David Chilton, second from the right, with Josh, Michelle and Dr. Neil Pollock. (photo by Robert Albanese Photography)
More than 650 people attended the Jewish Family Service Agency’s 10th annual Innovators Lunch on May 1. This year’s keynote speaker was Wealthy Barber author and Dragons’ Den investor David Chilton.
JFSA board chair Joel Steinberg welcomed attendees to the event, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, and introduced Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld to make the HaMotzi. The rabbi explained the blessing and connected it to JFSA, describing the agency as “God’s partner in sustaining the most needy in our community, working together and bringing God’s blessing down from heaven and providing it in a real way.”
In his thanks and remarks, Steinberg noted how the Innovators Lunch had grown over the years, generating “significant funds for many important programs and services provided by JFSA.” Through corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and donations, this year’s lunch raised a record amount – more than $315,000, JFSA director of development and communications Audrey Moss told the Independent Monday.
The annual video, introduced by JFSA executive director Charlotte Katzen, not only highlighted the services offered by JFSA – this year focusing on mental health counseling and outreach – but celebrated the driving force behind the Innovators event, Naomi Gropper Steiner z”l, whose “dream, vision and tireless efforts” helped launch it. As the program noted, “Naomi was a remarkable person who dedicated her exceptional talents to helping others.”
Event chair Jackie Cristall Morris echoed those sentiments in her comments and offered thanks to all those who contributed to the lunch as she invited Dr. Neil Pollock to the podium. He and his wife Michelle were this year’s event angel donors, matching dollar for dollar any new gifts or portion of increased gifts, up to $20,000. “I can see that every additional dollar that I give helps to make the life of someone in need, in our local community, a little bit better. That is why we decided to offer the matching gift opportunity for the JFSA this year,” he said. Pollock praised JFSA as “a lifeline” for many, and encouraged everyone to give outside of their comfort zone, reassuring them that it would not change their circumstances, but would help change the lives of JFSA clients.
Shay Keil of Keil Investment Group at ScotiaMcLeod, which co-sponsored the lunch with Austeville Properties, introduced Chilton, who proceeded to entertain the audience with several jokes and stories, all of which had a humorous element. He started off bemoaning Fifty Shades of Grey’s unseating of The Wealthy Barber as Canada’s all-time bestselling book. He then recounted what happened when he first returned to public speaking after a brief retirement, during which he was engaged in various projects, including homeschooling his kids for a few years.
His first tour was for CIBC, he said, speaking to the company’s high-end wealth-management clients, and it started in Victoria. It was an elderly crowd. He joked, “The average age was deceased…. I normally talk about save 10 percent and max your RRSP; these people were too old for RIFs. I didn’t know what to say.” When he finished his speech, two elderly women asked his advice on their portfolio. “‘Well,’ he said, ‘I can’t answer that here. I don’t know your risk tolerance level, your pension involved, your income needs, your age, your health, I’d have to ascertain all that before I can give you any advice.’ And the second lady cut in and said, ‘Please just give us a broad general counsel.’ And I said, ‘Well, do you mind me asking how old are you two?’ She said, ‘We’re twins … we’re 93.’ I said, ‘Oh my, I’d spend it.’”
When the laughter subsided, Chilton shared a couple of funny stories about the beginning of his career. One happened at the start of his tour for The Wealthy Barber. He was waiting at the Calgary airport for a flight and visited the bookstore. Seeing his book on display, he offered to sign some copies, only to have the clerk want to know why he would want to do that, not believing that the 25-year-old in front of her could have written it.
The entire season of Dragons Den is filmed in 21 days and, for these 21 days, the dragons must always wear the same clothing because the decision as to which pitches form each individual show are made only after all the filming is complete.
Chilton spoke of how he became involved in Dragons’ Den (“I’ve had so much fun doing the show”), how it has changed his life (he’s no longer always asked whether it’s best to pay off one’s mortgage or max one’s RRSP, but rather whether his fellow dragon, Kevin O’Leary, is really a jerk), how it attracts very passionate fans, some of whom are inspired to go into business, and a few of his favorite entrepreneurs and most profitable or surprising investments. He also shared other tidbits. He explained, for example, that the entire season is filmed in 21 days, over which they see 230 pitches. For these 21 days, the dragons must always wear the same clothing because the decision as to which pitches form each individual show are made only after all the filming is complete, and there needs to be continuity within each show.
Outside of Dragons’ Den, Chilton has invested in other businesses. Notably, he helped cookbook authors Janet and Greta Podleski – after about a year of them wooing him. He spoke with obvious fondness and admiration for the sisters, who almost went bankrupt (paying their mortgage with credit cards!) before they saw success. Their first book, Looneyspoons, spent almost two years on the national bestseller list and sold 850,000 copies in Canada alone. They have since published more cookbooks and expanded into other food-related ventures.
Chilton ended his speech with a call for perspective. Describing himself as always being in a good mood, he noted that this isn’t the case with many others. “People say that Canada’s national pastime is hockey, but I’d argue, after 25 years on the road, it’s complaining. Everywhere you go,” he said, “people whine about absolutely nothing. It is amazing to me how many people voluntarily decide to be in a bad mood about a trivial matter.”
An economist by training, Chilton said, “I believe the number one thing holding back productivity in many people’s lives is their whining and complaining, they’re always focused on something negative and it’s usually something trivial. People have lost perspective. In Canada, we have lost the ability to discern the difference between a minor inconvenience and a major problem. A long lineup at Tim Horton’s is not a major problem, but it spins people into bad moods for hours. It’s crazy. Look around the world right now and what’s happening in so many places, Ukraine obviously, but think about Syria. We’re talking about a relatively wealthy developed country disintegrating right in front of our eyes, and it’s happening everywhere in the world.”
“I’m telling you right now, if you are healthy and you live in Canada, especially if you live here [in Vancouver], it doesn’t get any better than right here and right now. You’ve got to step back and see how fortunate we are. It’s that perspective, I think, that leads to more generosity, more community involvement, all of that.”
Not only are Canadians better off relative to most other countries, but to previous centuries. “We are living such better lives than at any point in history. It’s crazy that people don’t notice that. And I’m not talking back to medieval times, I’m talking 20 and 40 years ago, one or two generations. Everything, and I repeat, everything is way better now than it was then, everything.” He gave many examples – cars, phones (which now have “more computing power than the entire Apollo 11 mission”), air travel, television, wages, home sizes and building materials, health care. “I’m telling you right now, if you are healthy and you live in Canada, especially if you live here [in Vancouver], it doesn’t get any better than right here and right now. You’ve got to step back and see how fortunate we are. It’s that perspective, I think, that leads to more generosity, more community involvement, all of that. That’s what days like this are all about.”
For more information about JFSA, call 604-257-5151 or visit jfsa.ca.