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Building Real Business Connections: A Focus on Michael Keoshkerian

Recently awarded as one of The Peak‘s 2024 Emerging Leaders, we sat down with our 2023 Employee Recognition Award winner, Michael Keoshkerian, to learn more about his role and business practices.

Michael, tell us about yourself and your role at Toronto Global.

My role at Toronto Global is Senior Advisor on the investment attraction team. I work primarily with U.S. companies to help them learn more about Canada and Toronto and ultimately help them expand here.

I have been in this role for over six years and have helped over 30 companies expand their operations in Toronto including Recursion, Cerebras, Ripple and Roku. It’s extremely rewarding to work with a company from the beginning of its incorporation to the point where they are flourishing here.

What do you love most about your job? 

I like to say that this is the most challenging job I’ve ever had, and it’s certainly the most rewarding. I have the opportunity to learn more about so many different companies and industries. I get to meet people with so many different backgrounds and experiences and see the business world through their eyes.

By working with so many different companies, the challenging aspect is trying to understand what their needs are and how to best help them succeed.

I’d say my favourite part is the relationship building. Because we are not-for-profit, the nature of what we do doesn’t rely on selling, but instead on building trust and maintaining a connection with the person, company, or team.

I enjoy the process of getting to know someone on a personal and professional level. It depends on the company, but a lot of the time I think of it as more of a friendship than a transactional relationship.

Maybe it’s idealistic, but a friend is someone who is there for you when you need them, and we try to maintain that level of individualized connection with each client. I always say that we never close a door, even if a company isn’t ready for expansion or they have already expanded and no longer require advisory services, I make it clear to the people that I work with that I am still available in the quiet periods.

Can you walk us through your process of helping a business expand?

It all starts with outreach, most of our successes come from us proactively reaching out to companies.

Take Recursion for example. I set up a meeting with Recursion during my first ever trip to Salt Lake City – and last trip before Covid. Recursion was my last meeting of that trip before I turned back, and I’m not sure it can even be considered a meeting.

I met with the Chief People Officer at the time at a conference, but the conference was ending so I walked back with her to her office, I had my backpack with my passport in it and everything. Our meeting ended up consisting of us just walking and talking about nothing in particular, which led to a massive deal down the line when Recursion opened its 28,000-square-foot R&D centre in Toronto last June.

Recursion wasn’t ready to expand at the time, and of course, Covid added some hurdles as well. But ultimately, it’s a great example of how a friendly conversation and staying in touch can snowball.

Every company has different needs and plans for how they want to expand to the Toronto Region, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. My number one rule for building and maintaining professional relationships with companies is to remain authentic. That’s something I learned from my director, Liana Hovakimyan.

Ultimately, I do everything I do because of Liana, I am so lucky to have one of the best leaders to learn from and model myself after. At the same time, she gives me so much latitude to do my work individually. I feel that it’s because of her humble leadership that I have been able to grow in this role.

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Michael Keoshkerian and Liana Hovakimyan at the Snowflake office expansion event in 2024.

What is your approach to bridging cultural differences with international companies?

There aren’t many cultural differences because I work with US companies. The similarities between the U.S. and Canada are often a major reason why they want to do business here.

Still, as we have conversations about working and living in Toronto, diversity is a standout factor. The cultural and ethnic diversity in the Toronto Region is unlike anywhere else, so it’s visible to people who have spent most of their lives in less diverse regions. It’s such a norm for people who have spent a lot of time here, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is used to it like we are.

In the end, companies are excited about the opportunity to work with a diverse workforce and access Canadian talent.

Where/what is your favourite place/memory in the Toronto Region, and why?

On weekends, my family enjoys driving to different neighbourhoods in Toronto and walking around. When the weather is nice, it’s a great way to get outside and experience different communities within Toronto.

My daughter is five years old and she loves window shopping, so my most recent favourite area is probably Roncesvalles because there are so many small shops and cafes for her to look at.

Even in the winter, where I live around Yonge and Sheppard, there are cool winter festivals and stuff to check out along Yonge Street. There’s always something happening in Toronto.

Appreciating the city and region plays into my job as well. When companies expand to our region, they often move their executive employees here permanently, so part of my job is helping them move their lives and families here.

In the case of one company I am working with, an executive is moving here and her husband is a math teacher while her young daughter is in school. So, it is up to me to make sure that her husband can work here and help find areas with the best schools. That’s why there is no one-size-fits-all all approach, every company has different priorities because its people have different lives.

What’s your personal mantra or favourite quote? 

It may sound cheesy, but I think “be yourself” is a pretty good philosophy. Being real with the people you work with is so important – and I want that back as well. I want people to be themselves when working with me because the process of expanding can be pretty involved. Maintaining that level of authenticity adds to the trust aspect, which ultimately results in a better and more fun process for everyone.

Contact us to gain expert insights and leadership in your business expansion in the Toronto Region.

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