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Chance meetings

Sixty years of service in the financial industry prompts a letter of congratulations to Envision Financial’s Tochi Sandu from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn’t exaggerating when he wrote a letter to Tarlochan (Tochi) Sandhu on July 27, congratulating the director of Commercial Business Development at Envision Financial, a division of First West Credit Union (250,000 members, $11 billion in assets) on his “spectacular” commitment to the financial industry.

During Sandhu’s 60 years of service — the last 28 years with Canadian credit unions — the highly personable 77-year-old banking legend and former international field hockey star has maintained a spotless lending record without any write-offs or bad debts. Just as impressive, he has never taken a single sick day in his life. Not one.

What can possibly account for such enthusiastic workplace acumen and longevity, as well as such stalwart good health? And why isn’t retirement in the cards?

When it comes to his lending record, Sandhu says he was taught as a young banker while working with the National Bank of Commerce and Barclays Bank in his home country of Tanzania to loan money as if it were coming from his own pocket. “After assessing the market risk and ensuring that the proper guidelines are followed, if you think the loan will be repaid, then go ahead and proceed,” Sandhu says.

As for health, Sandhu attributes his robust longevity to abstaining from alcohol, adhering to a vegetarian diet and not eating lunch. “I stopped eating lunch in 1990, although sometimes I do take lunch if it’s a client meeting.”

It was at one of those business luncheons in May of last year that Sandhu first met Justin Trudeau. The prime minister had just finished eating at Tasty Indian Bistro in Delta, BC when he unexpectedly walked up to Sandhu to say “hello.” Recalls Sandhu: “It was just like the way I met his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 1978. Trudeau saw our Tanzanian tracksuits and came over. ‘Your president, Julius Nyerere, is my good friend,’ he said, and then some photographs were taken. I’d really like to find those photographs. My beard was black in those days,” Sandhu says with a laugh.

Sandhu attended the Commonwealth Games and three Summer Olympics either as a captain of the Tanzanian national field hockey team or as a team official. It was a fateful field hockey match, and the hat trick he netted against a team from Barclays Bank, which led to his first job in the financial industry. Barclays’ recruitment manager offered Sandhu a job the day after the game. “Barclays supported sports because they knew that sports teaches discipline and how to build relationships. If I am where I am today, it’s because of sports.”

Although he lived an enviable life in Tanzania as a sports hero and top commercial banker, Sandhu’s wife wanted to join her family in British Columbia. The couple arrived in Canada in 1988. Sandhu adjusted quickly to life here, joining BC’s Khalsa Credit Union (15,000 members, $433 million in assets) in 1989 and serving as its CEO from 1991 to 2000. The small consumer and residential mortgages he oversaw for the faith-based credit union were easy compared to the complex government contracts he had negotiated for Barclays. Still, he enjoyed helping members and upholding cooperative principles. “Credit unions take a more caring, sharing approach.”

“If I am where I am today, it’s because of sports.” – Tochi Sandhu

In 2001, one year after retiring, Envision Financial lured him back to work as a commercial account manager. He has stayed ever since. “I never thought I would still be working at nearly 80 years old but then the BC construction boom came. From 2001 to 2006 — my God, how many loans I did. Unbelievable.”

Over the years, Sandhu has seen many changes, especially in the way business transactions have sped up. He insists, however, that the banking basics and the needs of consumers remain unchanged, no matter the country. He recounts an example from a few years ago, when he received a despondent, late-night phone call from a friend, Purdeep, who had moved here from Kenya. A former general manager for a trust company in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, Purdeep confessed that he was returning to Africa because he couldn’t find a job in Canada. “What’s wrong with you?” Sandu chided his friend.

“The next time you are interviewed and they say you don’t have Canadian experience, you say, ‘Sir, please tell me what is the difference in the principles of banking and lending from one continent to another?’ ” (Purdeep was employed within a month.)

Purdeep’s success, Sandhu says, is an example of Canadian multiculturalism in action.

“Whether you are black, brown or white, everybody loves everybody,” says Sandhu. It is this openness and tolerance that prompted Prime Minister Trudeau to walk up to a stranger — Sandhu — at a Delta bistro simply to say “hello,” unknowingly following in the footsteps of his own father, who happened to greet the very same man much the same way, 39 years ago. ◊