Dragan Jovanovic went from being an Olympic athlete to a refugee.
The Red Deer businessman knows the struggle of starting over again in a new country.
Shortly after fleeing the Bosnian war 21 years ago, the former Yugoslavian bobsled competitor at the 1992 Albertville Olympics landed a job as a pizza deliveryman in Central Alberta.
Jovanovic recalled that all five pizza drivers were immigrants: “One was a (former) engineer, another guy had a masters degree in chemistry, another was a doctor, and I was a teacher.”
Since the fifth guy was a skilled tradesman, “it was the most educated driving crew!” he recalled, with a wry chuckle.
Jovanovic eventually did find meaningful employment in Canada. He boned up on his English, got an Alberta teacher’s certificate, and instructed for several years at a private school before becoming his own boss in business.
The married father of three now owns Divine Flooring in Red Deer, and is helping another immigrant get on his feet.
Jovanovic began mentoring Alex Horbushko under the Alberta Global Talent Program, through the Central Alberta Refugee Effort in 2015. Horbushko, who had arrived as a Ukrainian refugee three years earlier, has since been hired by Jovanovic and promoted from installer to foreman.
He’s deeply grateful for the opportunity, saying “I really enjoy working for Dragan… you feel he’s not (just) your boss, but your friend.”
Horbushko has a masters degree in agriculture, but couldn’t land work in the field. After sustaining a job-related injury from the oilfield, he moved to Red Deer seeking construction work that didn’t keep him away from his wife and children for long periods.
Since both he and Jovanovic share a war-torn background, Horbushko said, “I feel (Dragan) understands me… and I respect him for that and work even harder.”
Brian Ennis, CARE’s program co-ordinator for the Global Talent program, can’t speak highly enough of the working relationship between the two men, and Jovanovic’s positive attitude and contribution.
“He’s an amazing business person,” who turned an informal mentorship into a full-time job for a newcomer who needed it, said Ennis. “He really took Alex and his family under his wing, and he cares.”
Ennis sees huge potential among Central Alberta’s immigrants. He hopes more local employers will become mentors, creating win-win situations.
Jovanovic feels helping Horbushko was the right thing. “I am grateful for everything Canada has provided,” and it’s fair to give back.
For more information, please call 403-391-9713 or visit www.albertaglobaltalent.ca.