For corporate veteran Bev Briscoe, a mentor helps others look at things differently by offering unexpected insights

About 12 years ago, Tracey McVicar got a phone call from Beverley Anne (Bev) Briscoe. The two knew each other in passing, but McVicar, who had recently set up the Vancouver office of New York-based private equity firm CAI Capital Management Co., was surprised. “She said, ‘I want to know who you are. Can I buy you dinner?’” McVicar recalls. “I thought, ‘You’re interested in me?’ It was like Queen Elizabeth had called.”

McVicar knew about Briscoe’s long career in the transportation and industrial equipment sectors, including positions as CFO for several divisions of the Jim Pattison Group, vice-president of finance of the Rivtow Group of Companies and vice-president of Wajax Industries Ltd. From 1997 to 2004, Briscoe owned and managed Port Coquitlam-based Hiway Refrigeration Ltd., which sold and serviced units used in the trucking industry. Now semi-retired, she sits on the boards of mining giant Goldcorp Inc. and Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers.

McVicar may have been awestruck when the pair had their first dinner together, yet Briscoe peppered her younger colleague with questions about where she grew up and went to school. They became friends, eventually going on golf trips together. McVicar came to rely on Briscoe for advice and encouragement, especially when she joined her first corporate board, at BC Hydro, in 2007. “She’s aggressive,” McVicar notes. “She would say, ‘You can’t just sit at the board table. You have to act.’ I really learned that from her.”

Briscoe, who often takes calls from younger people keen to seek her advice in person, enjoys such meetings. She helped the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs set up its mentoring program in 2002 and served as a mentor with the organization for many years. But she acknowledges that structured mentoring, which involves regular meetings, isn’t for everyone. For Briscoe, the most valuable wisdom has sometimes come from unexpected sources, like the “crusty old guy” who ran a trailer dealership across the road from Hiway Refrigeration and frequently dropped by to drink her coffee. On Monday mornings, he would watch her frantically taking calls from angry customers and trying to solve all the problems from the weekend.

“One day he said to me, ‘You’re doing it all wrong. Don’t even come in on Monday mornings. Let your staff handle it. You can’t be the only one that believes in customer service. Come in at noon and deal with the stuff that’s left over.’” Briscoe took the suggestion and has since passed it on to others. “I believe in mentoring moments,” she says. “It’s a situation where somebody is criticizing or volunteering advice at a time when it just sort of resonates in a way that it changes your perspective.”