Accidental entrepreneur on call

December 10, 2012
Amy Dove
Gay Wise, Royal Roads third Entrepreneur in Virtual Residence, brings her diverse business experience into the classroom as a mentor and student.

Gay Wise is an accidental entrepreneur by her own account.

Her resumé is varied; detailing diverse experiences launching and selling businesses as the opportunities arose. From an accounting firm, to a bicycle store and an interior design franchise, she is keen to share lessons from them all as the third Entrepreneur in Virtual Residence (EiVR) at Royal Roads University.

“I have been in business long enough to know that my real interest is business itself,” Wise says. “I want to grow the business.”

Her current venture, Wise Financial Services, is going strong, but she was looking for a challenge and saw it in furthering her education through Royal Roads’ MBA program. That she has a formal opportunity to mentor other students makes the opportunity that much more rewarding.

The EiVR scholarship program is modelled after a common practice in the venture capital community where a seasoned business person is brought into a company to help mentor start-up leaders, explains Geoff Archer, director of the Eric C. Douglass Centre at Royal Roads.  The university brought the idea online in keeping with its programming, allowing the mentor to connect with the community in person and online throughout their tenure. Wise follows MBA alumni Nancy Mudford and Keith McKenzie in the program.

“Gay is a serial entrepreneur with experience starting, leading and selling both franchises and independent businesses in multiple industries,” Archer says.

Originally from Scotland, Wise moved to Canada in 1951. After a short time in the Royal Canadian Air Force, followed by a few clerical jobs, Wise enrolled in the Certified Management Accountants program. It was during her fourth year that the opportunity to start a bicycle shop with a friend came her way. The success of that business and her 14-year involvement in it meant Wise had to put her education on hold for a time.

She started her own accounting office in 1991, which she sold three years later so she could pursue an opportunity as a franchise owner of Decorating Den Interiors. That role saw her working in B.C. and Alberta before she eventually returned to accounting.

Looking back, Wise notes that she really would have benefited from a mentor at various stages in her career.

“I wish I had known that sometimes it is OK to give in,” Wise says. “You don’t have to fight to the very bitter end.” That is not meant to sound negative, she adds, as it is more about recognizing the need to change course on a project.

“I have had a lot of ups and downs, but I have always persevered. I have had a lot of life lessons,” she says, before noting not all lessons can be taught. “To some degree there are a lot of things you can only learn by doing them yourself.”

Regardless of what the business was, there is an appeal in setting the direction, Wise says. The hours are long, but you get to wake up every day and decide how your business is going to unfold. It’s a feeling that’s hard to shake once it has gotten a hold of you, she notes.

“You have the freedom to live and die by your own effort.”