As a sometimes semi-professional salsa dancer, Charles Carranza, BSc 01, BEng 05, EMBA 18, is pretty quick on his feet.
But when the pandemic slammed into his vacation-accommodation businesses, what he learned while obtaining his Executive MBA at Concordia's John Molson School of Business added a business dimension to his agility that helped him weather the storm.
“The EMBA taught me to be anticipatory, agile, innovative and always ready to pivot,” Carranza says. “These insights turned out to be instrumental this past year, living through a pandemic — not only in business, but in every aspect of our lives. The program helped me broaden my normal thought processes and helped me deal with the bad luck we ran into with the pandemic.”
In fact, Carranza and his 30-person team, which ran Harmony Escapes, a short-term rental company, and Aloe Capital, a real-estate investment firm — both of which operated in the United States — managed to find opportunities that emerged because of the pandemic.
“We started our modest, short-term rental business in June 2018 with nine properties, all self-financed,” he says. “Within six months, we had successfully scaled our portfolio to more than 50 properties in Florida, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Virginia and Montreal, with sizable profit margins in U.S. dollars, and were looking to further expand our portfolio.”
Then came the pandemic in 2020, and the world changed.
“The lockdown completely decimated our short-term rental business,” Carranza says. “Our new bookings went from an occupancy of more than 90 per cent to zero. Within two months, we were forced to close 75 per cent of our listings because of lockdowns.
“What saved us was finding creative ways to get people to occupy many vacant units. We saw an opportunity to help travelling nurses and medical personnel find accommodation,” he says. “We reached out to home builders who had buyers planning to move into houses that had been delayed.”
Harmony Escapes didn’t make it, closing in March 2021. “Success is a relative term for us,” Carranza says. “That means we closed our business with our shirts still on.”
Today, Aloe Capital employs four people in Detroit, as well as in Montreal, and Carranza is optimistic. The pandemic initially had a negative effect on Aloe Capital, but it also has turned some real-estate markets red hot, boosting occupancy rates across the company’s portfolio.
Carranza has also found new pandemic-induced opportunities in Montreal, having co-founded Vivic Coworking in 2020. “When the proverbial stuff hit the fan at the beginning of the pandemic, we had the soul-sucking responsibility of laying off the majority of our employees,” he says.
“We found ourselves with a 3,000-square-foot downtown office devoid of people, save for my partner, myself and one employee. We decided to pivot and use our expertise in hospitality, digital marketing and operations to launch a coworking space.”
‘A marathon, not a sprint’
Born and raised in Montreal, Carranza found new and interesting opportunities, or priorities, along the way, whether it was discovering a way to buy and sell dance shoes to dance schools, or — on a more personal level — in how the births of his children instantly changed his world view. “My motivation now boils down to one thing: to be the best father I can be.”
Back in 2006, he put his plans for an EMBA on hold while he explored how far he could get in salsa dancing with a year of maximum effort. That stretched to seven years.
When he finally entered the program, he “learned to ask more questions and carefully listen to other perspectives, rather than give answers and have my voice heard,” he says. “Being surrounded by brilliant colleagues and professors allowed me to consider options different from my own.”
Like others, Carranza talks at length about how important it is to be part of a stimulating, diverse cohort. “Your life as an EMBA candidate is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says.
Being quick on your feet doesn’t hurt, either.