"In many ways, cancer was the best thing that could have happened to me because it truly forced me to slow down and think about how I was living. Cancer may have saved my life. Cancer allowed me to say no to every request for my time."
When I first saw Brett Wilson on Dragons’ Den, I became a fan. His laid back, calm, straightforward but positive approach to the many people who were baring their soul on national TV was inspiring. Nothing against some of the negative panelists (read: “Kevin O’Leary”), but I learned something from Brett in every show, not only how to be a better entrepreneur, but how to be a better person. When I attended a keynote from Wilson’s Life Coach Keith Hanna a few months ago, I put this book on my list of must-reads.
Wilson’s book Redefining Success: Still Making Mistakes has two key takeaways. One: Slow down. Work is important and stuff needs to get done, but it’s not priority one. It’s actually priority five on a list of six in Wilson’s world (more on that in a minute). Two: Use your connections, money, smarts, and time to make a difference now, not when you pass away and leave some of your estate to charity. Your legacy needs to begin now, not when you die.
"I would recommend that each of you considers the questions I shared earlier that were posed to me not so long ago. First: What would you like people to say at your funeral? And then look at what might be the toughest question: What would your children say at your funeral? If the answers don’t line up with your dreams, maybe it’s time to examine your definition of success – and the priorities you associate with that definition."
You may recall in Covey’s Seven Habits the first question above. I have gone through that exercise before, as I’m sure most of you have. What really moved me was the second question. Wilson digs deep into priorities throughout his book and explains how his were much different before and after that exercise. I’m afraid he isn’t alone.
Some people dive head first into their jobs making it their number one priority. Typically we think of entrepreneurs or people who are heavily invested in their jobs, but more and more people are putting work before everything. Wilson shares a story that was incredibly moving where he was home one evening “babysitting” his kids and working in his home office, which he was extremely bitter about. He should have been at his office working, so he thought. He was bidding on an expensive piece of art in an auction that he really wanted, a piece of art that “I couldn’t imagine living without.” The auction house was to call him if he was outbid giving him an opportunity to increase his bid. The phone rang several times that evening but was quickly answered by one of his children, so Wilson assumed it was for them as they didn’t come to get him. The auction close time came and went and Wilson hadn’t heard from the auction house so he called them and was told that he had been outbid. When asked why they hadn’t called him, the auctioneer replied they had, but were told by Wilson’s children that he wasn’t home.
He lost it. He ran down the hall to his daughter’s room and exploded! His daughter crawled under the bed for protection from his verbal abuse. Finally she said that she wasn’t aware that he was home…because he never is.
Wilson does a much better job than I of explaining his emotions that night and what followed, but believe me, it was powerful. He admits that he can’t even recall what the art piece was now, it was truly that insignificant.
His children would have answered question two above with the response that he was a successful businessman, but probably wouldn’t say he was a great father. That moved him to make some changes. In the book he lists his six priorities:
1. Personal health: Emotional, Physical, Intellectual – If you don’t have time to take care of yourself now when you are “so busy”, how are you going to find the time to do it when you are sick? When he had prostate cancer he was the partner in a small, but successful firm that he thought couldn’t run without him. When he took time off, he discovered that it could. He also realized that he needed to be there to take care of his family, so his health was priority one.
2. Family – The members of your family give you your core relationships and they need unconditional love and support, the same which you would expect from them. It’s not always easy he admits, but it’s always worth a try.
3. Friends – They are the essence of life. For many entrepreneurs, the journey can be a lonely one as you are putting in many hours and the people who aren’t in sync with your schedule will eventually become tired of waiting. Make time for your friends and surround yourself with like-minded folks.
4. Education – Never stop learning. Wilson says that one of the reasons he invests in some companies on Dragon’s Den is just so he can learn more about that industry/business. Time spent learning is never wasted. Even making mistakes is learning and helps create experience which we can never have enough of.
5. Career – Wilson has realized a great deal of financial success in the past and can now spend less time working. It’s safe to say that his career is established and on solid footing so putting career near the bottom of his list is easier for him than an entrepreneur who is early in their career. That said – which of the four priorities above do you bump down? Tough, isn’t it?
6. Community – “We all have opportunities to give back in whatever way we choose, be it through time, money, or the combination of time money and creativity”, Wilson says. More on this in insight #1.
Philanthropy Is Good Business
"I have always given out of a sense of opportunity, with the goal of not only making my community better, but making my company bigger as well. I know that some people object to the notion of getting something from giving. But businesses should expect a return on their charitable donations."
Before you dismiss such an idea, Wilson asks us to think about this: charitable giving that in turn reaps an economic return creates stronger companies that can make more meaningful contributions to their communities in the long run. Wilson quotes a figure that fewer than one in thirty Canadian businesses claimed any charitable donations at all; on average the rest gave less than one percent of pre-tax profits. Wilson suggests you donate 2.5% of pre-tax profits and treat it like a marketing budget.
Some ways to help your business when donating to charity:
1. Getting Noticed – Send the cheque directly to the CEO or executive director of the charity, with a copy going to the second-in-command as well. He would also send a copy of each cheque to selected board members, clients, potential clients, and competitors who were known supporters of the charity. Instead of getting lumped in with all of the other donors, for the cost of the letter, they were able to build brand awareness.
2. Leverage – Instead of taking on the cost of running a big charity event (dinner/gala/concert, etc.) partner up with a company that also serves your clients, but is not a competitor. Wilson’s firm teamed up with a large accounting firm in Calgary to put on some large events. This gave what Wilson calls “brand rub” where your brand rubs up against a bigger, established brand so you can get some exposure.
3. The Manitoba Flood – In the spring of ‘97 the Red River severely flooded and Wilson’s firm, FirstEnergy, wanted to help so they donated their trade commissions for one day to the flood victims. On a normal day, that would total about $100k, but since they told everyone what they were doing, they raised $450k. Now here’s where this really sings: a couple of days after his event, the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Herald were doing a joint fundraiser event – a concert – at the Saddledome. Wilson reached out to the Flames and asked if they would like to roll all of their donations together – he had $450k, remember. The Flames said yes and FirstEnergy presented their big cheque on stage at the end of the concert. Together they made headlines across Canada as they had raised well over half a million for the flood.
4. Charity Cheques – FirstEnergy runs several events where they pay for the food, beverage, venue and entertainment and then invite contacts/connections/industry folks to show up. The price of admission is a cheque filled out to the charity. No cheque, no entry. The cheque should be equal to “whatever you would spend on a fine dinner with a great bottle of wine.” When they started they would raise $12k per event, now they raise about $250k at each event. Nice!
"As a prostate cancer ‘graduate’ I have made awareness and early detection a major theme of my philanthropic work. My message is to get checked sooner than later. Information won’t kill you, but ignorance could."
This may quite possibly be the shortest insight in Actionable Books history, while also being the most important. Don’t dismiss it because you are a woman either – you all have a man in your life somewhere ladies.
Wilson got prostate cancer at 44. The Cancer Society suggests you get checked at 50. As he says, if he had listened to their advice, he’d be dead. In Canada one in six men will develop prostate cancer, the most common cancer to affect Canadian males (I would imagine the numbers are similar in the US). Early detection is the best way to survive, so if you’re over 35 get checked. It’s easy. More info here: http://www.prostatecancer.ca/
The book lists a few of Wilson’s mistakes that he has learned from in the past. I was hoping for more, but there is a key learning from each which I found helpful. The afterword by Keith Hanna does a great job of summing up the book and gives a different perspective on its contents.
As I mentioned off the top – I was a fan of Brett Wilson before I read his book. His approach to life, his ability to see through things, his understanding of people, and his sense of giving is such that I want to be more like him. He’s made mistakes, and still does, but his approach to life is refreshing and motivating. Thanks, Brett.
Do you think that a business should gain from donating to charity?