To enter W. Brett Wilson’s office is an experience in and of itself. I got off the elevator to a flat screen with people’s faces on it. Hmmm, first time I have seen anything like this. I touched Brett’s face and immediately got connected to help. And suddenly what I thought was a wall, opens and I am greeted into a special place with gorgeous Canadian and Saskatchewan art, and a gorgeous chandelier, and welcomed by Brett—who, by the way, was running a bit late, and despite this, still managed to spend some extra time with me. I felt like I was being invited into a secret cocoon. The energy was sacred, living, and inviting, not exactly what you would expect for high net worth individual.
When Brett greeted me there was deep warmth, energy, and strength. There was a certain playfulness to his energy, and invitation to experiment. I also felt, despite his warmth, that this man was bright and clearly does not suffer fools gladly. I felt throughout the interview Brett was with me, not easily distracted by the phone by his side. There was an open quality to his listening that reflected a commitment toward continued learning and growth.
Brett is a Canadian leader in investment banking and investment management (FirstEnergy, Canoe Financial), an entrepreneur and philanthropist. As a panelist on CBC’s Dragon’s Den for three seasons, he was known as the investor with a big heart.
In the late 90s Wilson, although highly successful financially, realized something fundamental was missing: “There was a huge gap between the success of my business life and the failure of my personal life.” Driven to make money at the expense of his health, marriage, and children, the changes to his outlook in life did not come gently. A divorce and suffering from clinical depression were some of the manifestations of a life out of balance.
Crises in his personal life however created opportunities to see himself and his life differently. Sharing custody with his ex-wife, he began to spend less time at work and more time with his children.
“I stopped going into the office at 6:30 a.m. I went home for supper. I wanted the kids to understand that I was here for them. So, I was home. I didn’t travel; I didn’t go to charity events. If I had the kids, that was sacred. I went from zero to 60 in a week in terms of building a relationship with the kids.”
And being diagnosed with cancer a few years later accentuated the need for a life overhaul.
“But cancer may have saved my life. It forced me to look at everything and just say no. If not for that, I may have worked myself to death. So, I changed my priorities. If you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing.”
Brett shares with us his new understanding of what it means to be successful. (This can also be found in his new book Redefining Success: Still Making Mistakes)
What is it that you have to say no to? What is it that you want to prioritize and say yes to?
Still a work in progress, as we all are, Brett is now focused on simplifying his life. This includes his business life.
“My overarching goal here is to simplify and organize my life. That’s what my team’s here for. Now, what they do with their own personal lives, hopefully, they’ll follow suit. But, I complicated my life, made a bunch of money, made a bunch of investments, and now my life is too complicated. So, we want to simplify it and we really want to organize it…and hopefully, in five years’ time, my strategy won’t be based on simplify and organize. It might be liquidate and distribute, or some other words. Who knows? ”
Brett has already planned to “carve off” enough of his wealth to take care of himself and his family, leaving the rest to be given back to the world that has given him so much.
“But, the rest of it, if I get hit by a bus before I want to go, my children have ten years to give away what I have. Get rid of it. …Their opportunity is to give my wealth away. That will be my legacy through them. And, by the way, it’s their opportunity. If they don’t want to do it because they’re busy with their lives, their children, or whatever, that’s okay. My staff is empowered to give it away. But, it’s all gone in ten years.”
Brett Wilson reminds me that in marketing, it is important to consider product, place, price, and promotion for not only services and products, but also the impact on ourselves, our relationships, and our communities. We must go beyond the traditional thinking of the item we are “selling” or “marketing”; it is our precious moments that are behind those items and that in some way pieces of our soul are also associated with the items. Each item tells a story about who we are as its creators and a story about who we are as human beings and as a society. It’s time to set our spirits free of a mind that cannot perceive how everyone and everything is interrelated.