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Giving more, doing more

Taleb Abidali, Cresco’s co-principal, sets the bar high for newcomers to the city

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Even though it’s been more than six months since the Halifax Chamber of Commerce named real estate developer Taleb Abidali Business Person of the Year, he’s still getting the same question: Are you surprised you won? It’s the first I ask after we sit down in Cresco’s second-floor conference room, a large corner space that overlooks Bedford Basin. “To tell you the truth, no,” he says. “I expect that. We have an expression back home: God bless the human being who knows his size, who knows what he is doing. I know what I am doing, and I am proud of what I’m doing.” (Abidali was also awarded the Distinguished Business Person of the Year Award from the Bedford Business Association)

It’s a confident answer from the father of six who emigrated from Kuwait 21 years ago, but it’s not a self-serving one. According to him, it’s self-confidence that helps you deal with the added responsibility to your community that comes with these types of accolades. “They don’t just give you a title and you are happy and the job is done,” he says leaning forward. “Now you should give more, do more for the province, for the city, for the area you are living in.”

Doing more won’t be anything new for Abidali. For the past decade he has been involved with a number of organizations that promote Halifax abroad and support newcomers to Canada. In 2004, he helped develop the Nova Scotia Immigration Strategy, and in 2009 Cresco bought a fire hall on the Bedford Highway and converted it into the Al-Rasoul Islamic Society. Today, he is a board member with the Cobequid Community Health Centre Foundation and the chairman of the Halifax Islamic Society.

It’s not completely clear to him where this motivation for helping his community comes from. But a conversation he had with his dad at 16 years old likely put him on the right track. “He asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” remembers Abidali, “and I told him to be in a position where I can help people.” His father suggested that a business career connected to the land would put him in a financial position to reach that goal. “He asked me: ‘Do the sun and hot weather affect the land?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Do the cold weather and snow affect the land?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Can the smartest thief in the world steal the land?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘So you are secure; go to this,’ he said. And that’s why I am a land developer.”

From that conversation, he set out for a career in real estate (he also work in stints as a school principal and gym teacher) and ended up moving to Kuwait in his early 30s when Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. After the Gulf War, Abidali, his wife and three daughters decided to move to Canada and eventually arrived in Dartmouth on May 31, 1992. “To outsiders, Canada is one of the safest countries to live in the world, and your future is open here,” he says. “We wanted our kids to grow up in a safe place and have the opportunity for a good education.”

The move wasn’t without its challenges, however. With almost no Muslim community in Dartmouth in the early 90s, Abidali and his family couldn’t find others to celebrate events such as Ramadan. Ignorance was also an issue. He remembers a woman who approached his wife and asked why she was wearing a scarf around her face when it was sunny out. Looking back now, though, Abidali sees those as minor challenges. “When you love the land, you cover all of those negative things. It’s not a big thing when you compare it with what the land gave you, which is safety, a future.”

Abidali and his family found their stride soon enough anyway. In 1994, Hossein Mousavi, Cresco’s founder, was looking for a partner to join the company when he was introduced to Abidali. “The minute he started talking, I saw his honesty,” says Mousavi, “and by the end of that meeting I knew he would be a good partner to have.”

Almost 20 years later, that partnership has led to a family bond—Abidali’s daughter recently married Mousavi’s nephew—and to one of the most recognized companies in the industry. Two years ago, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association named Cresco the R-2000 Builder of the Year, and this year it was the Judges Choice for Outstanding New Home Over 3,000 Square Feet at the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association Awards. “It’s funny because partnerships don’t usually work,” admits Mousavi, “but ours is amazing, it’s just different. We complement each other’s work. I’m more low-key, but he’s a very public person and loves it, which is good for him and the company.”

It appears to be good for Bedford and the province, too. With that public voice Abidali is helping attract immigrants to the region and encourage those already here through his work on provincial immigration policy and with the Halifax Islamic Society. “My real concern about this province is how population growth and diversity affect the economy,” he says, “and the key is immigration. To grow the economy we need new ideas coming in.”

Abidali sees more of those ideas taking root here every day, and he’s hoping his own success will prove to the next generation of immigrants that their ideas have a place here, too. “I am an example, but the new generation can do better than me,” he says leaning back in his chair and looking out toward Bedford Basin. “There is opportunity for them if they work hard and do as much as they can for the country, the city, themselves. They can do it, and I can already see it happening.”

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