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  • Writer's pictureRosanne Leung

8 Asian Canadian Business Leaders Who Inspire Us

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Asian Canadians to our country's cultural, social, and economic landscape.

This month means a lot to me personally. It’s a time to reflect and honour the changemakers who have paved the way for the Asian community, but it is also a time in which I feel immense gratitude to be able to do work that I love, in an environment surrounded by diverse thought leaders every day. In a year that has seen a significant uptick in Asian representation in entertainment and media, it may seem like we are everything, and everywhere, all at once. But the reality is, there is still so much work to be done, particularly in seeing representation in the workplace and even more so at the top.

It’s so important to continue to see diverse talent and stories across all professions not only succeed, but be actively celebrated. I’m incredibly proud to be the child of immigrant grandparents, to belong to the Chinese Canadian community, and am beyond grateful to have this space to give light to other incredible leaders who are making an indelible mark in their communities.

With that in mind, here are 8 (yes, eight 😉) Asian Canadian leaders who are leading the way in translating their passion into thriving businesses.

Sophia Hwang-Judeisch, Hudson’s Bay

Reimagining brick-and-mortar retail for a Canadian heritage brand.

Sophia Hwang Judeisch is the newly appointed President of Hudson’s Bay, taking on the position as of September 2022. As the head of one of Canada's largest department store chains, Sophia has played a key role in the company's digital transformation, leading initiatives such as their store optimization strategy and the expansion of The Bay’s digital capabilities. Sophia has been recognized for her leadership and innovation in the retail industry. We love following Sophia’s journey and her passion for bringing innovation, excitement and growth to one of Canada’s most iconic brands.

Unlocking family stories with a platform that uncover the richness of heritage and brings generations together.

Co-Founders Anika Chabra and Jennifer Siripong Mandel launched Root & Seed to inspire others to claim, honour and celebrate their culture. Root & Seed is an online culture and tradition preservation platform (including an app, website, podcast and much more) that is harnessing the age-old power of storytelling with intuitive technology to help individuals claim, honour and document their unique cultural heritage. Born out of a passion to rediscover their cultural roots, Anika and Jenn created Root & Seed to help people celebrate their family traditions, culture and roots, and to end the loss of tradition for once and for all. Along with their app and website, Root & Seed has also released 4 seasons of their podcast totalling over 20 episodes of exploring family traditions, talking about cultural influencers, discovering our own heritage and much more. We love Anika and Jenn’s passion for their work, and their creative ability to turn their real-life experiences into a community of users all reconnecting with their unique culture, heritage, and family stories.

Prasanna Ranganathan, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Advisor & Consultant, Speaker & Correspondent, Writer & Columnist.

Championing inclusion in a multitude of industries and through creative mediums.

Prasanna is a sought-after DEIB leader, lawyer, consultant, social media strategist, and speaker. His illustrious background is marked by working as a human rights lawyer with more than 16 years of experience in diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, the entertainment industry, and in tech. Proudly identifying as an LGBTQ2+ racialized person with a disability, Prasanna previously served as Head of Diversity and Belonging at Shopify, was a Consulting Producer on the 2021 docuseries Born for Business about entrepreneurs with disabilities, is a founding member of the Disability Screen Office, a screen time columnist for CBC Radio, and a published writer with written work appearing in HuffPost and CBC Online. We admire Prasanna’s ability to turn his passions into incredible achievements, and for his leadership in giving voice to inclusion and accessibility in everything that he does.

Turning a family-owned supermarket into Canada’s largest Asian grocer.

Tina Lee is the CEO of T&T Supermarket, a popular grocery chain that specializes in Asian food products. Her mother, Cindy Lee, opened the first two T&T Supermarkets stores in Burnaby and Richmond, BC, to provide Vancouver's immigrant population with a place for all their grocery needs that felt like home. Since taking over from her mother as CEO, the company has expanded rapidly, with over 25 locations now across Canada. Tina is an industry expert in the ethnic grocery space and is a passionate spokesperson on the topics of grocery retail, diversity and inclusion, women in leadership, and family business.

She is a senior advisory board member for NAAAP Toronto, was a co-recipient of the Canadian Grand Prix Trailblazer Lifetime Achievement Award, and was named Executive of the Year at Ascend Canada’s fifth annual Leadership Awards Gala. We love Tina for her entrepreneurial success and leadership, and her dedication to fostering teamwork and engagement among T&T’s employees at all levels.

Empowering a worldwide community of food entrepreneurs.

Peter Hwang is the co-founder and CEO of Tre'dish, a technology platform that empowers local food entrepreneurs to share their authentic dishes and stories with the world. Watching his parents move to Canada in the 70’s and buy a small food franchise that they worked at for over 25 years, Peter and his team recognized the struggles that often came not only with supporting a family as new immigrants, but that those in the food and hospitality industry face on a daily basis, making it harder than ever to thrive as a food entrepreneur. Tre’dish is on a mission to create the infrastructure to support a new generation of culinary innovators, giving them the tools and opportunities to build their dream food business. Having been a C-Level executive within public and private sectors for more than 20 years, Peter is a lifelong entrepreneur with a track record of success building startups in multiple sectors and disciplines. We love Peter’s commitment to making real impact to support small businesses, and can’t wait to see how Tre’dish transforms the food and hospitality industry.

Leading with heart and hustle, one cup of coffee at a time.

Christine Cruz-Clarke is the CEO of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, a vertically integrated Canadian coffee company with a fast-growing retail presence and a chain of cafés throughout Ontario. With a focus on building the Balzac’s Coffee brand, Christine previously held senior roles in marketing, strategy and innovation with Mars Inc., The Hershey Company and Wrigley Canada, and served as the GM for TerraCycle and Loop Canada, a global leader in sustainability that was named as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential Companies. Christine is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada, and on the Board of Advisors for Ascend Canada, an association founded to enhance the presence and influence of Pan-Asian business leaders. We love Christine for her bringing her thought leadership to the consumer goods industry, and even more so for her advocacy of women in leadership and diversity, equity and inclusivity in the workplace.

Planting the seeds for the next generation of youth.

Houseplants don’t just make a space look more put together. They can also teach us something about growth. Founded by Olivia Ho, The Give and Grow is a women-led initiative that combines her love of basketball, plants, and community. Having worked with youth in sport for over half of her life, whether it’s playing on local courts, or coaching youth as a Sport Program Lead at MLSE LaunchPad, Olivia’s passion stems from keeping girls in sports. Creating one-of-a-kind basketball planters, portions of The Give and Grow’s sales are put towards leading workshops for young women in Toronto to inspire conversation, mentorship, and creativity. We love Olivia’s dedication to giving back to the community, and turning her love of basketball into a truly purpose-driven business.

These leaders represent a diverse range of industries and backgrounds, but they share a common drive for innovation and success. Their stories are a testament to the contributions of Asian Canadians to our country's business community, and serve as an inspiration to future generations of entrepreneurs. Personally, I'm inspired by the passion and resilience of these individuals and encouraged to see more leaders who are translating passion into impact.

What other Asian-Canadian entrepreneurs and businesses inspire you?

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