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From China to British Columbia, Brandon Zhan (BBA'06) paves his way to becoming retail franchisee

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Nov 22, 2021

Category: Inspiring Stories , UNB Saint John


For UNB alumnus Brandon Zhan (BBA'06), the most challenging aspect of being a store franchisee also happens to be the most rewarding part of his career. “It’s the people," he says.

Zhan is the owner of a No Frills supermarket in Vancouver, BC, where his employees cross over four generations. He says learning how to connect, communicate and support his employees differently, while working together as a team, has been a challenging but wonderful learning experience.

“They really lift me up. I tell them there’s no boss in the store, we are a team.”

Zhan began his career through the Loblaw Companies Ltd. graduate training program in 2012, after completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees. The program led him through many corners of traditional retail in BC and Ontario from merchandiser, to cashier, to store manager. In less than ten years, he worked his way to franchise owner in 2018.

He smiles when he explains again that "it’s the people" - the connections and mentors he’s gained throughout his academic studies and business career that have helped him reach this milestone.

"I think by working in the store it really taught me to always stand on the ground. Be humble," says Zhan. "The most valuable lesson I've learned is that at the end of the day there are always people who can teach you and who you can learn from."

Born and raised in Wuhan, China, Zhan says his father influenced him to study abroad. At the recommendation of his agent, and because it was one of the few e-commerce programs at the time, he selected UNB Saint John's faculty of business over schools in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany and France. He moved to New Brunswick with over 250 others, during one of the university's peak intakes of international students.

With little English and an electronic dictionary in hand, Zhan made the biggest leap of his life as he flew into Saint John and left home for the first time. He still recalls the culture shock of seeing New Brunswick's expansive forests and arriving at a small airport terminal he mistook for a bus station.

“Saint John became my second home and I still consider it my second home today. New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada taught me how to lead with the life that you want, and that community value plays the most important role."

Throughout his academic studies, Brandon immersed himself in campus life and the community, becoming a volunteer for Chinese New Year celebrations, orientation week, campus tax clinics and the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation dragon boat festival. Later he became a member of the Students' Representative Council, serving as VP finance and as chair. He jokes that though he wasn't the best academic, he contributes a lot to the staff and mentors who treated him like family and helped guide his life in Canada.

Zhan says the analytical skills, the data analysis and fundamental skills he acquired through his studies at UNB Saint John have also been very impactful throughout his career in retail. 

"If you let me choose a university again, I would still go to UNB. I still have that UNB pride in me. Seven years of time in Saint John and I love how everyone cares for each other and that’s one of the things I miss the most now living in a big city."

Though it was a difficult transition moving from New Brunswick to British Columbia, where he had to start over and build a new network of supporters, Zhan feels very grateful for the life he's built with his wife and children in Vancouver.

"I don't know how I got here, but I am lucky."