You don’t have to be born into a privileged environment to have a life that is very special and privileged. That was one of the many messages delivered by marketing guru and Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson during a talk at the Barrie Campus on March 28. Dickinson told a packed crowd in the Georgian College Theatre about her rags-to-riches experience, employing a variety of stories about her troubled family growing up, living in poverty and a difficult marriage.
“We’ve lost the art of storytelling,” she said, adding that storytelling is one of the best ways people can learn from each other.
Sharing failures, successes and vulnerabilities can lead to greater understanding of ourselves and others, she also commented. Dickinson emphasized her staunch opposition to Dragons’ Den co-star Kevin O’Leary’s opinion that “emotion doesn’t belong in business,” which drew laughter and cheers from the audience.
Dickinson revealed many of her successes and failures, adding a good dose of humour to each tale. Finishing high school at 16, she was married at 19 and had four children in the next seven years. She worked so her husband could get a degree and then divorced. A judge told her the only way she could keep her children was if she got a job, so Dickinson worked for a collection agency out of her kitchen. In between collection calls she would receive calls from collection agencies about her own unpaid bills.
With no experience, Dickinson talked her way into a sales job at a TV station and became a star salesperson. When that job ended, she joined associates in a new marketing company, Venture Communications, making no money for two-and-a-half years.
She admits to making a lot of mistakes along the way.
“That’s what business is about – being that close to messing it up,” she emphasized, holding her thumb and forefinger close together.
Dickinson learned from those mistakes and became the sole owner of Venture a decade later. The company is now one of the largest independent marketing firms in Canada, with 75 employees and $45-million in gross sales. Dickinson has also achieved fame as a co-star of the hit CBC show Dragons’ Den, where she is known by many as the ‘shrewd yet compassionate’ Dragon.
Dickinson believes the secret to success is threefold: hope, genuine interest and gratitude.
Many students dreaming of a successful career attended the event, hosted by the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre, opening this spring at the Barrie Campus. Dickinson’s advice to them was to take a look at the situation they’re in and see the value in it even if it seems like a bad one. And “be true to who you are.”