Marija Pavkovic Tovissi

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych. Photographed at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. 

Age: 37

Job title: CEO, MaKami

Why she’s a 2016 Top 40:

Pavkovic-Tovissi has built a multi-faceted enterprise whose success results in skilled, employable Canadians.

When she was not quite 10 years old, Marija Pavkovic-Tovissi watched her mother carefully iron the creases out of her father’s Yugoslavian diploma, which a Canadian employer crumpled and tossed to the floor during an interview, while delivering the line, “This is useless in Canada.”

Today, as CEO of MaKami College, Tovissi ensures 1,200-plus students a year – many of them immigrants, most working mothers – get an education and a diploma that is useful in Canada and gets them working right away.

She started MaKami in 2001 with a class of eight students, offering one 1,000-hour massage therapy course. The college now offers a two-year, 3,000-hour advanced clinical massage therapy diploma program to more than 1,000 students at its campuses in Calgary and Edmonton. The school is currently looking to expand into other Canadian cities and diversify its course offerings.

MaKami College is now only one of several companies Tovissi heads. Issues with suppliers for the college led to the launch of an independent equipment wholesaler, and a struggle to obtain the right kind of insurance for the college led to the creation of a boutique insurance company. “We’ve tended to start a new company every time we’ve run into any kind of road block,” she says.

Tovissi’s parents, as well as her brother and extended family, also play a critical role in the success of MaKami. “I think of my mom as my co-founder,” Tovissi says. Her father is her CFO, and her brother the sales and marketing director, although each also pursues other business ventures as well. “We’re an entrepreneurial family, I guess,” Tovissi says.

Tovissi’s entrepreneurship has led to a flurry of recent awards. MaKami was recognized by Profit 500 in 2014 and 2015 as one of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies, and, in 2015 Tovissi was named one of Chatelaine‘s top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada.

A committed volunteer since age 14, Tovissi supports several local charities and volunteer organizations and is the co-founder of the QE Education Foundation, a registered charity that helps immigrants re-educate themselves in Canada by providing ESL classes, document translations and other services. She also volunteers with Futurepreneur as a coach and mentor. – Marzena Czarnecka 

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