IN­FLU­ENCER: Michael Wek­erle, The Vi­sion­ary

DINE and Destinations - - CONTENTS -

Sara Wax­man You’re a very pub­lic risk taker, an “orig­i­nal” on Bay Street. Michael Wek­erle In gen­eral terms I am a risk-taker, I’ve been like that since I was a kid. Of­ten times you have to bal­ance risk vs re­turn, and com­ing from, say, small beginnings, I tend to take more risks. I have taught my­self to ac­cept risk. DIF­FER­ENCE CAP­I­TAL is a merchant bank fo­cused on tech­nol­ogy, health and con­tent me­dia. We’re a pub­lic com­pany.

S.W. I al­ways thought that big money likes to be quiet, but you’re very flam­boy­ant and frankly, it makes the gen­eral pub­lic love you. M.W. They ei­ther love me or hate me. There’s a lot of jeal­ousy in the world, it’s what I call Schaden­freude. Peo­ple like to gloat over some­one’s mis­for­tune—es­pe­cially the Bay Street crowd. I’d say Main Street loves me, Bay Street is “con­cerned” about me.

S.W. Now, you’re a TV per­son­al­ity on Dragon’s Den. The cam­era doesn’t lie; it shows in a flicker of an eye, hon­esty, fear, fak­ery. Do you ever think you made a mis­take? M.W. I am who I am, whether on TV or in per­son. I make my de­ci­sion and stand by it. I think it’s of­ten times if you go back and ru­mi­nate about whether you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, that is a mis­take. You have to ac­cept your de­ci­sions, hon­our that de­ci­sion and be ac­count­able for that de­ci­sion.

S.W. It seems that you, more than the other “Dragons,” go with your gut. M.W. Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent style. If I feel an op­por­tu­nity ex­ists, I’ll pass on some of the cri­te­ria that I use. Is it prof­itable or not prof­itable? What are the over­head costs? Am I fund­ing a life­style or is it a busi­ness?

S.W. Tell me about your wardrobe. Your jacket is a knock out. M.W. It’s a Tom Ford jacket. They took us to Harry Rosen and I tried a num­ber of dif­fer­ent out­fits, but when I saw that jacket, I said, ‘That’s per­fect, that’s the one I’ll take.’ It really caught my eye and my favourite colour is blue.

S.W. You are fond of cre­ative peo­ple, and you have many mu­si­cal in­stru­ments in your home. Re­cently you pur­chased the El Mo­cambo, an iconic mu­sic venue in Toronto. M.W. I think artists and ath­letes are very much un­der ap­pre­ci­ated in this coun­try. I’m very sup­port­ive of a lot of the en­deav­ours of sports for kids, and also of the arts, mu­sic, opera and rock and roll bands. We as Cana­di­ans need to sup­port our Cana­dian mu­sic scene, need to put more cap­i­tal and cre­ate more vis­i­bil­ity for our Cana­dian artists to help get them to the next level, to a global mar­ket­place.

S.W. You have also in­vested in the restau­rant busi­ness. M.W. Yes, I bought Cen­tro [in Toronto] in 1997. It was a great restau­rant. Some­times change is not nec­es­sar­ily a good thing. In New York City, for ex­am­ple, there are restau­rants that have had the same pic­tures on the wall, the same wait­ers, the same menu, the same seats, some for 100 years. Restau­rants here al­ways want to keep chang­ing the menu. I backed out about three years ago. A restau­rant has to rein­vent its per­son­al­ity ev­ery five years, but that does not mean it has to lose its iden­tity. I have an in­ter­est in Wahlburg­ers and, given the clear­ance, I can build an ex­tra floor on the El Mo­cambo and put a sea­sonal rooftop bar­be­cue there and some stone fired pizza ovens as well. S.W. So you have an in­ter­est in food… M.W. My favourite restau­rant is Har­bour 60. To me, ser­vice is as im­por­tant as food. I started bussing ta­bles at 12, and I al­ways feel a con­nec­tion with the peo­ple in the ser­vice in­dus­try. I was not a very good waiter—got fired af­ter three shifts. I was ter­ri­ble. I have a lot of time for the in­dus­try, be­cause I know it is hard work.

S.W. If one of your chil­dren wanted to go into the busi­ness you are in, what would you say to them? M.W. I would say to start from the be­gin­ning like I did and learn the ropes. Kids come in here and say, ‘I want to be the Wolf of Wall Street.’ In our busi­ness here, you start from the bot­tom. The way to get 32 years of ex­pe­ri­ence is 32 years. You don’t get it in three months.

I’d say Main Street loves me, Bay street is “con­cerned” about me

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