Early Life and Education
Arlene Dickinson was born in Germiston, South Africa, on 8 October 1956. She was the youngest of three daughters in a Mormon household.Her family immigrated to Canada in 1959 with only $50 in their possession and eventually settled in Calgary. Though her father held a PhD in education, he worked mainly as a struggling electrician. The family’s struggles eventually led to her parent’s divorce when Dickinson was 13 years old.
Dickinson graduated high school at age 16, but decided not to pursue any further education. Three years later, she married her best friend’s brother, with whom she had four children.
In her twenties, Dickinson worked as a debt collector to support her family and help put her husband through teachers’ college. However, at age 30, Dickinson had an affair. Due to the affair, her husband filed for divorce, and the Mormon Church excommunicated her. In the divorce proceedings, Dickinson lost custody of her children. The judge ruled that she would not get custody of her children until she could prove that she had the financial capacity to support a family.
Upon hearing of her job loss, a former colleague reached out to Dickinson and offered her the opportunity to join his new marketing firm, Venture Communications Ltd., as a partner in 1988. Her position as a partner meant that Dickinson did not earn a salary or wage, and essentially worked for free. Early in her tenure, Dickinson lived off her credit cards but worked long hours and weekends to make the company successful.
Within a decade, Dickinson was sole owner of the firm. In 1998, with the help of company cash and bank loans, Dickinson bought out her two partners. Under Dickinson’s leadership, Venture Communications Ltd. became one of Canada’s largest independent marketing agencies. The company has offices in Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa. Its clients include Toyota, Subway, Unilever, Scotiabank, Tourism Calgary and the Mayo Clinic.
Venture’s success drew the attention of television producer Mike Armitage in 2007. Armitage was responsible for finding talent for the new CBC show Dragons’ Den, a reality show in which entrepreneurs showcase their business to a panel of venture capitalists, the “Dragons,” who decide whether to invest in the business. He first learned about Dickinson while reading a Profit magazine article focused on women entrepreneurs.
Dickinson joined the show in its second season and appeared on the show for eight seasons, investing in a variety of businesses. Her investments included Pür chewing gum, OMG! candy and Love Child Organics baby food. Dickinson took a brief hiatus in 2015, following the show’s ninth season, but in April 2017 announced her return for the show’s twelfth season.
Dickinson has also as co-hosted the CBC reality series The Big Decision and appeared as a judge on the Food Network’s Recipes to Riches. She has also authored two bestselling books, Persuasion (2011) and All In (2013).
Dickinson worked alongside entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary for many seasons on Dragons’ Den. At the beginning of O’Leary’s brief campaign for Conservative Party leadership in January 2017, Dickinson was publically opposed to his bid. In an opinion column for the CBC, Dickinson wrote that although she considered O’Leary a friend, he “represents capitalism in its very worst form — a soulless system that bases decisions solely on dollars and cents, profit and margin.” Such statements led some pundits to speculate about Dickinson’s own political aspirations, which she denied.
YouInc.Com and Other Business Ventures
In 2012, Dickinson formed Arlene Dickinson Enterprises Ltd, a firm that invests in small- and medium-sized businesses (see Small Business). That same year, Arlene Dickinson Enterprises launched YouInc.com, a website that provides entrepreneurs with a discussion forum, tips and blog posts from Dickinson, and relevant TED talks and business videos.
In 2016, Dickinson joined the board of directors of Aphria, a Toronto-based producer of medical marijuana.
In addition to serving as CEO of various ventures and starring on Dragons’ Den, Dickinson has offered her services to a number of organizations. She is the national spokesperson for The Breakfast Clubs of Canada and has served as a co-chair for Kids Help Phone. Dickinson sits on the advisory committee for the Stratford Institute at the University of Waterloo. She is also a member of the leadership council of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
At the age of 41, Dickinson got married a second time. The marriage lasted seven years before ending in divorce. She was engaged again in 2011, but the engagement ended before the couple wed. Dickinson has five grandchildren and splits her time between her house in Calgary and her condo in Toronto. Her net worth is estimated to be $80 million.
Honours and Awards
Lifetime Achievement Award, Ad Rodeo (2004)
Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Hall of Fame, Women’s Executive Network (2007)
Management Achievement Award, McGill University (2008)
Lifetime Achievement Business Award, Women’s International Film & Television Showcase (2011)
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)