W. Brett Wilson, class, leave CBC’s Dragons’ Den

Move over, reasonable discourse and sound advice; it’s time for more bluster and grandstanding!

At least, that’s what seems to be the likely outcome of the sudden departure of W. Brett Wilson from CBC’s Dragons’ Den. On Monday, Wilson announced, through a post on his website, that he will be leaving the show to focus on new business ventures as well as philanthropic efforts.

From his website:

After three years on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, doing 60 plus deals in the Den and personally committing over $4.5 million in final deals with 30 Canadian entrepreneurs, W. Brett Wilson, the lead deal making Dragon, confirmed today that he will not return for the show’s next season. With his departure, Wilson is challenging both CBC and the Dragons to take encouraging Canadian entrepreneurship to another level and to constructively criticize, guide and sometimes finance the pitchers venturing into the Den.

Wilson also hinted at starting his own show to celebrate Canadian generosity through philanthropy and indicated he will continue to step-up his own work to raise money for Canadians in need.

“The contract re-negotiations were complicated. The key issues were my availability and the use of show branding to promote Dragons’ Den deals. We were very, very close to a resolution. But we fell short for several reasons, but mostly we just ran out of time, for which I’m obviously disappointed. I would have loved to have done at least one more season’s worth of helping Canadian entrepreneurs’ dreams come alive,” said Wilson.

However, perhaps unusually for “the Dragon who isn’t a douche,” Wilson took a few parting shots at the show, the CBC and his fellow Dragons, challenging them to raise the bar both in terms of the support they give entrepreneurs and the manner in which they conduct themselves publicly:

“I’m proud of the deals I have done from the show – but even more proud of the journey these determined Canadians are on as entrepreneurs. I challenge CBC and the Dragons to ensure that the show’s momentum in celebrating, encouraging and fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship across Canada doesn’t get lost in faux-business conversations with theatrical rudeness and irrelevant commentary and advice when the real opportunity is to encourage, participate and share in the entrepreneurs’ journeys,” Wilson confirmed.

“The future is bright for entrepreneurship in Canada. Dragons’ Den fans tell me constantly that they are craving true follow-up shows – not superficial snippets of information. They want to share the true roller coaster of the business and deals done in the Den along with the updates on how people fared who got offers and turned them down – and of course those who were sent away,” Wilson said.

Principled to the end. Wellington Financial picked up on the story and Wilson’s words in his press release, and had this to say:

Hmmm. “Faux-business conversations” and “theatrical rudeness”. Whomever could Mr. Wilson be talking about? Not our favourite capital markets Rock Star?

From his chair on set, I guess Mr. Wilson came to recognize what many of us in the VC world saw long ago (see prior indicative posts “Canadian Business Magazine KOs the Globe & Mail” June 15-10 and “Venture Capital is about not making entrepreneurs cry” Jan 20-11). There’s barely a modicum of constructive advice being dispensed in “The Den”, unlike on BNN Business News Network’s The Pitch, for example.

The CBC may not care, but their show has become a self-promotion moneyspinner. KO has raised more than a billion dollars from Canadian retail investors as a result of his omnipresence, generating in excess of $25 million in annual management fees; talk about “Getting Paid While You Wait”. Although I’m a fan of his, Robert Herjavec’s own webiste describes himself as “one of Canada’s most recognizable business leaders.” His tweets about five months on the best sellers’ list are fair game, but neither the book nor the recognition would exist today if not for the entrepreneurs who sacrifice themselves weekly on the CBC.

While I was never a religious fan of Dragon’s Den, I was always impressed by the respect and fairness Wilson displayed towards entrepreneurs who came on the show, bringing their hard work and dreams on national TV for a shot at success. My favourite moment from him was when two little girls brought in  an idea for a board game. While the idea wasn’t the greatest (but in fairness, those eight year olds were better prepared than some adult entrepreneurs), they were very proud of it and had obviously put a lot of work into it.

Kevin O’Leary, predictably, had nothing but scorn for them. “There’s no money in board games,” he told them derisively. Meanwhile, Wilson decided to take the high road: he offered the girls a $500 loan to get some prototypes made up to show to toy stores. He said that if they made any money, he just wanted to be paid back. If they didn’t, it was a gift.

Classy move, and it didn’t cost him much — I’m sure a guy like Wilson could lose $500 in the couch. Best of luck to Wilson, and here’s hoping he gets his philanthropic TV show off the ground. Could add a nice touch of class to the airwaves.