Sukhjeet Singh brings jubilation to Canberra’s business community

By Indira Laisram
Sukhjit Singh

After living in Australia for 14 years now, Sukhjeet Singh draws on his experience as a businessman that also suits the different demographics of Canberra, where he is based. As newly elected President of the Mitchell Trader’s Association in Canberra, he has his finger on the pulse of the business community and plays an important role.

With half of his family settled in Australia, Singh first came on a visit in 2002 and after a few more visits realised he was already seduced by the country. A real estate dealer in India, he came armed with business acumen when he migrated here in 2007.

His ambitions in Australia, were therefore, warranted by his background and career in India. Singh initially got into the taxi business and then forayed into commercial enterprise opening up a night club and a restaurant East Bar and Grill in 2013 in the heart of Canberra.

“Canberra is not that small, it has over 300,000 population. So, when the opportunity came up, I took it,” he says.

But little did Singh realise his best thinking would go berserk. Within three months, he had to shut down the club as fire broke out in the heritage Sydney building where his restaurant was housed. “They closed the building and the whole block for two years,” he laments.

East Bar and Grill

He struggled with paying rent, staff wages and supporting his family as he had no income protection insurance over the business.

“The thing is, as migrants we don’t have much knowledge about insurance and how to cover ourselves. We are familiar with just calling the insurance company and saying there is fire or theft but in insurance policies, there are a lot covers which you can take, one of which is called business disruption policy. That means if something happens to the third party and the business suffers, the insurance pays all the damages. I didn’t have that cover, it was too late and so insurance didn’t pay anything. That was a lesson learnt that time,” Singh rues.

So he ended up paying rent for two years even though the business was closed. While indulging anger at his own ignorance then, Singh uses the opportunity to warn others—telling them to be aware and go through business insurance through an agent.

Sukhjit Singh

“If an agent does not tell you anything, that liability goes to him as to why nothing was mentioned or why you were not guided about your rights. Companies do not have the obligation, they will only give you what you need, they don’t generally advice whereas an agent has an obligation to give each and every advice. This was an expensive mistake for me not going to an agent, I lost around 400,000 dollars,” says Singh.

However, like any clairvoyant entrepreneur, Singh knew that if one door closes another opens up. With the restaurant and night club closed, he decided to open an Italian pizza kitchen in the CBD in front of other night clubs. “I spoke with the club owners and told them about my rather unfortunate circumstance and they were happy to support me.”

The next thing, Singh set up his pizza trolley cart working three nights from 6 pm to 6 am. He didn’t run out of pocket and he was able to pay his rents and look after his staff of 13, some of whom were students. After that, once the two-year lease was over, he handed over the keys and found his breakthrough — solar business in 2017.

“I was always fond of renewables,” says Singh, adding, “When I bought my house there was a solar system and I was keen on how it worked.”

East Bar and Grill

Fortunately, it was the right time and boom time as everyone was looking at renewable energy as being the key feature for the next generation, says Singh. Even looking ahead, the tragic bushfires and the hottest and driest year on record in 2019, underline the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Singh founded Solar4Life, dedicated to providing quality solar installations for the local community. He started the company with two staff and gradually expanded that to more than 30 people (in-house and contractors). He admits he owes the success to his sales background based on the principle of scale by taking technology and working faster, cheaper, and making them readily available.

Being a businessman also means being committed to social issues. When it came to his notice that Mitchell area, which is one of the largest industrial hubs, had only one bus shelter, Singh spoke with the government transport department and they came to a consensus to instal brighter lights as the area has a lot of dance, yoga studios and other businesses.

“Transport Canberra gave us the opportunity to work on five bus shelters and we successfully installed solar lights,” says Singh.

Sukhjit Singh

Last December, Singh got elected as President of the Mitchell Traders Association, a role he is taking up with all earnestness. “We help our traders, listen to their concerns, issues and daily challenges and represent their concerns to the government. We work very closely with the Canberra Business Chamber which is a government supported body.”

Singh’s mission during his tenure is to see the membership grow. “There are 450 businesses in Mitchell and we only have 45 members so my target is to see that membership number grow substantially so we can support other businesses in the area.” He also is advocating for the ACT government to roll out e-scooters in Mitchell.

Asked if this is a pathway for a bigger social role, Singh says he has always been keen on social services in any capacity. “This is my passion, and I am still trying to help as much as I can. I have done work for many community places such as Hindu Temple & Cultural Centre, Sikh temple, C3 Church, Buddhist temple—giving them reasonable price solutions and helping them get money from the government for these projects.”

Singh’s positivity is abiding. Since taking over as trade president, life has certainly become more busier, but he believes it is a question of managing time and “keeping yourself free for other social cause”.

Singh walks the walk as he sheds light on his work!

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