Bev Briscoe

Two constants in Bev Briscoe’s career are success and change

BIV’s Influential Women in Business lifetime achievement winner, Bev Briscoe, has trailblazed for women ever since she was a teenager attending the University of British Columbia on a math scholarship

Be courageous and select the career that gives you the most satisfaction.

Those are two life lessons that Bev Briscoe gives young women who seek her wisdom.

“Money can be a factor [in deciding to take a job] but it can’t be the factor,” Briscoe said. “It really doesn’t matter how much they’re paying you when you hate your job.”

The 56-year-old is young to be the 2011 Business in Vancouver Influential Women in Business lifetime achievement winner. Several times throughout her life, however, she jumped outside her comfort zone, took risks and earned success.

Semi-retired, Briscoe splits her days between providing consulting advice through her Briscoe Management Ltd. and corporate board work for two of B.C.’s largest companies – Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers (TSX:RBA) and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G).

She also sits on the boards of women’s organizations such as the Minerva Foundation for B.C. Women and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs.

It’s a less hectic life than when she owned her own company, when she worked as a controller for different Jim Pattison Group-owned companies and when she worked as an audit manager for what is now PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

But, Briscoe has usually been able to do what she wanted in life.

She has trailblazed for women ever since she graduated from Coquitlam’s Centennial School in 1972.

Briscoe left her parents and sister in Coquitlam and went to live on her own on the University of British Columbia campus while attending the university on a math scholarship.

One of the only times in her life when she was not able to follow her dreams was when she relinquished her childhood desire to be a physiotherapist.

She could not afford to pay the tuition necessary to study rehabilitation medicine but because of her natural aptitude for numbers, she was able to opt instead for math, where the tuition would be paid.

Summer jobs as a lifeguard and part-time work through the school year were sufficient to enable her to graduate virtually debt-free with a commerce degree in 1977.

It was a time of opportunity for women. Workplaces were starting to hire women in professional capacities and Briscoe had different job options.

She chose to article as a chartered accountant at Coopers and Lybrand in part because that company (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) had international offices where she would be able to transfer.

Three years later, Briscoe earned a transfer to Sydney, Australia, where she would work for two years. She became that office’s first female manager of both client accounts and a handful of staff.

“Sydney wasn’t very progressive for women,” Briscoe said. “In Vancouver, there were probably a few women managers in the accounting firms. But it was a big deal in Sydney to make a woman a manager.”

When Briscoe returned to Coopers and Lybrand’s Vancouver office, she helped a client sell Berryland Canning Co. to the Jim Pattison Group.

Pattison wanted Briscoe to come with the deal, so she accepted the role of controller at Berryland after the sale was complete. She also helped Pattison later sell Berryland to Pillsbury.

Pattison urged her to stay with his company and be controller of his vehicle lease division, instead of going to Pillsbury.

“We found her to be an excellent person to work with,” Pattison told BIV. “She was a hard worker and has good common sense.”

Briscoe’s main drive when she was young was simply to see the world. That’s why she chose to work at Coopers and Lybrand. It was also one of the reasons why she didn’t marry until she was in her 40s.

While working for the Jim Pattison Group, she took advantage of the company’s global operations and, in 1988, went to Geneva for one year to be CFO at its Great Pacific Capital division.

“Opportunities just presented themselves. This is the embarrassment about being selected for a lifetime achievement award,” Briscoe said. “I never really had a career plan. I never even really had the drive of career success other than the fact that I had a great interest in business and an aptitude for it.”

Friends such as Goldcorp chair Ian Telfer say working for Pattison “toughened” Briscoe and helped make her what he called a “perfect director, because she also has accounting experience and experience on boards.”

Briscoe said working for Pattison was equivalent to doing an MBA – something she never did.

Instead, she continued to career hop. She went to the Rivtow Group of Companies for five years as its vice-president of finance and then spent two years at Wajax Industries Ltd. as vice-president and general manager

But, by 1997, something was starting to nag at her. She had always harboured a desire to own a business, and opportunity knocked in the form of Hiway Refrigeration Ltd. – a B.C. company that specialized in selling and servicing refrigeration equipment used in the trucking and shipping industries.

It was a big risk, for sure, given that she used her house as collateral and borrowed millions. But, it paid off in 2003 when she sold the company for more than she paid for it.

The new Gordon Campbell government then tapped her to serve as chair of the Industry Training Authority and she has had other board commitments since she sold her company.

Married to lawyer Art Vertlieb, Briscoe still enjoys travel but has no plans to leave Vancouver.

“I have three step-sons now. That’s something I’m proud of as a woman who never had a traditional family,” she said. •