Interview with Zahakos Peter

MBBP: Hello Peter can you start of by telling how your journey Canada begun?

Peter: My parents moved to Canada right before World War 1 and were part of a large immigration of people from Europe at the time. I was born in Canada and that’s where my journey began. I lived with my brother in Toronto during my high school years and then went to University. I attended University of Waterloo for one year and decided to work instead. Upon the advice of my brother I decided to move to Greece since I had never been before. I moved to Greece and lived with my sister and really liked it there. I spent a couple of years there working and eventually went to the American University and got my degree.

MBBP: What are you earliest working memories?

Peter: One of my earliest working memories was when I worked a labor job where the other workers around me did not have any place to buy drinks during their breaks. I quit the job after four weeks and decided to sell drinks to the same laborers during their break and actually did well doing this. It was the entrepreneurial spirit that helped me during my younger years which helped me get where I am today. One of the reason I like dealing with you guys at MBE is that I seem that same kind of entrepreneurial spirit in you guys.

MBBP: You are one of the most successful people in the Taxi Industry Peter, how did you make your way into this industry?

Peter:During my years in university I also met my future wife and eventually moved back to Toronto. While I moved back to Toronto my future wife moved back to her hometown in the United States. At the time I needed a job where I could make some money and have some freedom to go see my wife in the United States. So like many of the other people who had moved to Toronto at the time I started driving a Taxi. Driving a Taxi gave me the flexibility I wanted and I had made some money during my years in Greece. Along with my brother we started buying more Taxis and eventually this lead me to the Taxi industry. I eventually moved on to being a fleet operator. During the 1980’s Co-op asked me to manage their operation. I did that for a couple of years until I became the General Manager and eventually moved on to be the C.E.O of the company. Co-op is now the second biggest Taxi Company in Toronto and we have over 900 Taxis in Toronto.

When I was young there was a lot of discrimination against the Jews, the Irish and people from the Mediterranean which meant it was difficult for immigrants to find employment. It was this tough racist environment which pushed new immigrants towards the Taxi industry. After the Second World War more and more immigrants started coming from Europe and the first job most of these people got was as a Taxi driver. Since then things have changed in one sense that now most the immigrants are coming from places like South Asian and Africa. However what remains similar is that these immigrants are still mostly coming and driving Taxis as a first job.

The great thing about this is that all these drivers that work for us are all self-employed self-starters as they own the cab. Some of them branch out and buy more cabs and hire drivers under them. It is a great way for a person that has a foreign education or foreign credentials to find employment as local Canadian companies mostly ask for Canadian work experience.

MBBP: Having spent most of your life in Canada yet being of Greek origin how do you relate to the Greek community in Canada?

Peter: I would say I am very connected with the Greek community. Greek people like to have a good time they like to go out and enjoy themselves and get together. I also like these activities so I fit into the Greek community very well. I appreciate my Greek culture a lot. At the end of the day there is Greek blood running in my veins and I am very proud of my heritage just as I am very proud to be a Canadian.

MBBP: You have been in the Taxi industry for many decades can you shed some light on the challenges being faced by the industry in modern times.

Peter: The principles of the Taxi Industry have remained the same. The job of a Taxi company is to provide good service to their customers. What has changed over the years is technology. At first if someone wanted a cab they would have to go to a taxi post. Once telephones became popular people could call in. This eventually moved on to dispatchers and even telephone apps.

The biggest problems we are facing in the market now are the emergence of companies that are calling themselves technology companies. I am referring to companies such as Uber and Lift that offer competitive prices for cab rides to customers. However these companies cannot call themselves Taxi companies because they are connecting customers to unlicensed vehicles that are under insured and are not driven by properly trained drivers. When you take a licensed taxi cab there are many differences such as they go through regular inspections, the meters include HST and the drivers go through training before they are allowed to drive. Another problem with companies like Uber is that they are not a universal company and have restrictions such as only people with credit cards are able to use their services. Therefore if a person cannot afford a credit card they cannot get a ride.

MBBP: Do you have any advice for taxi drivers and other people running small business or just starting up?

Peter: The most important things for being successful in business are you need to be honest and you have to provide good service. If you are able to do these two things well you will have repeat customers and that will make you successful. Once you have built your business up you should manage your money well and invest in things such as pensions and RSP’s. You must be diverse with your investments.

MBBP: Co-op recently bought Crown Taxi can you shed some light on that acquisition.

Peter: I believe it was a very good decision by Co-op Taxi to buy Crown Taxi. This gave us a lot of access to the Scarborough market as Crown Taxi has always been a very good taxi company in Scarborough. There will now be one centralized system where all the Co-op Taxis and Crown Taxis will be available.

MBBP: To wrap it up can you tell us about your experience using MBE POS services and a small message for young people who are just getting out of University.

Peter: We have always had a good experience with MBE POS services and have never faced any problems. If you are just getting out of University take a couple of years out go travel see the world and get it out of your system. Once you are done with that settle down work hard and never give up.