The incomparable Brett Wilson


I debated with myself with respect to what adjective I should use in the title to describe Brett Wilson. I settled on the word "incomparable" which means "so outstanding as to be beyond comparison."


W. Brett Wilson was born on July 1, 1957 at North Battleford. His mother was a social worker; his father was a car salesman. He received his elementary and high school education in the city's public schools. Brett was accelerated for a year, but the experience was a disaster. As one of the smallest kids, he couldn't compete with his larger classmates. He felt like giving up.

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Things turned around for Brett at university - new relationships, new friendships. He also found he was only an average student. But this motivated him to work harder. Brett's informal education was likely more important than his regular class work. He read every copy of the Financial Post from cover to cover which gave him an invaluable education on the real world of business. Brett also took a four-week survival course in British Columbia called "Outward Bound." It changed his life. He was able to get rid of his insecurity to the point where he could say, "I'm OK, not better than others, but I'm OK." Finally, Brett's membership in the Investment Club laid the groundwork for his phenomenal success in business. It was all about the stock market, how it worked - how to buy and sell, paying commissions, following research and market trends.


It should be noted Brett was not all business and no play. University students have a reputation for pulling off outrageous stunts and Brett was no exception. On one occasion, he persuaded a local dancer to re-enact Lady Godiva's famous ride across the campus bowl. The feminists were not amused.


Brett's meteoric rise to the top of the financial industry was truly extraordinary. After he graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1979, he worked in the oil fields of Western Canada for three years. He then took an MBA degree from the University of Calgary in 1985 and began work as an investment banker with McLeod Young Weir Limited. In 1991 he co-founded an investment banking advisory firm, Wilson Mackie and Co., and in 1993, he co-founded with three other investors FirstEnergy Capital Corp., a Canadian stock brokerage whose global clients invest in the energy sector.


In 2008, Brett retired as chairman of FirstEnergy. He continues to invest in energy, agriculture, real estate, sports and entertainment through his company, Prairie Merchant Corporation. His sports acquisitions include the Derby County FC and the Nashville Predators of the NHL. As chair of Canoe Financial, he also invests in Canadian resources.


Brett's interests extended beyond investments in energy, real estate and sports franchises. He was also involved in the entertainment industry as a member of the cast of CBC's highly rated reality show, Dragons Den. Brett stood out from his fellow panel members for two reasons. First, he had a kinder disposition that earned him the title of "Dragon with a Heart." And second, he was the show's lead deal-maker of all time.


Brett's best business advice? It's essential to study marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. You cannot overstate their importance. Don't be a perfectionist but strive to be "perfect enough" to achieve success. Team meetings are essential. Cover everything relevant to the business. Become aware and engaged. Be organized. Pay attention to detail. It's necessary to keep the paperwork current in order to steer the ship. Finally, define success for yourself and set your priorities to receive it.


Brett Wilson has amassed a great fortune, but not for himself only. He uses his great wealth to help others, many of whom are underprivileged. As a philanthropist, Brett sees strategic philanthropy as a means to create major social and economic benefits. In this regard, he established the Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Saskatchewan - in part, to prepare entrepreneurs to be philanthropists. The list of Brett's philanthropic ventures is diverse and lengthy. He supports Kids' Cancer Cure, Alzheimer's research, Youth with a Mission (building homes for the poor in Mexico), David Foster Foundation, Right to Play, Little Warriors, Boomers' Legacy, 777 Run for Sight and Dare to Care and the Veterans' Food Bank. He also contributes toward research on the causes of cancer and its prevention. And, he has funded the Wilson Centre for Domestic Abuse Studies. Brett also supports the Canadian Olympic Swim Team and the Rally Pointe Volleyball Centre in Calgary.


Despite Brett's major philanthropic projects in larger centres, he did not forget his hometown of North Battleford. As a backdrop to his philanthropic investment in our city, it is noted the Battlefords Union Hospital Foundation is the fundraising agency for the hospital. The foundation operates independently from BUH and other health care organizations. It raises funds for the purchase of equipment and provides training for staff. In turn, this enhances patient care.


Brett related that he and his sisters were born at BUH. Until he moved to Saskatoon, and then Alberta, it was the family's hospital. In 1987, Brett's mother and grandmother both passed away on the same day at the BUH. The wonderful compassion and professionalism shown to Brett and his family left an indelible mark. In memory of their mother and grandmother, Brett made a $160,000 donation towards the purchase of a new x-ray machine.


The following year, Brett asked the foundation's CEO to provide him with a "grocery list" with corresponding costs and how the money would be spent. The hospital had four antiquated machines on site, but because of their age, only three could be used at one time. Rather than simply writing a cheque, Brett wanted to give the foundation an incentive to become directly involved. This meant that it would have to match his donation of $300,000. The most the foundation had ever raised at one time was $100,000. It asked for 12 months to raise the money. Brett gave them three months. The foundation agreed to the challenge. Surpassing all expectations, it raised $500,000 in less than three months. Brett was so impressed he matched the amount raised dollar for dollar. Now the foundation had $1 million. This was undoubtedly the largest fund raising success in the foundation's history. It also provided an insight into Brett's philosophy of strategic philanthropy. The results speak for themselves.


Brett Wilson is almost certainly North Battleford's most successful entrepreneur. His extraordinary talent for making deals, taking calculated risks, investing and making money has brought him great wealth and recognition. But Brett is known at least as well for his benevolence and wonderful acts of charity. He is indeed a "capitalist with a heart." On the occasion of North Battleford's centennial, we stand in admiration of, and say thank you, to a truly great citizen.


(Sources: Wikipedia, Financial Post, Brett Wilson, Battlefords Union Hospital Foundation)

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