By Jack Kazmierski
The serial entrepreneurCanadian Contractor
For as long as he can remember, Ajay Punnapadam has been an entrepreneur. Even as a young boy, living in India, he was always coming up with innovative ways to make money.
“When I was eight years old, my uncle ran a store that rented out VHS video cassettes,” Punnapadam recalls. “The cassettes were imported from Singapore, and they came with stickers that nobody wanted. Each sticker was an individual letter of the alphabet or a number between zero and nine. When my uncle threw them in the garbage, I would pick them out and sell them to my classmates. That’s how I made my very first few rupees.”
Bigger & better opportunities
His entrepreneurial spirit never died, and Punnapadam continued to seek out bigger and better opportunities. “I went from selling stickers to selling shoes,” he recalls. “Then I moved into selling motorbikes, then cars, and eventually I started in construction.”
A serial entrepreneur, Punnapadam started and ran a number of successful companies along the way. “Soon after completing my Bachelor of Commerce degree, I started my first venture, which was called Painting Solutions,” he recalls. “The pride of ownership of this company is still fresh in my mind. Our business grew, and we soon became one of southern India’s largest paint applicators.”
Punnapadam was only 20 years old when he started his painting company. Not only was he painting houses, but he grew his business to the point where he eventually took on contracts to paint factories and other large facilities, including universities.
Creator India, another one of his ventures, took advantage of the construction and real estate boom in India. Creator Ventures, which specialized in property development, focused on high-value real estate.
He also owned Creator Homes, which was a company that developed and leased properties. Finally, Global Telecom Solutions was started by Punnapadam in order to bring down the cost of international phone calls. “This was one of the first VOIP calling companies at the time,” he adds.
Hard work and diligence
Punnapadam credits his work ethic as a painter for eventually getting him into the construction business. “I was, and still am, a really hard worker,” he says. “I would be on the job site at 5:30 and I would work through to 11 or 12 at night. We used to work out of a small office, and the landlord of this building was very impressed with our commitment and attention to detail, as well as our honesty and our integrity. He came up with a proposal to build an extension to his existing building.”
With limited construction experience, Punnapadam did not want to take on the project, but his landlord insisted. “He gave me an architect and a structural engineer to assist me in the venture,” he adds. “This was our first construction project and we made history by completing the project way ahead of schedule.”
Coming to Canada
Although he was doing well in India, Punnapadam wanted to build a better life for his family. In June 2019 he, his wife and their three children moved to Canada. They settled in Stratford, Prince Edward Island, and a month later Punnapadam set up his current business, Confederation Construction And Interiors (CCI) Inc. “We set up the business while we were still living in a hotel,” he says. “We didn’t have a house at that time.”
CCI, Punnapadam adds, now has a dynamic team of sub-trades, suppliers, engineers and architects. “Our maiden project was two six-unit builds that were successfully completed and handed over in record time in P.E.I.,” he says. “In 2022, our company showcased our prowess in the custom home segment by building two stunning humongous homes in Stratford, P.E.I.
“We are extremely proud to have created 14 dwelling units between 2020 and 2022 that people in P.E.I. very proudly call their homes. It gives us immense pride to be a part of the solution to a huge housing crisis. We have exceeded our initial projection by 233 per cent.”
Punnapadam says that everything he builds is above code, “right from the foundation where we have a lot of rebar in the concrete, to the extra jack studs for door and window openings, to the extra insulation above the garage to keep the bonus rooms warm, to the hurricane ties and extra strapping on the ceilings. We do it all to perfection.”
It’s this attention to detail that defines the way Punnapadam does business. “I believe that small things make perfection, but perfection is not a small thing,” he explains. “Every small thing adds to the cost of the building, but I can guarantee that the home buyer will be more than satisfied with what he gets from us. Our products are built to last, to be environmentally-friendly and pocket-friendly, as far as energy costs are concerned.”
Despite his success in Canada, Punnapadam had to overcome a number of challenges in order to get things off the ground. The first hurdle was the collapse of a deal to build multiple units, which initially looked promising after he arrived in P.E.I., but then eventually fell through.
Next, Punnapadam had to wrap his mind around how things are done here in Canada. “In India,” he explains, “as soon as I got a piece of land, I would decide what I was going to build there. When I built it, and after everything was done, I would go to get the paperwork done, and there was never a problem. It’s a hush-hush kind of thing, and you can do what you want.”
In Canada, on the other hand, Punnapadam discovered that he couldn’t simply buy land and build whatever his heart desired, only to get approvals later. “I realized that it’s a whole new ballgame over here,” he says. “You’ve got land re-zoning, you need a building permit, a development permit, the water, the pollution control, and more.”
Paperwork wasn’t his only challenge. After getting his permits for his first project in Canada, COVID struck. Despite the pandemic, however, Punnapadam managed to line up the sub-trades he needed, only to find himself struggling with the inflated prices of lumber and other building supplies. Nonetheless, he and his team persevered, and he says they completed the project to accolades from customers.
He also had to wrap his mind around how homes are built here in Canada. Since India is so hot, he says, they do things a bit differently. Home insulation, for example, is something Punnapadam discovered only after coming to Canada. Another novelty was a hot water tank. “If you live in the southern part of India, you don’t need a water heater because we’re used to temperatures over 40 degrees.”
Committed to P.E.I.
Today, Punnapadam continues to build homes in P.E.I., and says that he has no desire to move anywhere else… at least not for now. In fact, it could be said that he and his family have fallen in love with P.E.I.
“We’re very happy with the very limited amount of traffic that we have here,” he says. “There’s no pollution, there’s no garbage, and we have everything that we really want. We’re enjoying this quieter kind of lifestyle, rather than the hustle and bustle of the city. We’re very, very comfortable here.”
Although his business is doing well, and Punnapadam has a growing number of happy customers, he’s planning to expand his company into other areas, including energy-efficient homes and net-zero construction.
Punnapadam’s commitment to P.E.I. is only surpassed by his commitment to quality craftsmanship and customer satisfaction. “We primarily focus on new residential construction, which is a mix of single-family homes, duplexes, and multiplexes, apart from apartments and condos,” he explains. “In a very short period of time in Canada, we have built a reputation for being reliable, trustworthy and dependable.”
His vision is to continue to develop projects, “that are architecturally distinguished, with a focus on attention-to-detail, and delivered with the highest commercial quality. We strive to create architectural marvels every single time, and to better ourselves with what we do best.”
This commitment to quality is part of Punnapadam’s DNA, and it defines what he views as his company’s business mission. “We strive to create great products that are of great value aesthetically and functionally to the home/property owner,” he says. “Our passion has, is, and will be to be eco-friendly and to build homes that are of the highest standards. In fact, we ensure that every square inch is inspected before handover. All of this is met through our core values of integrity, honesty, and commitment to what we are best known for: construction.”
Future housing solutions
Keenly aware of the growing need for affordable housing, Punnapadam continues to innovate as he envisions the future of the province he and his family now call home.
Just like that eight-year-old who managed to turn his uncle’s waste into profit, Punnapadam is looking beyond the obvious as he seeks solutions to today’s housing needs. “CCI has adopted creativity as its culture,” he concludes. “We are currently exploring the possibilities of creating new subdivisions to accommodate the ever-increasing need for housing on the island. I look forward to being a part of the solution.”