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W. Brett Wilson on the ‘lost art of critical thinking’

Entrepreneur and ‘Dragons’ Den emeritus’ inspires Schulich students

W. Brett Wilson

In a wide-ranging and transparent address, well-known entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist W. Brett Wilson gave more than 200 students, alumni and community partners from the Schulich School of Engineering plenty to think about Jan. 18.

He shared some personal stories — including failing reinforced concrete class in engineering school — and talked about business adventures, from starting in oil and gas to investment banking to being on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. He spoke about having cancer twice, shared a few political views, and challenged plenty of conventional thinking.   

“I want to push some buttons,” he told the crowd. Wilson spoke about the danger of sugar, the potential of the medical marijuana industry, and the importance of language. “Words matter,” he says. “I am not a cancer survivor. I am a cancer graduate, it’s a more empowering term.”

He never says “mental illness,” it’s always the positive “mental health or wellness.” And he funds programs for “domestic abuse” not “domestic violence.” 

“There is an umbrella of abuse, violence is but one form,” he explains.

Successful investing takes “cash, courage and commitment.” He bets on the individual — “the jockey” — and not the business — “the horse.”

In a Q and A, students asked Wilson about his role models (Richard Branson and Herb Sparrow, a community leader in his hometown of North Battleford, Sask.); how much money is enough (“if you make it, you decide”) and how he identifies quality entrepreneurs (passion and realism).  

One student thanked Wilson for talking about quitting drinking decades ago and asked how he should deal with the stigma around his own sobriety. “You should be proud,” Wilson replied. “Sharing that you have been four years’ sober is a very powerful statement.”

“I appreciate his uncensored view of the world. It was nice to hear him being real with us and telling us what he thought,” says Alexandra Rabel, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at Schulich. “I appreciate him encouraging people to think for themselves. That’s really important, I think.”

Adele Castillo, a third-year geomatics student, has seen Wilson speak before. “I loved how he digs deep into his own skin and he’s had his own personal challenges. I like his advice to be myself, be real and measure my success with my smile and not overwork myself.”

Mangesh Kumthekar, alumni of the Haskayne School of Business, was expecting to hear about entrepreneurship and leadership. “But the best part of it was he didn’t stick to one area. It was a good thought-provoking free speech with some interesting ideas.”

Brett was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series. The lecture series is part of the Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Engineering Career Centre that supports students by integrating professional development, career programming and engineering education.

“At the school, I received valuable mentorship and networking opportunities. That support and encouragement helped me succeed,” said Sanjeev Khanna, MSc’90. “Our vision was to add some resources that can benefit students’ lives.”

Dean Bill Rosehart described the event as an excellent example of how we can create extraordinary experiences for our students by bringing the community and the university together.

“Wilson is able to show the students what’s possible and that what they do in their careers is really limited only by their creativity and imagination. There is so much potential out there for them to be extremely successful,” said Rosehart.

W. Brett Wilson in the Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series

  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Lauren Neves, Intern of Merit and W. Brett Wilson
     Lauren Neves, Intern of Merit and W. Brett Wilson
  • Dean Bill Rosehart, Jenny Cruickshank (Manager, Engineering Career Centre) and W. Brett Wilson
     Dean Bill Rosehart, Jenny Cruickshank (Manager, Engineering Career Centre) and W. Brett Wilson
  • Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
     Entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson was the inaugural speaker in the new Alka and Sanjeev Khanna Lecture Series
  • Dean Bill Rosehart and W. Brett Wilson
     Dean Bill Rosehart and W. Brett Wilson