Welcome to “Cloverdale In Conversation,” a regular feature with a local personality. This week, Saran Bal is our guest. Saran started a trucking company in Vancouver in the ’70s, moved it to Surrey several years ago, and finally to Cloverdale in 2015.
His company, Lotus Terminals, is on 188th Street, south of Highway 10.
Saran chats about his life and work and about why he thinks it’s important that Lotus Terminals helps the community through charitable endeavours.
Malin Jordan: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Saran Bal: I was born in India. My father was from a village in Punjab. When he left the village, he went straight into the army and straight into the Second World War. Things changed quite a bit for our family after the war, after independence (in 1947). My father had originally stayed in the army, but after independence India wanted to cut the army (personnel). So they brought the ranks down and my father decided to retire from the army with a pension.
He was in transportation in the army, so he knew how to drive, which in those days very few people in India knew how to drive as there weren’t many cars. So his skills were in demand. He started working for the U.S. embassy, driving for the deputy ambassador. Later, he started a cab company. He had five cabs. So I was born in Delhi and that’s where I grew up.
MJ: How did you first get the idea to emigrate?
SB: Well, at that time in India, even a highly-educated person did not make good money. It was always a challenge to get ahead, to just pay the bills. I started to work for my dad and I was thinking about making some kind of change when I ran into a lady from Montreal. She was an Indian lady and her brother lived in the same part of Delhi as we did, so I talked to her several times when she was my passenger.
MJ: Was she your introduction to Canada?
SB: Yes, she told me about Canada and how different Canada is and all that. Then I started searching about how I could come to Canada. And just like now, it was a huge business at that time. Travel agents helped people move. That’s how I came here.
MJ: What year was that?
SB: I came in 1971. I was planning on going to Montreal, but the travel agent had connections here, so I came to Vancouver and I started working. Because I knew about cabs, and knew about automobiles, I started working at a gas station. That was my first job. At that time, they weren’t like today, they were also service stations, not just gas bars.
MJ: So you started working and began to establish yourself.
SB: Yeah, but I didn’t see any future in what I was doing. And I was always driven by looking at the future. How can I make my life better? How can I make life better for my family? So from there, I bought one truck, a delivery truck, a three-tonne truck. My brother and I eventually bought an existing trucking company in 1976—but it was more for the motor carrier licence than the company—for $15,000. It was a lot of money for us then. A lot of money. Eventually, one truck became five trucks, then 15 trucks, then 20, and so on.
MJ: You were in Vancouver at the time?
SB: We had an office in Vancouver, near Main and Terminal, but when Prab got involved we had already moved our location to Surrey—on Timberland Road. At the time we were called S. Bal Trucking. We only started Lotus (Terminals) in 2007 and we moved to Cloverdale in 2015.
MJ: So your son Prab gets involved, you change your name to Lotus Terminals, and you eventually move here. What kind of changes took place when Prab got involved?
SB: When Prab got involved, he took the company to a different level. We were able to buy this land (in Cloverdale), add more trucks, and really expand the business. Three years ago we built (our current) building. That was a big challenge for us because it was the first time we did something like that. And here we are now.
MJ: Describe a little bit of what you do at Lotus Terminals.
SB: We have a (truck) repair shop here on site, but Lotus’s main focus is the supply chain business. We organize the movement of freight either to or from the port or to or from other destinations. For example, we’ll pick up freight from the port, unload it here, and put it on a truck. That truck will then deliver it to its destination. We arrange all that.
MJ: So you’ve been on this site in Cloverdale for about seven years. How have things been?
SB: Things have been great since we’ve been in Cloverdale. We looked at a lot of properties across the region, but we were running a lot of freight to the U.S., so this place worked out well. This has become a very good location for us, close to the border, close to the highway, and close to all points of (the Lower Mainland).
MJ: And you’ve embraced the Cloverdale community, I see, with the outreach that you’re doing with the Community Kitchen.
SB: Yes, we feel we need to do things to give back to the community. With the nature of our business, it’s very, very time consuming. But I think there are ways that we can help more. We’ve been successful, but I also believe part of that success is giving back and sharing with the community. This becomes part of your life. And if you don’t do it, you always feel that you didn’t do enough. And not that we are very rich people, but to give it back, you don’t need to be rich, you just need to have the right mindframe, to share.
MJ: What does the future hold for Lotus Terminals?
SB: As we continue to adapt, as we continue to change some of the business areas we’ve been involved in in the past, our focus is to keep building the supply chain side of the business. This will also depend on what the economy does. But we are working people and we will continue to work hard and work toward having a successful year and continue to provide jobs for those that work here.
MJ: How many people work at Lotus?
SB: We have about 40 people working here, including mechanics, forklift operators, and office staff. We also have some staff in Montreal and India.
MJ: Any final thoughts?
SB: Just that Cloverdale has been good to us. We do a lot of business here. We love the community and that’s why we want to give back in a valuable way.