Updated: Jan 25
Wes Hall is a Canadian businessman, serial entrepreneur, and an avid advocate for social justice in the BIPOC community.
He is the founder of Kingsdale Advisors, which is a power broking stakeholder advisory firm covering North America.
Most recently, Hall joined Season 16 of CBC's Dragons’ Den TV Show as a 'Dragon' investor.
As the Founder of Kingsdale Advisors, Wes has delivered an unparalleled track record of success for North America’s biggest names including: Air Canada, Barrick, BHP Billiton, Citigroup, CN, CP, Ovintiv, Goldcorp, Talisman, and Suncor. His reputation has earned him the moniker of 'The Fixer'.
Wes has been sought out to lead some of the highest profile deals and activist campaigns in North America. In 2020, Wes launched the BlackNorth Initiative, to help remove anti-Black systemic barriers, negatively affecting the lives of Black Canadians.
In our interview with Wes, we explore his amazing origin story and challenges he overcame to become the success he is today.
Hello Wes. Thank you for participating in this Q&A session. We would like to start by exploring your origin story. Please give us an overview of your background, career milestones, and your entrepreneurial journey to date?
Wes: I often tell people my story, and how I literally was raised from nothing out of a tin shack by my single grandmother in Jamaica with my 14 siblings and cousins. I came to Canada when I was 16 years old, to start a better life for myself and lived with my father who was incredibly strict and held high expectations of me academically and professionally. I did not start my first business until my early thirties, and that business happens to be Kingsdale Advisors. Before Kingsdale or any of my other businesses, many people would be surprised to find out that I started in the mail room. What they do not know is that that mail room happened to be on Bay Street.
I saw people day in and day out commanding the power in big board rooms, but these people looked nothing like me. That's when I knew Bay Street needed impactful and meaningful change, and that change could begin with me (or someone who looked like me). I demanded a spot in those powerful board rooms, knocked on the doors of lenders and Founded Kingsdale Advisors in 2003.
As a black business leader, what key challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey to date, and how have you navigated these?
Wes: When I first arrived to Canada at 16, I had a heavy Jamaican accent so people instantly knew I was different and not from around here. Despite me having a thick Jamaican accent, I still only spoke English (though it was broken). Because of this accent, my teacher at the time actually insisted I be put into the ESL (English as a second language) program at school. This was the first time I experienced a form a racism, or bias in Canada. Though it was the first, it was not the last of challenges I faced on my journey to where I am today.
What initially attracted you to the Private Equity sector as an area of specialisation?
Wes: Private Equity is a place where you can make outsized returns. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in this country make their money simply by backing great businesses - small or large. It’s all about spotting potential and backing people, giving opportunity where other people may not have seen it.
Most people have truly amazing businesses with the potential to grow and become even greater. What they don't have a lot of the time is access to funding and a great team. That is where I come in.
Has your entrepreneurial and leadership journey been influenced by any past or present business leaders?
Wes: Michael Lee Chin was someone I looked up to when I got into the business and Private Equity world. He was the only Black Canadian (also with Jamaican roots) who positioned himself at such a high level of prestige that I saw using his brain, and using it to make a lot of powerful connections and money. I wanted to be a person who could think and charm my way into making great business deals. I admired what Michael Lee Chin did before I got started, and even until this day.
What advice do you have for aspiring black business leaders and entrepreneurs looking to operate in the Private Equity sector?
Wes: There are opportunities for everyone. There are tonnes of BIPOC entrepreneurs out there who are gifted and they do not discriminate against who or where they get capital from. Unfortunately, the people who typically provide capital don’t always tend to deploy funds to BIPOC or in particular Black entrepreneurs due to systemic racism and pre conceived (outdated) notions. So, I will say this: if you are a Black entrepreneur in the private equity space you have a huge untapped market.
We would like to explore your business enterprises starting with KSS Holdco Inc. Please give us an overview of what KSS Holdco Inc. does, its value proposition and its target market?
Wes: KSSHoldCo Inc. is a Private Equity Company with ownership of investments in firms located in Canada, the US and the Caribbean in the following industries: Shareholder Advisory, Governance Advisory, Environmental Remediation, Equipment and Parts manufacturing, supply for Oil and Gas Industry, Automated Self-Service Convenience Stores, Ice Cream manufacturing and supply, Bottled Vitamin Water manufacturing and supply, and Executive Recruitment.
KSS HoldCo is unique in that we specifically make it an active point to invest in diverse companies both in ownership, and what each company does.
KSS HoldCo does not have one specific target, but we typically support Black or BIPOC businesses of any size and age. It all depends on the potential of the company.
What's the average investment horizon of KSS Holdco Inc.'s portfolio? Has this been impacted by the COVID 19 Pandemic?
Wes: Because our portfolio is very diverse across various industries and companies, we tend to hold investments that are more in the mature phase. Some are in the start up phase, but it‘s a case by case scenario, and at the discretion of myself and our team of experts, If we opt to invest in a smaller business that we collectively see potential in.
As a result, each company has its own exit and entry strategy. Like every other company, we of course were impacted by COVID-19 in more ways than one. I saw a lot of growth in my team over the course of the pandemic, and really got to see their flexibility and work ethic. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done and continue to do, to keep our clients consistently happy.
COVID-19 allowed for our team to pivot our investment strategy. There was a lot unknown about building relationships with our clients remotely, but we did so with grace and have come out stronger because of it.
In terms of KSS Holdco Inc.'s investment strategy, does it bias towards Leveraged Buyouts investments, Venture Capital investments or is it an even spread? In addition, has the pandemic had any impact on your investment strategy?
Wes: KSS HoldCo, and my investment strategy have always been non-biased and even spread. I believe any business sector can have the opportunity to become successful. The pandemic has brought about more unique businesses and strategies that are tailored to the new world in which we live.
A lot of business portfolios that have come onto my lap reflect a COVID mindset, they are more virtually based, conscious of hygiene and social distancing, mindful of capacities etc. It is interesting to read some business proposals just to see how they have had to adjust since the pandemic hit in March 2020. Everything has changed immensely.
You own two other companies called Kingsdale Advisors and BlackNorth Initiative. Please give us an overview of what these companies do, their unique value proposition, and their target market?
Wes: Kingsdale Advisors (KA) is more than just a proxy solicitor; we are a trusted strategic advisor to management and boards on everything from governance to mergers & acquisitions, and crisis communications. Our expert team of dedicated industry professionals are committed to providing individualized client solutions designed to suit your unique needs.
Kingsdale Advisors focuses on your shareholders so you can focus on your business.
With our multi-disciplinary team of governance, legal, operations, and communications experts, we structure winning proxy solicitation strategies, by effectively communicating and engaging with shareholders, analysing proxy voting patterns, and providing expert governance advisory services, to ensure compliance within a changing regulatory environment. To learn more about Kingsdale Advisors, please visit us at www.kingsdaleadvisors.com.
BlackNorth Initiative (BNI) is my Not-For-Profit Organization that I launched during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in May 2020, shortly after the wrongful murder of George Floyd. I saw that I was in a position of power to help those who look like me, and fight back against a system that was designed to make us fail in Canada's eco-system. BNI specifically targets business leaders, founders and CEO's of some of Canada's biggest companies, who have the potential to better the lives, and provide opportunities to Black and BIPOC individuals. They achieve this by giving them the opportunity to have leadership roles within their organizations. For those interested in learning more about BNI, and how they can get involved in one of our many committees, or to sign a pledge, I urge you to visit us at www.blacknorth.ca.
Before we conclude this interview, please tell us why you joined CBC's Dragons' Den and what you intend to achieve as a Dragon?
Wes: I joined CBC Dragons' Den firstly because I have always been a huge fan of the show. Number two, I have never seen anyone who looks like me, or who comes from a background like mine, enter the Dragons' Den and take up a Dragons' seat. As the first Black Canadian Dragon I am proud to say I am really shaking things up this season, and opening the door of opportunity to a lot of Canadian Entrepreneurs who look like me. I saw the need for more representation in Canadian TV, and put myself out there in a world in which I am not familiar with at all. I am proud to say I stepped out of my comfort zone, and in turn wound up loving the small screen. I think fans of the show will be happy to hear that I might just stick around a while longer.
Thank you Wes for participating in this Q&A interview session. We wish you and your endeavours all the best.
Wes: Thank you.