Brent Wolverton: Family security

The third-generation Vancouverite and Wolverton Securities president is carrying on a long-standing family tradition of involvement in British Columbia's investment industry
Wolverton Securities president Brent Wolverton: “you could probably say I was born into this business”

Brent Wolverton's biggest business challenge came early on in his career when he took over the role of Wolverton Securities president aged 27.

When his father, Newton Ellis Wolverton, died in the mid-1980s, Wolverton became the third generation of his family to run the investment services firm. He recalls it being a little daunting to play a leadership role to 100 employees twice his age.

"I was sure they were saying, 'Who is this young guy? We know he's got the right name, but does he really know what he's doing? Is he the guy we should be following?'"

The firm was founded in Nelson in the early 1900s by Alfred Newton Wolverton (Brent's great-uncle), who had bought a securities licence and a seat on the Vancouver Stock Exchange.

The company is now headquartered in Vancouver and has offices in Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton and Sherwood Park.

Wolverton might have been relatively young when he took over the company's helm, but he was not new to the company or the world of securities.

"You could probably say I was born into this business."

As a child, he would go to the office on Saturdays with his father and play in a room full of the used cellophane that had run through the ticker-tape machine. Wolverton started working in the business as a file clerk when he was 15; he was also "the guy who went and got lunches for the rest of the guys."

From that point, he worked in literally every role in the business.

"Delivery guy, file guy, floor trader, desk trader, I've run various parts of accounting, I was the credit manager, I was the compliance officer," Wolverton said. "If you can name a job in the brokerage industry, I've done it."

Despite his early immersion in the business, it wasn't always a fait accompli that Wolverton would work in securities. At BCIT, he studied computer science, a field that still interests him.

And his siblings don't work in the business, although his brother Mark did spend time in the company before he opened Lush in Vancouver. It was the first branch of the cosmetics chain to open outside of the U.K.

Mark Wolverton is now the CEO of Lush North America. His sister, Lisa Wolverton, is a stay-at-home mom who devotes a lot of her time to philanthropic endeavours, including UNICEF and North Shore Family Services.

Wolverton said he ended up in the family business because business is his passion, he loves fixing things and he takes great joy in forming relationships.

Although Wolverton is only 50, his lifelong involvement in securities has given him first-hand experience in the significant changes that have transformed the industry over the past 30 years.

"In the early days of the stock exchange, they only had telephones. So there was a party line that was shared by all brokerage firms, and the girls would wear headsets and there was a guy at the stock exchange, and he would just go through all the stocks and read the quotes.

"The girls had a big chalkboard with symbols in our office – there was one in every brokerage firm – and they would take a piece of chalk and go from one end to the other and write the quotes as they were read over the headsets from the telephone party line. And that was the only technology."

The stock exchange was a "bastion of male domination … a boys' club." Wolverton added that being on the stock market trading floor was "astounding" and the most interesting job he's ever had.

But most of the floor traders and almost all of the market trading floors are gone.

Information about the publicity-shy Wolverton family is hard to find, even though it's involved in numerous businesses outside of the securities game.

It has been involved in Vancouver's real-estate scene since the 1880s, and both Brent and Mark have investments in apartment buildings and commercial space. In 1994, the family got involved in the restaurant business. It partnered with Mark James and is now the other half of the Mark James Group, which owns the Yaletown Brewpub, Big Ridge Brewing and Whistler's Brewhouse.

The Wolvertons subsequently took an interest in the brewing industry. They partnered with Bruce Dean and are now involved with NorthAm Brewing, whose brands include Bowen Island and Whistler beer.

Mark James has worked with Wolverton for more than 20 years in restaurants and real estate.

"He's very thorough, he's very analytical, and he grasps very complex business issues quite easily," said James. "He has an ability to really drill down to the heart of the issues very quickly."

James said Wolverton is fair-minded and is always appreciative of the value that everyone brings to the table.

"I would think Brent's got to be very well-respected and liked by his co-workers, his employees and his business relationships," James said. "He's a great guy to do business with."

In addition to the family's involvement in a diverse portfolio of business ventures, Wolverton said it has a strong tradition of giving back to the community through charity work. He is involved in education and is on the board of his children's school.

The family has partnered with singer Sarah McLachlan to buy a warehouse to house a music school that offers free or low-cost music lessons for kids from eastside Vancouver schools.

Wolverton said he hopes to make a lasting impact on the lives of the school's students.

He also hopes to inspire his children. He and Linda, his wife of 22 years, have four teenagers at home.

However, Wolverton doesn't know if any of them will end up in the family business.

"The one thing that I would hope for them is that they find their passion."

Wolverton Securities is currently seeing "stellar" growth. As of mid-November, Wolverton said its assets had grown by 30% in the previous 90 to 180 days, and the company has increased its number of investment advisers by a similar amount.

"We've been out doing the right things. We're retail-oriented, customer intimate and just driving down a different road."

As for Wolverton's own future, he said he just wants to keep doing what he's doing.

"If you love doing what you're doing, I don't know why you'd ever retire. I don't get it."

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