Engineer and entrepreneur Zlatan Fazlagic on school, success and solving problems
Zlatan Fazlagic was six years old when he first made a profit. He picked up his uncle's guitar on a Bosnian bus and began to strum and sing. The performance earned enough coins from bemused onlookers to afford young Fazlagic a new board game.
Before the first decade of his life was over, he was running a vegetable stand and recruiting his first employees, a group of neighbourhood kids, to collect recycled paper for cash.
Today, the 43-year-old runs Look Agency Inc., a full-service marketing and advertising agency he founded in 2004. He's also the Chief Marketing Officer for fast-growing jewelry line Hillberg & Berk, which was founded by his wife Rachel Mielke.
Since arriving in Canada as a refugee from war-torn Bosnia in 1995, Fazlagic has come a long way, thanks to his ability to focus on long-term goals. "Everything around my life in Canada revolved around getting an education," he says.
Fazlagic's Bosnian high school diploma wasn't recognized in Canada. For a time, he took adult basic education courses while working in a factory and assisting adults with developmental disabilities. One of his teachers saw something special in Fazlagic.
"He told me I was good with math," says Fazlagic, who subsequently enrolled in the three-year Computer Engineering Technology diploma program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Moose Jaw in 1998.
By the end of the program, students were designing computer- operated greenhouses. "Everything you read in a book, you actually made in the lab," Fazlagic says. "I've been the most impressed with my experiences there, and I still keep in touch with the instructors."
Fazlagic went on to earn a degree in electronic systems engineering from the University of Regina, but soon learned he wasn't cut out for life behind a desk. That's when he started Look Agency Inc.
"People often ask me, 'How does engineering fit into marketing?' It has actually been incredibly helpful," Fazlagic says. "The troubleshooting skills you learn with the circuit board make you a better problem solver."
Fazlagic, who has been a member of the Computer Engineering Technology Advisory Committee program at the Sask Polytech Moose Jaw campus since 2009, is passionate about communication skills in the technical profession.
"Students in technical fields need to understand they are competing with the world," Fazlagic says. Aspiring engineers need to develop a good understanding of business communication. "If you cannot speak for yourself, understand what the leadership wants you to achieve and how to do it, you will be the guy stuck in the basement writing code."
Fazlagic, a father of three, credits his family for his success. "People often tell me, 'You came here with nothing and look what you were able to accomplish.' I don't feel like I came with nothing-I came with the abilities and work ethic my parents gave me, and that is worth much more than money."