Prem Watsa: From $8 to Canada’s richest Indian

Prem Watsa: The Inspiring Journey of Canada's "Warren Buffett"

Prem Watsa : India has produced countless success stories, and one of the most inspiring is the journey of Prem Watsa. Born on August 5, 1950, Prem Watsa is an Indian-Canadian billionaire businessman, known as the founder, chairman, and chief executive of Fairfax Financial Holdings, based in Toronto.

Often hailed as the “Canadian Warren Buffett,” his life is a testament to resilience, determination, and unwavering faith in his principles.

Prem Watsa :Early Life and Education

Prem Watsa was born in Hyderabad, India, into a middle-class family. His educational journey began at Hyderabad Public School, and he went on to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras.

However, his dream of higher education in Canada seemed out of reach due to financial constraints. With just $8 in his pocket, he embarked on a journey that would change his life forever.

To fund his education abroad, Watsa took up the challenging task of selling furnaces and air conditioners door-to-door. This demonstrated his unyielding determination and his willingness to work hard to achieve his goals.

His journey resonates with anyone who has faced adversity and decided to overcome it through hard work and resilience.

Watsa’s educational pursuit took him to the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, where he earned an MBA. This was a pivotal moment in his life, laying the foundation for his future success.

His alma mater, IIT Madras, proudly acknowledges him as a distinguished alumnus, a testament to his exceptional achievements.


After completing his education, Prem Watsa began his career at Confederation Life, an insurance company. However, his true calling was yet to be discovered.

In 1984, he took a leap of faith and, with his former boss Tony Hamblin, co-founded Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel, an investment firm. His entrepreneurial journey had begun, and he was determined to make a significant impact.

In 1985, he made a bold move that would define his legacy. Watsa acquired Markel Financial, a small Canadian trucking insurance company on the brink of bankruptcy.

He rebranded it as Fairfax Financial Holdings, a decision that would change the landscape of the insurance industry in Canada and beyond.

Under his leadership, Fairfax Financial Holdings experienced remarkable growth, achieving annual revenues of $8 billion in 2012. What sets Prem Watsa apart is his ability to emulate the principles of his idol, Warren Buffett, a legendary investor.

Despite his success, he remained a humble figure who avoided the spotlight, only initiating investor conference calls in 2001.

One of the most significant milestones in his career was his involvement with Research In Motion (RIM) in 2012. Although he resigned in 2013, his investment in the company made headlines.

In the same year, BlackBerry announced its acquisition by Fairfax Financial Holdings in a $4.7 billion deal, cementing Watsa’s reputation as a shrewd and visionary businessman.

In 2017, Prem Watsa raised concerns about a real estate bubble in Toronto, drawing attention to the vulnerability of Canadian banks in the event of a 50% drop in real estate value.

His ability to identify economic risks and his commitment to sound financial principles make him a true visionary in the business world.

Ingredients of Success

Prem Watsa’s success can be attributed to several key principles:

  1. Faith in God: His unwavering faith has been a source of strength throughout his journey.
  2. Honesty and Integrity: Watsa has consistently maintained high ethical standards in his business dealings.
  3. Respect for People: Treating people with respect has been a cornerstone of his success.
  4. Family Priority: Despite his demanding career, family remains a priority for Prem Watsa.
  5. Hard Work and Dedication: His relentless work ethic and dedication to his goals have been instrumental in his achievements.

His dedication to these principles sets a remarkable example for aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Volunteering and Honors

Beyond his business success, Watsa is actively involved in various philanthropic activities. He serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of The Hospital for Sick Children, the Advisory Board for the Richard Ivey School of Business, and the Board of Directors of the Royal Ontario Museum Foundation. He also chairs the Investment Committee of St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

In 2009, he was appointed as the ninth chancellor of the University of Waterloo, a testament to his commitment to education. He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015, recognizing his outstanding contributions to society.

In 2017, he was elected as the first chancellor of Huron University College, further solidifying his impact on the educational landscape.

Legacy and Vision

Prem Watsa’s journey from humble beginnings to becoming the richest Indian in Canada is nothing short of inspirational. His commitment to sound financial principles, resilience, and dedication to his values have made him a prominent figure in the business world.

With a net worth of USD 1.2 billion, he continues to be a leading force in the financial industry. Fairfax Financial Holdings, under his leadership, has expanded its interests worldwide, including property and casualty insurance and reinsurance, as well as investments in companies like BlackBerry and General Electric.

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