Giovanni Zen has come a long way from his roots in Northern Italy where his father was a farmer. He left school at the age of 12 to train as a shoemaker and soon went to a monastery to study and serve tables.
He immigrated to Canada as a young man more than 60 years ago ready to work hard as a proud new Canadian. He began with nothing and had little education. But he knew there were opportunities for people with ambition and a strong work ethic.
He started his first company with a $100 truck and some basic knowledge of roofing. Some of his earliest business experience involved roofing homes in First Nations communities from Hope through to Pemberton.
Giovanni Zen’s first entry into Vancouver’s rental housing market in the late 1950’s was construction of a 10-suite apartment in the city’s east end. It was designed by a Hungarian-trained architect and was the first in the city to feature corner balconies.
In the 1960’s, Giovanni Zen partnered with his wife’s cousin Luigi Aquilini, a very experienced stone mason and recent immigrant. The two partners accelerated the program of building apartment rental accommodation in the Vancouver area and became one of the biggest landlord’s in Vancouver’s west end.
That successful partnership lasted into the 1980’s when Zen and Aquilini amicably divided their assets to ensure their children would be in a position to continue in the growing businesses.
Giovanni Zen later expanded his business by building and acquiring approximately 10,000 rental apartments in Texas, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto. Being constantly away from his family, he eventually made the decision to concentrate his assets in B.C.
During the years he has been able to build a successful family business in B.C., building rental apartments and commercial and retail properties that he continues to own.