Alumni Newsletter September 2016

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The Entrepreneurial Side of Western Economics

Economics provides a framework for thinking about the world. When combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to take calculated risks, and a creative mindset, it can lead to success in almost any corner of the business world. This article touches briefly on the incredible diversity of those success stories to come out of Western Economics.

Identical twins, Byron and Dexter Peart (BA '95), already had the entrepreneurial bug before they arrived at Western, selling T-shirts and other clothing in high school. But they quickly realized that they wanted to reach beyond their current borders and out to the rest of the world. Byron headed out on a grand tour of Europe the day after leaving Western.

After spending a few years in senior marketing positions at top international fashion firms right out of university, their world travelling served as an impetus for launching WANT Agency, marketing and selling high-end Scandinavian fashion in Montreal. Several years later, they noticed another gap in the market—the need for top quality and timeless travel products, ranging from handbags to backpacks to leather sneakers—leading them to establish WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie, the ‘global brand’ they had always envisioned for themselves. Their careful attention to quality, both in function and form, has landed their products in top world retailers like Barney’s and the Pearts in the Business of Fashion 500, which recognizes the most influential leaders in fashion, and in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.

Talking with the Peart twins, it is clear that their entire Western experience played a critical role in their development and success. From economics classes at Western to fashion-related elective courses at Brescia to fraternity life, they took advantage of a community small enough to feel welcoming yet large enough to encourage them to foster their global ambitions. Over the past 15 years of rapid consumer and market change, Byron and Dexter have succeeded with a solid understanding of market cycles and the conviction that consumers will always want “beautiful products that are built to last.” Fortunately for them, that is what they do best.

Martin Perelmuter (BA '90) knew after finishing his undergraduate degree in economics that he would head to law school, but once he finished he found that it didn’t hold his interest. Instead of a career in law, he really wanted to start his own business with his wife, Farah, a Western Psychology graduate. But, what type of business?

Martin and his wife stumbled into the idea of creating a business centered on speaker promotion through Farah’s uncle, who was doing some speaking and wanted help. After several months of researching the industry, talking with speakers and conference organizers, they took a leap and created a company focused on finding businesses and organizations just the right speaker for their events. Speakers' Spotlight was born!

After over 20 years in the business, Speakers’ Spotlight has grown into one of the world’s largest and most respected speaker agencies, arranging more than 20,000 speaking engagements in over 30 countries. And, after all these years, Martin says that economic concepts like scarcity, supply and demand, and incentives still come into play when making strategic business decisions, setting speaker fees, and in creating the right incentives internally for the company’s many employees.

The life trajectory for an entrepreneur is not always so linear. After some time working for Canada Trust, Jeff Young (BA '89) took a look at the long list of Vice-Presidents and decided that wasn’t for him. Instead, he launched a series of small companies, including importing clothing, supplying promotional items, and designing and supplying custom-made flags for gas stations and car dealerships.

Through the digital imaging side of his flag business, a local realtor asked him for help with providing virtual tours for real estate. This led to his co-founding of iLOOKABOUT, which has grown from virtual property tours to street-level imagery to a full service data analytics company that merges real estate data with premium quality geo-coded imagery. Their award-winning software is now used by government property assessors and the insurance industry to help assess millions of properties throughout North America.

There was no grand scheme that led Jeff to where he is today. Instead, he took advantage of opportunities for new markets that opened up to him through clients and his business network. Given the diversity of those opportunities, he found it critical to be able to take on risks without worrying too much about failure. He also argues that everything goes back to supply and demand. Importantly, it’s not enough to just supply something new, the demand also needs to be there. As a business model, Jeff says iLOOKABOUT is able to compete with the technology/information giants like Google by providing niche software solutions, often designed for one client in a way that is also applicable for others.

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