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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With R2 Capital Founder/CEO Amar Nijjar

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

In only one word, Amar Nijjar can be summed up as a leader.

The founder of Toronto-based R2 Capital, an online platform that quickly earned a name for itself in the Canadian marketplace by connecting property owners and developers with property investors, Nijjar jumped headfirst into his career in real estate shortly after receiving an MBA from Toronto’s York University.

He spent his initial years focusing on debt financing for REITs, pension funds and large private and institutional borrowers before moving on to JLL Canada. After spending four years at JLL, including leading the Debt Capital Markets group and being named one of the top brokers at the company two years in a row, Nijjar decided to venture out on his own, founding R2 Capital. To date, he has funded more than $5.5B and been involved in the underwriting of over $16B worth of real estate.

But Nijjar’s focus is not solely on real estate. In his spare time, he also founded an organization called Educate Kids, a nonprofit that works to provide underprivileged children around the world with the resources they need to achieve success later in life.

R2 Capital founder Amar Nijjar reads to one of the children at the Santa Rita De Cascia orphanage in Colombia during a trip with Educate Kids.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Nijjar: Creating innovation in commercial real estate investments and capital business by using the power of fintech. R2’s mission is to democratize access of high-quality commercial real estate direct investing for the masses. Same high-quality deals as institutions but with low minimum investment amounts — all online!

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Nijjar: Raising awareness and funds for underprivileged and orphaned children in developing countries. A few years ago we launched and if I wasn’t in CRE and building a business, I would like to devote 100% to it. However, we do our best given the time constraints.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Nijjar: While in school, I worked as a general laborer in the freezer section of a large grocery store. It was awfully cold but we had fun driving around with forklifts. I [once] almost crashed a 30-foot-high rack full of ice cream!

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Nijjar: It was $103M of debt financing on a portfolio of industrial properties managed by a large pension fund advisory group. It was the middle of the credit crisis in 2008 — terms and conditions were changing daily on the deal despite it having very conservative metrics. Fear is real and there is no cure for it — at the time I worked with one of the largest Canadian banks and they simply froze!

Bisnow: What do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Nijjar: In the early stages of our growth we brought certain talented individuals into our team. However, over time we realized they were not “nimble” and “entrepreneurial” in their thinking and as a result they were not aligned with the vision of the company. As a leader of the company, I always set the bar high and try to see the best in people but sometimes it’s just not the right fit. As they say “horses for courses” — the lesson we learned is to move much faster and restructure rather than waiting and hoping for change!

R2Crowd and EDUCATE founders Amar Nijjar and Chad Gemmell

Bisnow: How do you define “making it”?

R2 Capital founder Amar Nijjar reads to one of the children at the Santa Rita De Cascia orphanage in Columbia during a trip with Educate Kids

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R2 Capital founder Amar Nijjar reads to one of the children at the Santa Rita De Cascia orphanage in Columbia during a trip with Educate Kids

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Nijjar: When we were working at JLL, and almost three years ago now, myself and Chad (co-founder) were on a flight to Calgary to attend a conference. We had four hours to spare and we started discussing our future and next big trends in CRE. By  [the] end of the night, we had plans to launch R2. In less than three years, we now have 27 employees (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Armenia) and our own offices with ~5,000 SF of space at a Class-A tower. So, “making it” means executing on your vision!

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Nijjar: Naysayers. Experience has now taught us to steer clear of employees, clients and/or partners who are habitually pessimistic in their views. We like working with people who, instead of casting gloom on every single idea and tell us how and why it’s not going to work actually think outside the box and tell us how it is going to work.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Nijjar: I have multiple mentors for different aspects of business and life but Charles Sousa (Minister of Finance, Ontario) stands out — he is a good friend and I consider him a  good mentor. He came from humble immigrant family beginnings and through hard work he moved up the ranks. Lots to learn from his successes for me personally.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?

Nijjar: Best — Many people fail to achieve their goals because they’re dreamers instead of doers. Instead of attempting to make huge strides, embrace small, incremental steps toward change. (Read the book "5% More," by Michael Alden.)

Worst — There is lots of useless and unsolicited advice out there.  I try to smile and move on very quickly.

R2 Capital founder Amar Nijjar (right) poses with Dr. Fernando Quintero and one of the children at the Santa Rita De Cascia orphanage in Colombia during a trip with Educate Kids.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Nijjar: Perhaps we splurged a little too much with our office space at 1 University but it was needed — from a business standpoint!

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Nijjar: Tanta, Larcomar, Miraflores (Lima, Peru). Great ocean views and excellent Peruvian cuisine.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Nijjar: Be careful, and I [would] then quote Einstein: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Nijjar: With the help from my team, I was fortunate to be the top broker at JLL Canada (across all business lines) in 2015. At that time, I decided to look beyond the horizon ... it was hard leaving an extremely well-paying career to leap into uncertainty and start our own business.

Bisnow: Whose work do you most admire?

Nijjar: Padre Omar — a Peruvian lawyer who went back from being a lawyer in New York to start an orphanage for disabled and abandoned children in poor parts of Peru. If you ever get a chance, you must meet this extraordinary soul. Reach out to me and I will be happy to arrange an intro.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Nijjar: Lots.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Nijjar: I love hot yoga and boxing — bit of Yin and Yang!