The 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award is Peter Brown the founder and chair of Canaccord Financial Inc.
Peter Brown lets it be known right away that he’s got a reputation to live up to as a busy man who doesn’t bow to anybody. When I’m ushered into his office atop the former Vancouver Stock Exchange tower, there are no niceties; he barely looks up from his desk, glancing over his reading glasses to give me an expectant stare. I tell him I’ll just take a few minutes of his time. “Good, that’s all you’ve got,” he says.
However, as he begins reflecting warmly on a career that took him from junior broker to head of Canada’s biggest independent investment firm, the stories begin to roll, slowly at first, then gathering momentum, and it becomes clear there’s a teddy bear beneath the gruff exterior.
Brown explains that his start in the investment business was purely a fluke. At age 18, he wanted nothing more than to travel, and a job offer with the brokerage firm then known as Greenshields promised to satisfy that itch with postings in New York, Toronto and Montreal. It was while he was in Toronto that he was infected with a passion for the investment business.
His other passion, the 68-year-old Brown explains, is B.C.; he is a proud third-generation British Columbian who grew up believing he lives in the best place on earth.
“So by accident of birth and accident of travel, I developed a passion for where I live and what I do,” he says simply.
From his entry-level position at Greenshields, Brown catapulted to senior management when he and partner Ted Turton bought a majority interest in the struggling Vancouver brokerage firm Hemsworth, Turton & Co. His initial business plan had nothing to do with building a financial empire, Brown explains: “Our growth strategy when we started was to stay alive.”
Turton & Co. became Canarim Investment Corp., and through a string of acquisitions overseen by Brown it eventually became today’s Canaccord Financial, with more than 1,500 employees and over $575 million in revenue.
In addition to building a Canadian financial powerhouse, Brown has lived up to his promise to contribute to the community he loves so much. Former chair of both the UBC board of governors and the Vancouver Stock Exchange, he also boasts having served as both vice-chair of Expo 86 Corp. and a member of the VANOC board of directors. He is currently a trustee for the Fraser Institute and a director with BC Pavilion Corp.
Although obviously proud of a career that has left him the undisputed king of Vancouver finance, today Brown is bashful when it comes to taking credit and is quick to remind me of his bad-boy reputation.
“You hang around for as long as I have and they start giving you awards,” he says with a laugh. “Twenty years earlier they wanted to put you in jail.”