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Event Recap: Straight from the Dragon’s Mouth with Kevin O’Leary

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Entertaining and ruthless would accurately describe Kevin O’Leary. The controversial entrepreneur and venture capitalist, best known for his contributions to TV’s Dragons’ Den, Shark Tank and The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, was in Vancouver recently to deliver a keynote speech during an exclusive networking event for private enterprise.

Straight from the Dragon’s Mouth, An Evening with Kevin O’Leary was hosted by accounting firm MNP LLP. The networking and business event took place on Nov. 8th at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

The evening started with après-work cocktails and mingling, followed by a panel session called, “What Does the Future Hold for Your Business?”  The panel of legal, financial and accounting advisors addressed succession planning for family businesses.

The Importance of Succession Planning

Panelist Judy Cunningham, Executive Director of the Business Families Centre at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, pointed out that 80% of Canadian businesses are family owned, accounting for 60% of the Canadian GDP. With many baby boomers looking to retire in the next several years, and so much of Canada’s productivity resting on family firms, successful succession planning seems to be of national importance.

Following the panel session, Daryl Ritchie, CEO of MNP, introduced keynote speaker O’Leary. Ritchie is best known in the accounting world as being the only Canadian make the Accounting Today Top 100 Most Influential People List in 2011.

O’Leary Sizzles

When the guest of honour finally took centre stage, he did not disappoint. At his most charming, Kevin O’Leary shared the lesson he learned from his mom as a young boy: never spend the principal, just the interest.

He also pointed out differences between Canadian and American culture by sharing the sizzle reels from Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank. The Dragons’ Den reel focused on the Dragons during comical moments from its show, while the Shark Tank reel focussed on the aggressive moments from its show.

Of course, true to his nature O’Leary shared anecdotes that were, shall we say, a little off colour. For example, he recounted a time when he was approached by a young entrepreneur seeking advice. The young man was run ragged with his $5-million dollar business, schoolwork and fiancé, and asked O’Leary what he would do in such a situation, to which O’Leary replied, “Well, what can be easily replaced?”

O’Leary stated the oft-cited axiom that most businesses fail, and concluded his keynote speech with what he called “the cold hard truth” about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

What Does it Take to be a Successful Entrepreneur?

According to O’Leary, successful entrepreneurs have the following mind-set:

  • Money = Freedom. Successful entrepreneurs don’t start a business because they want money. They start a business because they want freedom.
  • Successful and “a balanced life” don’t mix. For successful entrepreneurs, the business is their life and they are consumed by passion for what they do.
  • Business is war, never underestimate a competitor.
  • Money may go to bad people but it never goes to bad ideas. O’Leary respectfully cites the late Steve Jobs as a case in point.
  • You are nothing unless you have made money for others. Return the investor’s money first, before you take a dime out. (When O’Leary, not a fan of corporate social responsibility, derided an unnamed bank for touting how it spends shareholder money on community charity, he was met with a “here, here!” agreement from a lone member in the audience.)
  • Everyone is replaceable.

Straight from the Dragon’s Mouth, An Evening with Kevin O’Leary was the brainchild of MNP accountants Kerry Smith and Noel Isberg, and was organized by Massive Media.

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