The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran ended hundreds years of monarchy, resulting in the establishment of the Islamic Republic Government. Due to the changes in the political and social environment, millions of Iranians left their Homeland. This is the story of one who left Iran many years before 1979. Little Hakimi lost his father as a child and, at the tender age of 10, was forced to support his mother and his siblings. He made money by grinding magnifying glasses and eyeglasses out of discarded windows in Iran, a job that foretold his future. By now you have probably guessed who this enterprising Canadian is its self-made Iranian-born tycoon and founder of Hakim Optical, Karim Hakimi. With more than 600 employees in 160 plus stores and one-hour labs dispensing eyewear and accessories in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba, Hakimi continues to run his privately held optical operation almost full time, though he is past the traditional retirement age. He devotes legendary work hours to his still-growing 40-year-old enterprise, one of Canada’s best-known corporate brands.
MBE: Mr. Hakim can you please start by telling the readers about your childhood.
Mr. Hakim: I was in Born a southern part of Tehran, it was not necessarily poor neighborhood but it was commercial part of Iran. When my father passed away, I set out at the age of 10 to find work and help support my family. I started working at a neighborhood store, grinding eyeglass and magnifying glass lenses out of old windows, cutting convex or concave curves into the glass to make them fit various prescriptions. I kept at it until I turned 19, at which point I joined the Iranian navy. After a stint there, I moved to Germany and then to Switzerland, where I resumed making lenses. "There, I made camera and telescope lenses and I realized at that point that I was appreciated," he said. "My craftsmanship was recognized and they paid me handsomely.
MBE: Any memories you want to share about your early days in Canada?
Mr. Hakim: I immigrated to Toronto 42 years ago, in my mid-20s.Like any new immigrant; I too was faced with my share of challenges upon arriving in Canada with little money and no connections. While it took time for my skills and entrepreneurial spirit to be recognized, my determination to make a name for myself paid off. When you come to a new country, you are in unknown territory, walking in the dark. You just have to have nerves of steel, to stand and let the storm pass you by.
MBE: Briefly tell us the story behind the birth of Hakim Optical in Canada
Mr. Hakim: Despite language barriers in my early days, I managed to make connections and before long I started my own lens grinding facility in downtown Toronto. Using rough and fine emeries, I ground lenses that I sold wholesale to optometrists and opticians. I earned rock-bottom prices for my work - $3.50 for a pair of lenses - and then would wait to be reimbursed. Upon seeing my lenses resold at huge markups by optometrists, I decided to go into business for myself. "I'd see them selling my lenses for $60 to the consumer and I started to realize that if I could sell directly to the public, it would be more profitable," he said. Eventually I began selling glasses for $8 a pair and bifocals for $12 a pair, increasing my own profits exponentially while charging far less than others. Before long, I was able to raise my prices by 50 per cent and still have customers lining up because he offered far lower-cost options than my competitors. The demand allowed the birth of Hakim Optical that eventually turned a one-man operation into one of the most successful optical companies in Canada, with over 40 million pairs of eyeglasses sold to date.
MBE: Sir Hakimi can you shed some light on the fruits of your success.
Mr. Hakim: Over the years along with success I have developed a passion for luxury and a passion for the finer things in life. I enjoy that I can have luxurious things that I could not have in the past. At first I could only see these things in the movies but now I am blessed that I can afford them. I have purchased my own boat and like taking out to the waters where I can deep sea dive and relax and enjoy myself.
MBE: What other project apart from Hakim Optical keeps you busy?
Mr. Hakim: These days I have one foot in Canada and one foot in the South American country Belize. In Belize I bought an Island and some land and I am developing a five star resort. Apart from the resort I am also developing apartment buildings, large dining halls and 260 ft. long swimming pools. The resort and island will be very popular amongst the wealthy and divers.
MBE: Sir Hakimi you are well known for your immense contribution towards charity can you please tell the readers a little about your work in this field?
Mr. Hakim: I have been a large supporter of the Fighting Blindness charity and also took part in their Ride for Sight event in which I drove a bike along with many others who supported the cause. I have also worked with dozens of charities both in Canada and abroad to help those with impaired vision all over the world. I also try to extend this kind of giving to the people that work for me in Hakim Optical because of the respect and admiration I have for them. Twice a year I also throw a party for the whole staff.
MBE: Before we conclude our interview, any message to our readers and especially new immigrants.
Mr. Hakim: First I would like to thank MBE for the interest they have shown in Hakim Optical. The numerous services you guys offer under your belt are an achievement within itself. My message to all readers is that in life, never give up and always stay positive. Canada is a great country and offers countless opportunities to those who work with passion and hard work. Have a clear vision in your mind and the world will be at your feet.