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Management Sushee Perumal: ‘Risk needs to be carefully evaluated’

Sushee Perumal, CEO of MaxSold Inc.

Johnny C.Y. Lam/The Globe and Mail

Sushee Perumal, 41, is the chief executive officer of MaxSold Inc., a Kingston, Ont.-based company that’s become North America’s largest online auction and estate-downsizing service, operating in more than 35 metropolitan areas in Canada and the United States.

I grew up in the Nilgiri mountain range in southern India. It’s like Banff. I always saw beautiful vistas, thinking it’d be faster and way more scenic if I could fly instead of going up and down winding roads, so I wanted to be a pilot. In 1994, I moved with my family to Scarborough, Ont. Wanting to be a pilot faded because I didn’t want to be like a bus driver, on [an airline’s] schedule.

I had a job fixing computers in high school, teachers coming to my home with them – a huge, no, no. I’m educated beyond my level of intelligence, my undergrad in computer engineering at McMaster [University] and management. … I was the student union’s webmaster and a residence don; incredible leadership training in dealing with conflicts at that age was a massive blessing in disguise.

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After 200 rejections for a summer job, a company Bell hired called. I needed to impress the heck out of this HR person. I put myself in her shoes [and] sent over a one-page brief. She was blown away. I got the job, ending up working for Bell Systems & Technology with good mentors, climbing the ladder to associate director. I learned attention to detail; every business of technology aspect, how it’d be used and how it could go wrong. While there, I got my private pilot’s licence.

If I wanted to be, like, president of Bell Canada – not ambitious at all, right? – I needed an MBA. People said, “Do it; there’s not going to be a perfect time.” I went to Queen’s [University]. For my project, [with] Brad Ross [as] a mentor, I wanted to start an airline, short-haul, New York to Kingston 40 minutes, while getting out of Toronto traffic took two-plus hours. But in that recession, who’d fund an airline? I used my money getting my commercial pilot’s licence. Oh, man, studying kept me out of trouble. I wasn’t into drinking or clubbing, didn’t have a TV, still don’t. When we go to friends, my kids go, “Oh wow! What’s that?”

I was at American Express, living out of a suitcase in Scottsdale, Ariz. In consulting, you’re parachuting in and out. I read a ton of books and listened to podcasts, itchy to execute; I’m an implementer, [I] want to get things done. Brad said to talk to this Kingston auctioneer, Barry Gordon, a visionary. He’d go into a home – colleagues in coins or art taking one or two things – thinking how to say yes to every single client; “There’s gotta be a way with the internet.”

We focused on the problem; it’s not how much you get for your table, it’s “Can it be gone?” If you’ve got six months and don’t have anything else to do, put it on eBay. We have 525 team members, casual, part-timers, some retired, many in Toronto work 40, 50 hours a week. They photograph and put the catalog online. The internet never sleeps so it’s marketed around the globe, a link sent to clients. MaxSold supports buyer inquiries, then our team goes back for the items. The whole process is done in 11 days.

It’s a bit of a myth that entrepreneurs are risk-takers; risk needs to be carefully evaluated. I worked without a salary for six months to ensure the concept was interesting to me and the market. I wanted to be sure I was a good fit with Barry and [wife] Alicia, who are a riot to work with. If it didn’t work, I’d go back to consulting, they’re back to live auctions. I fell in love with the downsizing problem we solve. We take a huge burden away, with a 98-per-cent sell rate. Cleaning supplies, dentures? We’ve sold them. I guarantee no other company puts this much care and effort selling grandma’s things.

The board said it’s not enough to be a great Ontario company, the market is the U.S., so we took that risk before the rest of Canada. We couldn’t have without access to a plane as flying with Barry to meetings created shortcuts. Now that we’ve grown all over, I need access to a plane with a longer range; a jet!

Just do it. A leader sets the pace. I’m a very quick thinker and move to the next thing; that’s my greatest weakness as the team says, “What just happened?” Show up energized and passionate about what you do like I learned from my mentors, pay attention to detail and have an incredible work ethic.

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