Bon Accord Business Symposium draws a Dragon

Arlene Dickinson from CBC’s The Dragon’s Den speaks to an audience of business owners at the Bon Accord Arena Wednesday afternoon. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Bon Accord – A variety of speakers presented their views on business to local business owners and entrepreneurs Wednesday afternoon. Building for Tomorrow, the 2011 Bon Accord Business Symposium drew a varied crowd that packed the Bon Accord Arena to hear headliner Arlene Dickinson from CBC’s The Dragons Den and three other speakers discuss business in both general and regional terms. Also on hand was Wayne Robert of Lochaven Management consultants who spoke on the importance of regional economic development and Doug Bertsch from North West Redwater Partnership who spoke about the progress of the $5 billion refinery project set to begin construction in the region in 2012.

Dickinson, who is best known as a judge on the popular CBC business reality show, is the owner of Venture Communications and has been ranked as one of the Top 100 women entrepreneurs by Profit Magazine. But while a highly respected entrepreneur, Dickinson pointed out that she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

The businesswoman turned television personality spent a considerable portion of her presentation outlining her life story from her humble beginnings in South Africa through her emigration to Canada and impoverished upbringing in Calgary. But despite adversities that have kept many people in similar situations down, Dickinson was able to go from life lesson to life lesson, experience to experience, always learning from those around her, and always taking that first step towards opportunity by believing in herself.

But while Dickinson’s entrepreneurial road took her from collecting bad debts from her kitchen table to selling advertising for a television station and on to partnering and ultimately owning Venture Communications, she told her Bon Accord audience that everyone’s road to entrepreneurship is different.

“We’re all motivated by different things,” Dickinson said, adding those who cannot imagine working for someone else are entrepreneurs for a specific reason. “But my reason and your reason and your reason don’t have to be the same. All that matters is that you’re motivated to be an entrepreneur and to do the best job you can. You can’t compare what drives you every day to what’s driving somebody else every day. We spend far too much of our lives comparing who we are on our inside to what we see of other people’s outsides. We have got to stop that. We have got to start thinking about who we are as individuals.”

Part of what makes entrepreneurs individuals is the emotions they attatch to their profession. The Dragon’s Den judge lamented the absence of emotion in business today, asking when emotion became a dirty word in business.

“We only do things for people when we are passionate about what we are doing,” she explained. “That’s emotion. We only do things for people because we want to care about what we’re trying to deliver into the market. Everything we do on a daily basis is emotionally connected to what motivates us to be better. And this whole BS that says to not show emotion because somehow that makes you less of a leader, or more frail, or less capable, or somehow that shows a weakness as a leader is so wrong. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman. I don’t care what you are. I do care that you tell me why I should commit to you as a leader.”

Dickinson said leadership is about being able to put oneself out there in a way that is somewhat uncomfortable. It is a situation the business leader said she sees too little of today.

Using her story as an example, Dickinson went on to assure local business owners the only real hurdle on the road to opportunity was oneself – the only thing that truly blocks the path to ultimate success. “When you get past that hurdle and start to understand that what you’re capable of is amazing things; when you can listen to me and my life story and realize that I came from nothing,” she said. “I am no different than any one of you. Anything is possible if you allow yourself to do something that might be a little bit scary.”

It is a formula for success that has served the 55-year-old entrepreneur well, always following the belief that nothing is impossible.

“As leaders in the community you are in, anything can happen,” Dickinson told her Bon Accord audience. “It starts with yourself. It starts by looking in the mirror and saying, ‘It doesn’t matter that I have wrinkles. It doesn’t matter that I’m a little over weight. It doesn’t matter that I’m not 20 and perfect. It doesn’t matter that I’m a woman, a man, have disabilities.”

Local reaction positive

One attendee who was impressed with Dickinson’s presentation and the event in general is Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce President Sheldon Fingler.

“I think an event like this is an incredible economic stimulator because it gives us the opportunity to see what’s coming with regards to the upgrader and stuff like that, but as well it gives us the opportunity to hear success stories,” Fingler said. “People like Arlene Dickinson who came from nothing and turned herself into a real success story. We’ve got lots of those in and around our communities. I think this is a great stimulus to put that in people’s heads – to know it is all a reality. We can all be there one day.”

But Fingler was not alone in benefitting from the symposium. Sturgeon County Deputy Mayor Ken McGillis was also impressed with what he saw and heard. “When I signed up to come, I really didn’t know what to expect,” McGillis said. “I was really pleasantly surprised – both with the speakers that were here and also I’m sure there will be a lot better awareness in the community of just what opportunities are going to present themselves with Northwest Refining.

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