the best that I can in what I am doing today, life will unfold the way its intended to. What I can tell you is that whatever I do, I will be doing here, in Edmonton, as a proud Edmontonian.

Online:
North of Lipsky
Henry Singer Fashion Group
@Sonziemaaaan

 

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