Growing up in Guyana, Colin Campbell always knew he wanted to live in Canada. He doesn’t remember how that dream began.
After all, in Guyana he had a bright future ahead of him working in the ministry of culture, youth and sports where he quickly became the youth ambassador for his country and the Caribbean. He enjoyed his ministerial role that saw him travel to Europe, Egypt and Australia. From counselling HIV patients to developing youth employment and health initiatives in different regions of Guyana, his job was one that many would aspire for and call soul-rewarding.
But Campbell was destined for Canada. On March 23, 2003, Campbell immigrated to Canada with $300 in his pocket to be with his Canadian wife Allyson. As is the reality for most immigrants, to say that hard work and grit would define the next two decades of his life would be an understatement.
In May 2021, Campbell became the new owner of Keller Williams Realty Centres Newmarket – a brokerage that’s been in operation since 2009 and represents over 200 Realtors spanning Markham to Tobermory, Ont.
On his journey to success as a real estate broker in one of the most competitive markets in Canada, there were many times when Campbell punishingly asked himself, “Why did I leave my life in Guyana for this?” But every time that question propelled him up a few rungs in his career.
There was that time when he spent weeks standing outside a Toronto subway selling Toronto Star subscriptions. “I remember every day coming home and showering and just (seeing) the blackness from the sun and the smoke coming off in the shower. I asked myself, “Oh my goodness. Is this what life is going to be like here?” says Campbell.
Taking “no” for an answer, he quit that job after four weeks, even though the paper promised him a potential rise as a supervisor in newspaper sales.
Then there was that time, three months into his Canadian life, when he worked at an Oakville RadioShack as assistant manager. At the time he was living with his family in Etobicoke and a daily commute to work meant changing two buses and a train over an hour and half each way. “I remember one day traveling to Oakville. There was this massive snowstorm and the buses weren’t working. I had to walk 30 minutes from the bus stop to work. I’m walking in almost knee-high snow and thinking, ‘This is what I left Guyana for?”
After shaking off the negativity, Campbell’s grit saw him convert a RadioShack express store from a veritable hole in the wall outfit into one of the biggest stores, square-footage-wise, within a year and half. Soon he was promoted to district manager, overseeing 25 stores and receiving company awards.
“Here I was, a 23-year-old buck leading people who’ve been in the business for 30 years,” Campbell says. However, he quickly earned their trust and support, resulting in one of the highest achievements where all the stores under Campbell’s management saw not just a sales gain, but a profit gain. “This is extremely difficult to do,” he says.
Five years in, another crushing blow came Campbell’s way when RadioShack laid him off one day, citing “corporate restructuring” as a reason for mass layoffs. Tears rolled out as he drove home to Allyson and young kids, thinking yet again, “Oh my gosh, what did we do?”
The next year Campbell played stay-at-home dad, while Allyson worked as a teacher. “I was taking them (kids) to the park, all the play dates, bundling them up when they needed to use the washroom. But I loved it. I just needed that time for myself,” he says. But it was also a year of extreme lows. “Sometimes when my wife would go to work, I would put the kids to sleep, and I would just cry in the basement,” he says.
During his first year in Canada, Campbell remembers thinking he’d do well as a Realtor. However, with a big family back in a Guyana and growing one in Canada, he didn’t have the gall to take the leap into real estate where “I have to go out and write my own paycheque and go unemployed every day,” he says.
Gradually Campbell went back to what he knew best, retail. He spent the next decade moving from Best Buy to Ikea to Winners, trying to replicate the success he created at RadioShack. He switched jobs every year or two. The Canadian dream was still illusive.
“I hated going to work. The joy wasn’t there. I told my wife, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not happy’,” he says. He drove around with his resignation letter for nine months but feared handing it in because by then Campbell had sponsored his entire family’s move from Guyana to Canada. During that time, he also started attending seminars on how to invest in real estate. In September 2013, Campbell got his real estate license and soon thereafter, he and his wife bought a rental property to provide a home for his mother, stepfather and siblings with the promise that they’d pay him rent.
But the lowest low was yet to come.
“You finish real estate school. You’re all excited. You’re like, okay, now I’m going to go make money. And then you quickly realize that this business requires work,” he quips. Campbell started his real estate career with Keller Williams, where he was given the age-old advice: start with door-to-door sales.
“I would just go and knock on doors every single day for one year except for Sundays and holidays. I put money aside and you’re thinking that this money will be able to last me for a bit, but then there’s a lot of expenses and then your money’s quickly running out,” Campbell says.
Six to eight months in, Campbell and Allyson found themselves knocking on the doors of a food bank in Aurora, waiting in line with food stamps in hand.
“I remember a Saturday morning so distinctly. My wife’s in the garage. She’s putting bags together because she’s going to the food bank. I saw this look in her eyes. And it’s a look of, I’m doing this for our family. However, it is a look of disappointment. And that hurt me more than anything,” says Campbell after a pause, as if reliving every minute of that day.
That was the last time Campbell questioned the sanity of his decision to leave Guyana for a life in Canada. He was determined to make his Canadian life successful.
Next day, he doubled the number of doors he knocked on. His target was to speak to 100 people per day, and just door knocking wasn’t going to achieve that. So he started cold calling. Relentlessly hustling for the next few months saw small gains trickling in.
A few months later, Campbell accepted an offer from a broker of record in his office to co-own a small subdivision. Just as his career seemed to have some semblance of stability, his partner passed away of a terminal disease. This is when Campbell learned the biggest lesson in real estate.
“I realized our mortality in the industry. As real estate agents, all we do is buy homes, sell homes, buy homes, sell homes. At the end of it, do we really have much to show? There’s no legacy, there’s no building of wealth. Someone can make a $1 million, but then their expenses can be $1.1million. On the outside it can be very flashy. But there isn’t much remaining,” Campbell says.
Vowing to never subject his family to hardships again, and under the tutelage of Marvin Alexander, founder of Keller Williams Realty Centres Newmarket, Campbell’s raison d’être is to not just build generational wealth for his family, but to help agents understand how they can build a legacy for their families through their real estate business.
“What Realtors get caught in is just this constant queue of deals. They’re constantly wondering about when’s the next deal. They forget about their business, internally, like P&Ls,” he says.
Campbell believes that agents need to internalize that there’s more to a real estate business than just buying and selling homes. He says agents at his brokerage are trained not just to generate leads and listings, but their monthly wealth building seminars also educate on how to generate added streams of income, whether that be through the stock market or other investment portfolios.
This mindset has seen Campbell receive award after award since he began his real estate career in 2013, for sales, community involvement and community service. He is also active in several philanthropic pursuits. Campbell and his team have partnered with the Real Canadian Superstore to donate over 300 turkeys with “all the fixings” to families in need through the Aurora Food Bank. This year they were on track to feed 500 families in York Region. This partnership has also donated over 230 back-to-school bags filled with supplies for children.
His brokerage ended 2021 with 230 agents. The goal is to add another 120 by the end of 2022.
“But most importantly,” Campbell says, “it’s not just increasing it by agents. It’s growing with the right people. Partnering with the right people who see the vision, because the truth is any agent can buy and sell real estate at any brokerage, or they can open their own brokerage. But what I want us to be known for at Keller Williams Realty Centres is that we are going help our agent partners build and create wealth for themselves and their family so that they can leave a legacy behind.”