Miroslav Reljic Rises from Rubble to Top Business Coach
by Mike Fisher
Miroslav Reljic’s journey that eventually led him to UCalgary was harrowing and heroic. Currently a career and life coach, he continues to volunteer his time to help refugees and newcomers.
Half a world away from Rwanda, a different ethnic conflict was forcing people to flee their homes in the early-to-mid 1990s. The Bosnian War involving Serbs and Croats, and, within it, the Croat-Bosniak War, resulted in more than 100,000 deaths during myriad clashes.
At 5 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1995, 19-year-old Miroslav Reljic raced outside his home wearing flip-flops, a T-shirt and his shorts, clutching a family photo album as he ducked and ran with others who were pouring into the streets. The thump of heavy shelling heaved the ground beneath his feet and smoke coiled around buildings.
He trekked more than 140 kilometres on foot, from near Petrinja in Croatia to relative safety in Banja Luka, a city in Bosnia. Moving across fields, through forests and over half-destroyed bridges where split-up families roamed, shell-shocked and calling out, pleadingly, holding their crying babies — Reljic stepped determinedly over the dead.
Our home was burned down, raided, looted. We hugged... Whatever you wore, you wore because you had to leave.
Miroslav Reljic, BA’04
“Whatever you wore, you wore because you had to leave,” says Reljic, BA’04, now a top business, career and life coach in Calgary who donates his time to help refugees and newcomers gain footing after they arrive as strangers in a strange land. “There was hatred. If you stayed, you’d be executed.”
He found his way to a UN mobile kitchen, where he washed dishes to help, asking everyone he met if they’d seen his parents, a slim hope given that hundreds of thousands of dispossessed people were on the move. Miraculously, a former schoolmate told him that she’d just seen them walking on a nearby road. Night was falling. Reljic ran.
He saw two people ahead, walking very slowly. “It was a man and a woman, broken people, my mother in a trance, my father, depressed,” Reljic recalls. “‘We’ve lost everything,’ they said. ‘Our home was burned down, raided, looted.’ We hugged . . . the best hug I have ever received. And then my father said — ‘you can always work to get things back, but, when a life is lost, that’s it.’ We were blessed to survive.”
Coming to Canada with purpose
Reljic’s story is threaded with resolve. His journey from his homeland to Calgary, where he became a consultant to companies including TransCanada, as well as an inspiration to newcomers, could be a textbook example of setting lofty goals and ambitiously reaching them.
He landed in Canada as a refugee in 1999, barely able to speak English, but he doggedly learned, working toward his UCalgary degree. He remembers faculty and fellow students as being kind and patient with his faltering language skills.
“I learned it is not just a university, but a community is where we belong,” he says. “That’s what gives us a sense of security and purpose.”
When a friend invited him to Bow Valley Square for an office job, he was thrilled. He dressed smartly, arriving early for an interview. He looked up at the downtown tower and then entered the building, bursting with confidence. There was a mix-up; he’d misunderstood. He was led to a mop and pail. It was a custodian job.
So, Reljic rolled up his sleeves, deciding he’d work his way up by graduating and then becoming a business analyst in just such an office in five years.
He made that happen, and, step by laborious step, he rose to become a go-to advisor and executive coach with his eponymous consulting company, Reljic Coached, whose clients have included Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway.
Reljic has volunteered with thousands of newcomers and immigrants in Calgary through various agencies because he believes in giving back to the country that has given him the opportunity to realize his dreams. He is an RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winner, among other honours, including being featured at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.
“My life has taught me that one thing is certain — change,” he says.
“We have to let go so we can move on. I learned these skills living through a war, but I honed them by studying at the University of Calgary. Look at my story. You can get to where you want to go.”
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