To get 2018 off on the right foot I’m excited to be launching my interview series which will feature young entrepreneurs, marketers and salesman. My goal with this is to dig deep, providing you with the valuable insights that they’ve picked up throughout their careers. My first interview is with George Khalife, a Sales Associate in the US Equity Capital Markets division of the TMX Group.
In his role at the exchange, he helps entrepreneurs raise money, go to the capital markets, and connects them to investors. Throughout the interview, we dive into his own entrepreneurial journey, sales experience and how he got involved with TMX.
Stefan Kollenberg: Can you give me some more insight into your background and your story?
George Khalife: I was born in Lebanon and grew up there, but partway through my childhood, my parents took me to Saudi Arabia. My dad had found a good job there was a lot of war and instability in Lebanon so it made sense to move our family.
We had a good life in Saudi, but then 9/11 happened and everything changed. Nobody knew it was going to happen and all of a sudden there was a huge amount of stress on the Middle East. With all this instability, my dad said “Okay guys, pack your bags we’re going to Canada.”
My parents are the best entrepreneurs and role models I have. They had to leave everything behind to come to Canada so we went from a pretty comfortable life to coming here and struggling a bit. It taught me a lot of lessons about gratitude.
Stefan Kollenberg: What did you pursue in Canada? Where did that next few years take you?
George Khalife: When I got here I started in international management at Ottawa U, then in second year I decided that I was going to pursue finance. I had the fortune of meeting three good friends as they were starting a student-run fund that was actually investing real capital on the markets.
Every Sunday morning I would get up and head to the lab with my suit on and my dad would say “Stop wasting your time, you should be focused on the books.” For him, it had always been about studying and getting the best grades, so what I was doing was completely foreign to him. This didn’t slow me down though, I continued to excel in class while doing all of this on the side.
At first, we didn’t really know what we were doing with the fund, but we hustled and ended up coming to Toronto to pitch for sponsorship. Eventually, we spoke to an alumnus from our school, Jean Desgagne, who is an executive at the TMX Group and he sponsored the fund, bringing it from $4,000 to over $25,000 in our second year.
For the first time, going to school had more meaning to it and I was actually making an impact on something real. Eventually, the fund grew into a university-wide fund – growing to $300,000 and is now called the Telfer Capital Fund. It’s giving students a real chance at experiencing the market and invest capital.
Stefan Kollenberg: How did you get involved with TMX?
George Khalife: I’m sitting in the financial lab scrolling through TMX and I see the associate program. It’s a 2-year program and every 6 months you rotate. I’d gotten to know Jean, the Telfer Alumni, and I knew I wanted to work with him so I applied.
If you want to work for a company, don’t just do it because it’s a great brand, do it because you love the leadership.
In the final round of interviews, there were 20 students, the other 19 were all from Western, Ivy, McGill, etc… When they heard me say Ottawa U, they smirked a bit, but this fueled me.
After the interview, we were driving back home and 20 minutes in I get a call from Jean “Congratulations, welcome to TMX.” I had it on speaker and my dad was sitting next to me. I knew at that time, I could now say to my dad that those Sunday mornings weren’t a waste of time.
That was a really proud moment for me.
Stefan Kollenberg: Why specifically TMX?
George Khalife: First of all, being able to say you work for TMX is a huge plus because it’s a great brand to begin my career with. Additionally, a challenge in finance is that there are so many verticals you can get into that it’s hard to choose. This position allowed me to get my feet wet with a variety of roles, making it easier to figure out what I wanted to do.
I also knew that I loved people, communication, and impact, I want those things to define me. This role with TMX would allow me to interact with people all the time and was small enough of a company where I could really make an impact.
Stefan Kollenberg: So you say “I help entrepreneurs by day and become one by night” Tell me more about your entrepreneurial journey so far.
George Khalife: I always had these personal initiatives on the side but a lot of it is for the purpose of self-discovery. My motto throughout life has been “If I don’t understand it, try it and figure it out along the way.” So over the past few years, I’ve worked on a blog, podcast, public speaking, and a business.
I originally created the blog so I could develop my own platform to share my message from. As I started growing this I came across a lot of motivational speakers that really pumped me up and thought, why not take this to the next level and start speaking as well?
So at this point, I started creating motivational videos on Youtube. I didn’t have a huge reach or anything, but through that channel, people would reach out and tell me “You just connect well with people, you’re a natural networker.” Taking that feedback I shifted gears and started my podcast “Let’s Grab Coffee”.
After the rotational program with TMX I moved into a sales role in the capital venture department and a lot of my job is working with entrepreneurs. I needed to understand the struggle that entrepreneurs go through in order to help them, so I started BookBack alongside two of my co-founders. It’s an app for university students to sell, buy and trade books and actually just got the first Beta version today.
It came about because when I was in university buying textbooks was a painful process, I was using Facebook groups or Kijiji and it never went well. When I asked some friends two years later if it had changed at all they said no, so we felt this was a good problem to tackle. For now, we’re continuing to test it out and experiment and we’ll see where it goes – my biggest priority is learning from the experience.
Stefan Kollenberg: Let’s jump more into your current experience in sales. How do you sell?
George Khalife: You’d be surprised how many people ask me that. I can be generic in my response, but as it relates to TMX – we’re not selling donuts here. I can’t just cold call you and ask “Hey, do you want to go public?” You’d get all flustered and hang up.
So you know, before going for deep dives you need to learn how to swim first. What that really means is that when I’m working with private companies it’s all about the long game. I have to:
This initial education process and pipeline building are what I do, I’m building the next generation of companies that could go public in the next 1-3 years.
In more general terms, if you’re selling anything you should never product push, always tell stories and provide as much value as you can upfront before asking for anything in return. You know the saying cash is king? Well in sales, the customer is king, you’re always at the mercy of the customer. You have to pivot and move and adapt to what they want.
Stefan Kollenberg: Love it! So with all this – what are some final recommendations that you have for folks?
George Khalife: One big thing for whatever you do in life is to always value someone’s time.
For example, right now I’m here and want to give you 120% of my attention. I’m tired, but I need to act like I just woke up and I’m ready to go. You’re taking an hour out of your day to interview me and it means a lot. The point is it doesn’t matter whether it’s a coffee with the janitor or a CEO, time is the only thing we have. Strip away the title and we’re both just human.
In sales you can’t be a lazy person, you always have to be organized. There’s a quote I like, “10% is selling, 90% is admin.” For example, if you go to a 500 person conference and get 50 business cards, it’s all about the follow-up. All about reconnecting with them after to set up calls and coffees, otherwise all you’ve done is smile and shake hands, it’s fluff.
Stefan Kollenberg: Thanks George.