Built to Survive
Electricity was not an invention; it was an idea. Endless scientists tried to prove and expand on the theory of electricity. Then in the 1700s, a man named Benjamin Franklin tied a key to a kite so he could fly it into the storm clouds which conducted electricity down the string. And voila! He became known as the man who invented electricity. Thomas Edison, another inventor who was curious about electricity, invented the light bulb. A thought turns into an idea. A simple idea turns into determination and that determination gives birth to great creations, which has forever changed our civilization. No idea is unachievable and no invention is minute. Technology since Franklin and Edison’s time has evolved. Great minds like the late Steve Jobs have changed technology for ever. Preet Thind is a child of that innovation and a pioneer in his own respect.
Have you ever wondered how a firetruck is able to arrive at the scene within minutes? This twenty-four seven ability to respond depends on the functionality and durability of Acura systems which are made by brothers Preet and Harmeet Thind. Their extreme computers have also established a place in police cars, military vehicles, cranes and taxis. Their computers can be dropped, withstand extreme temperatures, operate in airtight environments and run for three years straight, without ever being turned off. Computers that are able to take this kind of abuse are called “rugged” computers. And, much like the computers he now creates, in the face of adversity Preet Thind’s unshakeable will to survive has made him a leader in his field. Although he was born with his curiosity for gadgets and his passion for technology, Preet Thind has had quite a journey to get to where he is now. But no one said achieving your child hood dreams would be a walk in the park; if that was the case, oh the possibilities!
Preet grew up in Patiala, India where his father worked as a draftsman for the government and his mother was a primary school teacher. Preet remembers his mother would often round up the kids from around the village so they could get an education rather than work in the fields. Preet’s family was known for being very well-educated amidst the mainly agricultural families. Growing up with three older sisters and a younger brother, Preet always felt a great sense of responsibility on his small shoulders. But boys will be boys! Preet and his younger brother Harmeet still managed to get themselves into a handful of mischief. Preet Thind, the future General Manager of Acura Embedded computers, was sitting with his brother and taking apart all the electronics in the house, including a brand new television. Tinkering with technology allowed them to resolve complicated electronic problems at a very young age, even if that came at the expense of one angry dad.
Inspiration has many forms, for Preet it’s his father. Preet exclaims that he was a very disciplined and hard working man. Besides an office job, his father was involved in other businesses including agriculture. Preet remembers helping out in the fields when he could. But once a dreamer, always a dreamer! All of his life’s paths seemed to lead Preet to his calling: computers, technology. The school the boys attended was not a regular school; it was designed to teach the kids more hands on work. Preet says, “our school was a trade school from the start. In the sixth grade, they showed us how electricity works, how a radio works and how an engine works.” Although the hands- on approach was more challenging for most of the kids, for Preet it was practical experience. Preet looked into the future and saw this as the ground work for building a strong foundation for what was yet to come.
Taking a Risk
In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi who was the Prime Minister of India at the time was strongly pushing the telecommunications industry in India. Needless to say there was a growing excitement among the youth. After graduating with a Bachelor of Technology, Preet enrolled in a local computer institute, one of a few across Punjab at that time. In Patiala, Preet had yet to see an actual computer, although he did catch glimpses of floppy disks and punch cards, which were considered outdated technology at that time. He got his hands on his first computer, an old IBM PC, Preet was thrilled. He started studying basic programming languages such as COBOL, Fortran and Pascal. Preet still remembers the excitement of creating his first program. After finishing at the India Computer Centre, Preet’s perseverance did not go unrecognized, “maybe in my character they saw that . . . I’m hard-working. Within six months, they hired me and I started teaching in the same institute.” This was a big change for Preet, especially since the technology was fairly new and many of his students were the same age as him. But keeping his focus onto the future he saw this as an opportunity to grow.
A few months into teaching, Preet quickly became aware that the institute was being poorly managed. He approached a senior member, and along with another friend, they decided to do something about the plummeting enrolment rates. The soon-to-be business partners approached the owner with a proposition. They would buy the institute and run it themselves. The owner, who was invested in several other businesses at the time, agreed to sell the institute to them for 90 thousand rupees. “I think everybody put in about 30 thousand rupees. I got that loan from my parents and I planned to pay it back”, says Preet.
Under their management, the institute flourished, and they quickly earned back the money that was invested. The trio looked at expanding their business and opening institutes in rented spaces across Punjab. They now became responsible for assembling and repairing the computers that were being used. At the institute, after students were trained, they were offered jobs at various institutions being opened across Punjab. Within the next two years, the partners had opened 12 locations. Preet says, “I was an innovative mind so I was taking care mostly of the hardware.” The business experience came as part of the deal!
His sister who lived in Toronto had applied to sponsor their family so Preet and his brother could have more opportunities for a better life. But this also meant they had to figure out how to run the institute efficiently without being in the same country. Preet developed a business model which was designed to allow the managers to successfully operate the institute without their physical presence. March of 1991, Preet and his family landed in Toronto, Canada. Canada has always been known to be mutli-cultural but at that time things were not as neatly packaged as they seemed. When preet and his family arrived to Canada it was nothing less than a culture shock. Aside from that, Preet also found there were many stereotypes that he would have to break through. With incomparable experience on his belt, Preet was faced with cultural ignorance. “I was trying to get into my line of work, but the opportunities were hard to come by as the companies were not willing to give me a chance. A few times they asked me if I saw computers in my country. At the time, this is the perception they had about Indians. Life had thrown Preet a curb ball. He had education, experience, exceptional resume but things had become complicated rather quickly. With a strengthened determination, Preet moved forward and continued to look for work in his respected field. “I never drove a taxi because I had a will to succeed. I got my license, but I didn’t want to be a driver unless I failed from my own line of work.” During a period of recession in Ontario, Preet finally found an opening for a data entry position. Although it was only a four month position filling in for an employee on maternity leave.
First Big Break
Preet had been waiting to hear about his application. Preet hit another brick wall. Two things were made quite evident, one that the position still had not been filled and second that he cannot sit and wait around for a call. As the late professor Randy Pausch said, “Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things”. Charged with utter frustration Preet says, “I was getting angry, or anxious to show my ability, so I told the receptionist at the front that I could fix all their computers.” As fate would have it, the owner of the company, a first-generation Asian man, overheard the outburst. To prove that Preet was indeed able to fix all the computers in the office, he handed him a laptop. He told Preet to take the laptop home, “and if you can fix it, you can have this job.” Funny thing about life is, when you have nothing to lose there is nothing to fear. Preet took the laptop home, looked at his brother and said, “Harmeet, we got a challenge today.” It was not easy to find the tools necessary to fix the laptop, but you know what they say; where there’s a will, there’s a way. Once they opened the machine, they were able to recognize the problem; the capacitor was blown. The two headed to Radio Shack to find a capacitor. After much hard work, the computer turned on. The next day he handed the functioning computer to the owner and was given the job.
A Hard Lesson
At the picture frame factory, Preet’s main job was to transfer files to a computer. Preet worked hard and fast. Eventually he was given the added responsibility of maintaining six computers in the office. Preet says, “I was working the way you are supposed to be working in India. I was working with passion and for some reason other employees kept telling me I shouldn’t be working that hard.” A job that took others four months to finish, I did in a month. And as his reward, Preet was laid off, “That was a surprise to me. I was working hard to do my job, and that was the reward?” Unaware of the workings of work politics, Preet marched into the owner’s office, “What kind of place is this?” he demanded. “I work hard, and finish a four month job in one month. Now you guys are telling me that I should go home?”
The owner recognized Preet’s undeniable passion. He assured Preet that they would find a way to keep him. So, Preet worked in the office three days out of the week and sold picture frames on the street for the remainder. “It was hard. I still cannot forget the taste of warm 7Up on hot days,” he remembered. “I still hate that part.”
An Honest Start-up
One moment changes a million others. In 1993, Preet was picking up picture frames at his workplace. “The owner told me, one day you’re going to have your own business. He could see that I was always hungry for business.” This moment strengthened his resolve. Both Preet and his brother began repairing VCRs, television sets and other gadgets in what little spare time they had. Preet left the picture frame company and started working in computer repair shops. Work was not steady; he jumped from job to job and became restless. Preet reached his breaking point after he was let go from yet another company. He decided it was the right time to pursue his dream and thus started his own business. It was the beginning of a difficult, yet rewarding journey.
That was also the same year Preet and his brother made a trip back to India to get married. After marriage, their wives acted as a catalyst for their entrepreneurial endeavours. Although relatively new to the computer field, both Shally and Loveleen were very well-educated and able to support the business. Preet made sure they would have practical experience of the work so they could help the brothers achieve their future goals. This well-knit team would soon change the shape of their business.
Back in Toronto, the brothers finally opened a small shop in a warehouse and made integrity the backbone of their business. “We gave the customers a very good service. That was the best thing we did, service and support is the main thing”, Preet exclaims. It wasn’t easy, and the repair work was taking its toll on Harmeet, who was also working a graveyard shift at Loblaws at the time. Working day and night, Harmeet was at the point of exhaustion and Preet was worried for his brother’s health. One day, Harmeet was driving on the highway and almost hit a truck. The incident was a reality check for both the brothers. The decision was made for Harmeet to quit his job. Preet had also heard that the Vancouver market was thriving, so the brothers decided to make the move to Vancouver which would take their business to the next level.
They also recognized the ignorance of the Indian community when it came to technology, he says, “Computers were new to everyone, but our community was a little bit behind in knowing why we needed computers.” They decided to educate the community around the benefits of computers in Punjabi since many faced language barriers. A not-so- surprised Preet says, “Our community was going to Future Shop because people didn’t know where to buy computers at the time. A lot of companies were misleading our customers.” In the late nineties, he noticed that people were spending $3500 for a computer but were oblivious to what they were paying for. “Sometimes people would say they wanted to buy a good computer for their son, even though he is only five years old. But when the time comes that he really needs that computer, then it’s going to be outdated. That’s what I was trying to tell our people.” Preet built his business on the principles of honesty. Many visited his store but ironically, a few people walked out believing his business did not carry high-end computers. Regardless, Preet continued helping Indo-Canadians make informed choices about the technology they were purchasing. “Our instructions for people who were working for us were not to misguide the customer. Ask them what their requirement is and just give them that because, after one year, they will need to change the computer anyhow.”
Acura Embedded Computers
Mr. Durrani, a friend who used to be a computer technician for Preet, approached him with a problem they were having with a computer at Deltaport. This sowed the seed for the opportunity that was to come. Preet went to Deltaport to get a better look at what needed to be done. He remembers walking across the gantry crane more than 60 metres above the ground to reach the malfunctioning computer. After a careful examination of the hardware and software, he went back to create a custom machine. He invested three thousand dollars of his own money to come up with a solution. Although it was a challenge, the two brothers were able to build a rugged computer that fit the crane. Preet went back to install it. During a conversation with Mr. Durrani, the managing director inquired about the crane. His friend pointed at Preet. Acura Embedded opened in 2000 and this contract was the first of many to knock on the company’s door.
Acura Embedded computers are in the business of building long lasting, rugged computers for their clients. Their computers are also installed in fire trucks, police cars and taxis. Furthermore, There mobile products are put into use at mining sites and factories. The computers are designed to “suit diverse outdoor conditions” which makes Acura Embedded computers unique within its sector. Geoff Graham the Captain of the West Vancouver Fire Department is a strong supporter of the Acura Embedded computers, “We swear by their product. They’ve been awesome to deal with, Preet and his brother. Super dependable, and their service is unreal. Computers don’t last forever, but if something breaks they get it back pretty quick. Harmeet, the odd time, has come out from Surrey, helped us with something that very day. They are unbelievable. Acura embedded computers are better than anybody that I’ve dealt with.”
Their prime product is their mobile computers called the PowerBrick Series; designed specifically for the fire, police and emergency medical services. This series is divided into three different products with a very specific focus for efficiency. For our generation, which is obsessed with up to date software, Acura embedded computers have developed user friendly software which is unique to your needs. Such as, google earth which provides a virtual map of the entire globe, up to date maps for easy navigation. There is also AcuProtect which is installed in all Acura computers to lock the operating system and protect it from viruses and accidental deletion of important files. Their locations carry a range of products that is definitely worth checking out! The company also provides an Automatic Vehicle Locator service, which can help employers keep track of their employees; very useful in the trucking business for the security of their employees or for worried parents as their kids head out on a Saturday night. Preet’s solution is very affordable, at approximately twelve dollars a month compared to the twenty-five to forty dollar rate charged by other companies.For more information, visit their website at http://www.acuraembedded.com/. Along with Acura Embedded Systems, they’ve also opened five A-1 Wireless stores that carry the latest smartphones and accessories.
Preet and Harmeet are the perfect duo, working off each other’s experiences and energy and as a bonus there skill set complements each other’s beautifully. Preet is driven and quite the innovator. He is continuously looking to improve his technology by seeking out gaps in the market which need to be addressed and enhanced. Harmeet, on the other hand, implements Preet’s findings which helps them follow-through with their designs. Team work is the leading principle to success for this business. And Preet’s wife Shally, who has successfully juggled her responsibilities both at home and in the office, has risen to become the CFO of all three companies. In Preet’s words, “the steadfast support of my wife, who has always stood rock solid beside me, has been a chief contributor to my success.” With her managerial capabilities, Shally is handling most of the ground work as Preet moves out more often to explore new opportunities.
In-depth knowledge mixed with their people skill allows them to approach each unique situation successfully by creating a modified computer which suits individual needs. Everything is done in-house to ensure the highest standards are met. “You cannot depend on the quality which is coming from other places. Our work is like a goldsmith’s,” Preet explained. The 2 brothers take pride in their work, “every screw, every connector, we have to glue carefully so there is no vibration. Every computer has to be secure.” The products are produced in Canada to ensure the added value for their clientele. Although Preet and Harmeet could outsource much of the work to make it cost-efficient, they want to ensure the best for their clients. Furthermore, their sturdy machines are being used all over the world. The National Research Council has also provided funding to Acura Embedded systems for some cutting edge research.
With patents pending, Preet is working on a project which is quite on the “hush hush”. An exciting new technology is in the works, but the details have been kept quite vague as they are in direct competition with some of the big kahunas, such as Panasonic, Motorola and other multi-national companies. However, he did give Darpan a tiny tid bit to keep our curiosity going: Acura Embedded systems are working on a high end computer that is completely sealed, with no moving parts. Talk about technological Darwinism!
From day one, Preet Thind fought through many challenges to uphold the integrity of his business. His uncompromising attitude and a will to fight allowed him to face challenges head on. He is in the business of building computers that are able to withstand any abuse and still hold strong; he’s definitely embedded his own life principles into his computers. Fundamentals can be taught, but passion is in-born. The world of technology is forever changing and growing. I remember, before iphone 4 was even in the market there were talks about an iphone 5. This is a fast driven industry and it’s not always easy to keep up to date. Andy Rogers, Director of Sales says, “Preet’s got a great grasp on technology and what customers are looking for in their fields, in terms of technology. He’s a savvy business person and he knows how to make bigger things happen. He’s definitely familiar with the industry. After several years as a representative for a distributor, I ended up buying into the business and partnering up with them.”
Moving forward, Preet hopes that the government keeps on funding programs such as the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) through the National Research Council (NRC). Preet is very appreciative of the funding already provided by NRC to design and develop innovative solutions at Acura Embedded. These days, with the help of NRC Acura Embedded is in the process of developing a radar system for law enforcement agencies. Preet is especially thankful to the support provided by Neil Bailey and Hafeez Shaikh from NRC. Preet believes Canada needs to continue funding industrial innovation to stay competitive on a global scale and to develop the economy. “The world is starting to become connected, and we, as Canadians, need to stay connected.” With the economy in rough shape, much of Preet’s competition has gone out of business. However, he is still bringing his top game and sticking to his core values.
With the support of his family and his dedicated team, Acura Embedded Systems is one of the few that continue to provide clear and complete solutions to clients. Looking back, Preet knows Acura Embedded, Acura Computers and the A-1 Wireless locations could not have been successful without the hard work and support of his wife Shally, of his brother Harmeet and his brother’s wife Loveleen; all of whom he considers equal contributors to the success of the business. Though the company has moved into creating high-end computers, they still maintain a branch called Acura Computers that focuses on PCs for personal and small business use. Acura Computers, which is managed by Amit Taneja, provides hardware and software solutions from small to enterprise level. “Acura Computers has its own in-house programming team to provide custom solutions,” says Amit Taneja.
Preet eventually wants to open an education centre that offers after school programs for kids. His vision is to support young kids who want to get into programming. He believes the future Bill Gates will come from the South Asian community and he wants to turn Surrey into a future Bangalore.
Preet began his journey as a child sitting on the ground with his little brother taking dad’s TV apart and putting it back together. Now he gets to paid to pull things apart and put them back together. The power of childhood imagination!