A Talk with Kam Rathee

I recently had the opportunity to have a talk with Mr. Kam Rathee, an inspiring individual.  Mr. Rathee is the former head of the Canadian-Indian Business Council (C-IBC), and currently serves on its board of directors.  His career has been extensive, from working as an investigator in financial fraud in India (he was so successful in this position, that the Toronto Star dubbed him the “Poirot of Punjab), to a special consultancy at the law firm Blake’s where he currently works. He has been tireless in his work furthering Canadian-Indian business relations, something which has been recognized by both the press and the Canadian government.

Born in India, Mr. Rathee completed his education in New Delhi. Living and working there, his residence in Canada came about almost by chance; “I was visiting my brother for a short holiday in Canada, and he made me sign some papers.  Later on, I found out they were immigration papers.”  His sense of humour goes along with an extremely strong work ethic, something he says he gets from his father, someone with who had an extremely close bond with“My father is my God”, says Mr. Rathee.  “He was a politician and a lawyer for the Supreme Court in India. He came from nothing, and worked his way up.” This combination of optimism and hard work has helped bring Mr. Rathee to where he is today.

In 2004, the C-IBC was suffering from a lack of funding due to the withdrawal of its biggest sponsor, the Canadian-International Development Agency.  The situation seemed bleak, as there were no other sponsors willing to step up.   The board of directors turned to Mr. Rathee, and offered him the position of Executive Director, with the option to either find a way to save the Council or shut it down, which was the more likely outcome.  Mr. Rathee was determined to save the council, and “suddenly had a brainwave.”   He came up with the idea of a business-themed Diwali Dinner, in lieu of the Annual General Meeting.  Mr. Rathee strongly defended his decision to place the dinner on a holiday.  “Diwali is a Business holiday for India.  Traditionally, Diwali is the time when Indian businesses start their books over.”  Using his contacts, Mr. Rathee invited Jim Peterson, Head of International Trade in Canada, Gary Cummerbund who was his counterpart in Sun Life Financial, and Hari Panday, head of the ICICI bank to give speeches at the dinner.  The response to this was staggering.  “We had two hundred and eighty-five attendees! Two hundred and eighty-five!”  The C-IBC had no problems drawing funds from the attendees, and with this precedent set, the Diwali Dinner became a tradition, with other prestigious speakers such as John Stackhouse from the Globe and Mail, and Jim Balsillie, former CEO of RIM.  In December 2006, Mr. Rathee was offered the official Presidency of the C-IBC, a position which he gladly accepted.  Mr. Rathee eventually stepped down when he decided the Council was finally secure.

Mr. Rathee was also very forthcoming about his personal life and opinions.  He is critical of Canada’s methods of dealing with other countries, especially a BRIC nation like India. (BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India, China). We need to lose the “snake charmer and land full of fakir’s” stereotype of India in order to successfully conduct business with them.  He cites the case of Royal Bank losing an important contract with India in the past because of a lack of understanding of the Indian bureaucratic method.


Scotiabank has been much more successful there due to greater cultural sensitivity.  According to Mr. Rathee, “Knowing how to deal with other cultures is like learning how to ride a bicycle.” Unfortunately, Canada has been slow in this aspect but is slowly catching up to the rest of the world stage.


The only thing Mr. Rathee was shy about was when asked about patriotism, and whether his interests lay in India or Canada.  “Let me put it this way”, he says. “When I’m in Canada, I miss my family in India and want to go back.  But when I’m in India, it’s the same thing; I miss my family in Canada.”  This is perhaps why he has been so successful; Mr. Rathee realizes that people are always the priority, rather than political boundaries.


Anant Pai is a student at the University of Toronto.  Currently living in Mississauga, he has a passion for creative writing and freelancing and hopes to soon embark on a career based in either journalism or marketing and advertising.