Meet Fatima Dhanani, president & CEO of Bri-Mor Developments and native of Tanzania
An Albertan immigration success story
by Alix Kemp
Profession: President & CEO of Bri-Mor Developments
Living in: Calgary
Arrived in: 1976
Photograph Phillip Cen
In 1972, Fatima Dhanani, her husband Haider and two-year-old daughter Saifa moved from Tanzania to Vancouver when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau opened Canada’s borders to Ismaili immigrants who were being persecuted in East Africa. “It was a big move for us, coming to a foreign country, not knowing what we are going to be faced with, with a small child, uprooting ourselves,” she says. “And really, we came with very little, very little.” The family of three had no more than $2,000 when they arrived. Four years later, in 1976, the promise of business opportunity lured the couple to Calgary, where Haider worked as an accountant while Fatima worked as a secretary.
In 1989, Haider Dhanani founded a property management company, Bri-Mor Developments, but tragedy would intervene before he could grow the business: Haider had a massive heart attack in 1990. Fatima was a secretary at the Alberta College of Art and Design at the time, but she decided to step in and take over the day-to-day operations at Bri-Mor after her husband passed away. “It was a big step for me because I was entering a male-dominated business, and I had no experience in real estate,” she says. “Having worked as a secretary, obviously I was entering a very foreign kind of business.” But the company expanded, first into acquisitions of residential properties and eventually into land development.
Stephen Bugbee, a partner and architect with BKDI Architects met Fatima and her son, Aleem, the managing director of Bri-Mor, at an aldermanic function in Calgary. Part of what sets Bri-Mor apart is its active involvement with the community, and Bugbee says the company often consults with residents even before proposing developments to the city. “The first thing that I noticed about Fatima is that she was a very intense listener. She really had the ability to hear what you said and engage you in the conversation you were having,” Bugbee says. “It’s a part of what I would say is her cultural background as an immigrant.”
Despite some of the hardships Fatima Dhanani has faced since she arrived in Canada 40 years ago, she says she’s never regretted her decision to move to Alberta. “There was never ever a doubt in our minds that this was the right place for us,” she says. “We always felt that we made the right decision.”