Honouring a Local Icon

Peter Gustavson forged ties with UVic’s Business school while building a $370-million enterprise

In October 2010, the University of Victoria recognized local business hero Peter Gustavson by renaming its business faculty the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. While this was an obvious show of thanks for the $10 million Gustavson donated to the university earlier that year, it was also a fitting tribute to the entrepreneur who had built a multimillion-dollar, multinational business named after the iconic Victoria landmark where he got his start.

When he founded Custom House Currency Exchange in 1992, Gustavson took the name from the historic building on Victoria’s harbourfront where he set up shop. When he sold the business to Western Union for US$370 million in 2009, it had 780 employees and offices around the world. BCBusiness recently caught up with Gustavson by phone from his home in Victoria.

When did your relationship with UVic begin? 

Over the years in Victoria we employed several hundred people and a lot of them ended up being UVic graduates, both undergrad and MBA. I started to notice that the kids coming out of UVic seemed to be just a little bit smarter, a little bit quicker; they could jump a little higher.

Can entrepreneurship be learned in school?

Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but UVic offers a specialization in entrepreneurship where they teach you the discipline that you need and give you the tools to see opportunity, to see the threat, and you’re able to execute on it.

How much of your own success do you attribute to a business education?

When I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a BComm with honours, I thought I was really clever. What I found out in the first couple of years was that I was quite inexperienced, and almost naïve about business when I graduated. 

Do you think your career would have gone differently if your education had included an entrepreneurship component?

I paid a lot of tuition fees after I got out of university in the form of businesses that didn’t go well. If I’d had more formal training in entrepreneurship and creating more discipline on the execution, that would have been very useful. It didn’t turn out badly anyway. I’m not complaining.