Interview: Arlene Dickinson Opens Up About ‘The Big Decision’

Arlene Dickinson is an accomplished entrepreneur, investor on the CBC hit show Dragon’s Den, writer of a new best seller called Persuasion and now a star in a new business reality show: The Big Decision. In our interview, we spoke to this dynamic lady about what happens on the show, how it’s different from Dragon’s Den and what happens after the cameras stop rolling.

Real Style Network: You’ve got a lot going on. You started with Dragon’s Den, you wrote a book, now you have a new show- The Big Decision. Are you still running your business,Venture Communications, full time?

Arlene Dickinson: [Laughs] I am pretty fortunate that at Venture I have a president and executive team that runs the day to day who is a stellar woman and is fantastic. I’m really lucky that way.

Real Style Network: That’s good. So you were able to take a step back and focus on your other activities. Are you enjoying it?

Arlene Dickinson: Yes, I do enjoy it. It’s been a moment in time in my life that I never thought that I would have. I feel blessed to be given the chance to have it. I am loving every minute of it. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to do something that is interesting, but also have a voice and be able to talk about the things that are important.

Real Style Network: Do you find that on the new show, which of course helps turn around troubled businesses, you are trying to make that statement? Why is the show important to you?

Arlene Dickinson: I would say that The Big Decision is important to me because the format is about what really happens in day to day business and the struggles and the things that entrepreneurs go through as they build their businesses; the highs and lows of it. I think sometimes people say ‘I want to own my own business because then I can be in control of everything,’ but sometimes being in control of everything comes with a lot of challenges.

Real Style Network: What are some of the business challenges that you have seen on the show?

Arlene Dickinson: I’ve seen everything from people investing at the wrong time in terms of growth to not being financed properly to partnership issues. We saw it all.

Real Style Network: What is your role in the show? Do you go in and act as an adviser as you would in a real business?

Arlene Dickinson: Yes. You’re truly going in to examine management, to look at the books, to see the operation, to see and understand the mistakes they’ve made, to determine whether or not they are going to make those same mistakes again and then whether you are going to put any money into it. It’s real life due diligence. You’re getting inside the cloak on what’s happening.

Real Style Network: When you feel that management or that some other people need to go, do you have influence in that type of say?

Arlene Dickinson: Totally. Sometimes my investment is contingent on that; that there are changes to be made. Not always, but sometimes.

Real Style Network: After the show stops taping, what follow up do you have with these businesses?

Arlene Dickinson: If  I’ve invested, I’m very engaged with them afterwards. It definitely takes a little time to get everything running and operating properly, but we will definitely be working alongside of them… I’ve got a lot of businesses that I’ve invested in and I am really enjoying it. This season on Dragon’s Den we also had some great businesses. I can tell you on The Big Decision, I saw some really interesting businesses.

Real Style Network: The two shows are fundamentally quite different, tell us about the differences.

Arlene Dickinson: They are. They are at a different stage. On Dragon’s Den you don’t see the due diligence. You just see the idea and a handshake and then you go do the due diligence. On the big decision you are seeing inside the business and the heart of the due diligence. You are actually watching the due diligence process.

Real Style Network: People want see successful people work and get inside their mind. They want to see how someone like you or Jim Treliving would make the changes.

Arlene Dickinson: Exactly. People need to see what drives those decisions. I think it’s very clear on Dragon’s Den that you know that that is the next step. You know that that is going to happen and that’s why some deals happen or don’t. On The Big Decision, you are watching it.

Real Style Network: It’s actually the next stage. It would be interesting to see a business come on Dragon’s Den and then get picked up by the Big Decision then you get to see the full cycle.

Arlene Dickinson: Yeah, well I think that there is some chance that that could happen.

Real Style Network: So what’s next for you?

Arlene Dickinson: I’ve got a few different things on the go. I am excited to be able to do something at this stage in my life that I feel is going to have some meaning. More helping people from a financial perspective understand their own strengths and lend a voice to things that I think are socially important.

Real Style Network: Sounds great. We’ll be sure to catch up with you to talk about this new venture as well!

On the show we will see Arlene make decisions on whether she will invest in and assist four companies in Toronto, Ottawa and B.C. The diverse businesses range from a chocolate company, funky clothing boutique, a bath and body enterprise to a fish processing plant. We are excited to see what happens.

The show airs on Monday nights at 9 pm on CBC.

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