Kuldeep Sharma, CEO and president of the Crown Group of Hotels, owns and operates top global brands such as Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn and Choice in Canada
BY GURMUKH SINGH :The writer is a senior Canada-based journalist
Having made their mark in many areas such as politics, farming and transport, Indians in Canada are also carving out a name for themselves in niche businesses such as hotels and hospitality. There are quite a few Indians who already run chains of hotels across Canada. Kuldeep Sharma, CEO and president of the Crown Group of Hotels, is one of the prominent players in this sector.
His group owns and operates top global brands such as Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn and Choice across Ontario — Canada’s largest province. Holiday Inn Ottawa East in the Canadian capital is his latest acquisition. Sharma’s group is also in the process of building 2,000 apartment units
in Ottawa as part of its $800-million project. Praised for his quick rise in a new business, Sharma is equally respected in local communities for his generosity and patronage of local artists.
When the pandemic struck in March 2020 and many people visiting Canada from India got stuck, he came to their rescue. In fact, one visiting family from Puducherry, who had no relatives and friends in Canada to fall back upon, enjoyed his free five-star hospitality for five months.
“I cannot even imagine what would have happened to us if Kuldeep Sharma hadn’t opened his doors to us. Not only were we given five-star accommodation, we also got free food and all the facilities for five months for my whole family — my wife, two teenage daughters and me,” Natarajan Murugesan said before the family flew back to India in August 2020.
A Faridabad resident, Sharma was running his huge India-wide Sentinel Security Services — which he set up in 1978 just after he had finished college — when he decided to leave for Canada in 2002. “I founded and ran this hugely successful countrywide security agency in India. Then, one day, I decided to move to Canada with my wife and two kids. Since I knew how to set up and run a business, I thought I would also be successful in running a business in Canada,” says Sharma, sitting in his office at his Courtyard Marriott hotel in Brampton on the outskirts of
Toronto. He says his security company had over 10,000 employees across India when he made the decision to leave it all and move to Canada.
What made him leave India?
“Actually, I had travelled through Canada in 2000 with a friend. I liked its weather and cleanliness. I decided that I must move here with my family just for the sake of the weather, water, and the environment. I had no dearth of money and comfort in India,’’ says Sharma.
It is another story that in the process of enjoying the clean weather in Canada, Sharma ended up replicating his Indian success story here by creating the Crown Group of Hotels. The son of an Indian Army officer who instilled in him the value of hard work, Sharma attributes his rapid success in the hotel and hospitality business in Canada to the business lessons he learnt in India. “If you can succeed in business in India, you can succeed anywhere. Moreover, I love challenges,” he says.
“In the 1970s, in India every educated youth looked for a job. I decided to become an entrepreneur straight out of college. I set up Sentinel Security Services and made it one of India’s premier security providers. When I started, I had no money and I was a complete greenhorn. All I had was a Yezdi motorcycle and a fierce desire to succeed and I started my business on that motorcycle,” he smiles.
After a pause, he adds, “My wife, Poonam, is my pillar. She became my business partner the day we married. With her by my side, it was easy to replicate our Indian success story in Canada.”
Did he bring his business earnings with him to Canada? “No, I left my business to my two brothers and landed in Toronto in May 2002 with money that was sufficient to last some months. We landed at Toronto airport and went to a home in Brampton that I had booked for one month online. We threw a party on the second day of our arrival. Within a week, we left that home and moved to Brampton Towers.”
From 2002 to 2012, Sharma ran his Indian business from Brampton on the outskirts of Toronto. “From 2002 to 2012, all my energy and time were devoted to our business in India and I didn’t have the time to do anything in Canada. It was then that I decided to end my association with my business in India and start something here. By then, my daughter, Shivani, had also graduated,” he says.
In May 2012, he entered the hotel business by purchasing Quality Hotel in Brampton. “After acquiring the first hotel, I handed it over to Shivani one month later.
She had just finished her degree in HR. Though she had no experience, she turned out to be an extremely good administrator. This — Courtyard Marriott — is the second hotel that I bought in July 2014,” he explains.
“Then my son, Sameer, also graduated from the University of Toronto. He trained under his sister at Quality Hotel and then took charge of this hotel — Courtyard by Marriott.”
With his two grown-up children now by his side, Sharma went on a quick acquisition spree. “In March 2016, we bought Quality Inn in Sarnia — about 280 km south-west of Toronto. Three months later, we bought Best Western Hotel and Conference Centre in Brantford — about 100 km southwest of Toronto. Three months after that, we bought Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton in Barrie — over 110 km north of Toronto.”
In 2019, he added Holiday Inn Ottawa East in the Canadian capital to his business empire. “I have delegated the responsibilities of running this business to my children. I just sit back, enjoy myself and plan future acquisitions. This hotel — Courtyard by Marriott — is now my visiting
card,” he says.
As an Indian, he says, he is proud that our people can point out that here is someone who created new businesses and jobs in Canada. “I am proud of what I have done.” Associated with various community organisations, Sharma has been a sponsor of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. He has also been president of the Haryana Association of North America and currently sits on the board of governors of the
Canada India Foundation.
“I believe in destiny. Nothing was planned. It just happened. I want to share my success with my community and give back as much as possible,” he says.