Wilson combines profit with philanthropy

He's been dubbed the 'Dragon with a heart' and is one of Canada's most successful, and philanthropic, business entrepreneurs. On Wednesday, Mar. 31, Brett Wilson will be on campus as this year's guest speaker for the annual CMA Alberta Leadership & Innovation Speaker Series that is organized and hosted by the Faculty of Management.

"He has an outstanding track record for both entrepreneurship and philanthropy," says Steve Craig, director, external relations/co-operative education for the Faculty of Management, on why Wilson was chosen for the annual address. "Social responsibility is such a big part of what we do in the Faculty of Management, so couple that with his incredible success in the business field and it was a perfect match."

Today, Wilson is best known for his role on the hit CBC television series Dragons' Den, where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business concepts and products to a panel of Canadian business moguls. In the early 1990s, he made his mark as a business maverick, co-founding the investment banking advisory firm, Wilson Mackie & Co., in 1991, and with Rick Grafton, Jim Davidson and Murray Edwards, co-founding FirstEnergy Capital Corp., in 1993, a leading Canadian stock brokerage firm that provides investment-banking services to global participants in the energy sector.

Wilson made millions but success was not without consequence, and in the process he lost his marriage and nearly lost his life. As a result, he radically shifted his priorities to focus on his three children and sharing the wealth he has accrued.

"People often ask me about the key to my success and what I hope they hear is that success requires a balance – a balance of priorities combined with passion," says Wilson on his website "Fallout from divorce and a battle with advanced prostate cancer forced me to reprioritize my life – for the better."

Wilson is now incredibly active in the charitable community, having given, and engaged others to give, tens of millions of dollars to non-profit initiatives. He often takes a hands-on approach to philanthropy, including shaving his head to support Kids Cancer Care and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to support Alzheimer's research. He has also made annual trips with Youth With a Mission to Mexico to build homes with his family.

"There is a way for people to be extremely successful financially but also be able to give back to their community, both in dollars and in time," says Craig. "That's one of the great things about Brett, he obviously gives of his time as well as his money."

Craig, who regularly watches Dragons' Den, says the show can serve as a valuable resource for business students.

"With our students, we're always trying to teach them how to be creative, how to be critical thinkers, how to analyze situations and that's one of the things that's great about that program," says Craig. "With any potential entrepreneur that you turn out of the University, when approaching a financier you want them to have the ability to ask themselves, 'Is this worth the money I'm asking for and have I done my due diligence?' The show takes you through that process and it's a great learning tool."

Wilson will appear in the Students' Union Ballroom B from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m., Wednesday Mar. 31. Tickets for the event are free but seating is limited. To register, e-mail or call 403-394-3935. A luncheon for the business community is also being held later that day.

The CMA Alberta Leadership & Innovation Speaker Series is an annual event that the Faculty of Management organizes for the benefit of its students and the local business community. The speakers are selected for their connection with important messages that go beyond typical business issues in ways that reflect the Faculty's new vision.