- Shanthal Perera
- Dec 1, 2018
On September 13, 2018, we lost a dear friend in David Wright, HBA ’83. During the past 15 years, Wright was an integral part of Ivey Entrepreneurship, and served in multiple roles, including chairing the Advisory Council for over a decade. At Ivey’s 2018 Homecoming celebration, Wright was recognized posthumously with the Distinguished Service Award.
"The world is small and the road is long," was the motto that shaped much of Dave Wright’s outlook on life.
It highlighted the importance of developing strong, authentic relationships, not knowing when and where you will run into the same people again.
Wright’s commitment to relationships defined his personal and professional life. From his love of family, lifelong friendships, and an unmistakable passion for entrepreneurship, Wright wasn’t a man of half-measures.
Lifelong bonds at university
Wright’s undergraduate years at Western University coincided with those of his sister, Karen Wright, MBA ’84, who was completing her MBA at the Ivey Business School. She was able to reuse some of David’s textbooks and joked that they were in very good condition due to rare use.
His time at university was not only influential in charting his career but it was there, at Sydenham Hall, he forged lifelong friendships that survived graduation, marriage, kids and multiple career changes.
Wright was the great communicator and it was his efforts that kept everyone together, according to best friend Barry Katzman.
Together, Wright and Katzman won the Spirit Award for the best residence and threw what could be termed as the party of the decade at their 1097 Richmond Street residence, which closed down one of London’s main arteries.
“It was the first ever party that closed the street and it became a thing in the 80s... We knew right away that we could work well together and joked about it forever,” said Katzman.
Yet those weren’t the only enduring bonds Wright formed at university. He treasured his years at Ivey and would go onto serve in multiple capacities to give back to the school and the entrepreneurship program.
Accountant to entrepreneur
With both his parents in small business, Wright was frequently exposed to entrepreneurship growing up. From working in his father’s bicycle store to the summer ventures with his university friends, Wright was always eager to pursue an opportunity.
Wright graduated into a tough job market, recalls his sister, and pursued accounting as an opportunity for additional training and making contacts. He joined an accounting firm that would later become part of KPMG, and then spent eight years at Nortel Canada.
“I would never envision Dave lasting too long in a large corporate environment, he would more often than not be smarter than his boss,” said Katzman, who saw Dave’s skillset more akin to being in an entrepreneurial environment. In 1994, Wright joined Microsoft when the company was on top of the world. The relationships he made there would lay the foundation for his later success as an entrepreneur.
With the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the late 90s, Wright was restructured out of Microsoft. Soon after, he was hired as President of a Toronto-based software company, Sage Information Consultants, where he grew the company to be acquired by Envoy Communications.
A confluence of political and economic factors derailed Envoy’s U.S. expansion, leading Wright, Paul Estabrooks and Kevin Walker to form Agora Consulting Partners Inc. in late 2002.
“Agora was about helping other businesses be successful and it made complete sense with his nature,” said Karen. This fall, Agora turned 16 years.
“Dave did the whole thing himself, he paid for it himself, he charted his career by himself. His father-in-law, David Vice, and a few other people helped guide him. He’d be the first to tell you that every great entrepreneur has to do a lot of it on their own, to self-motivate and self-direct, and he had that in spades.”
Barry Katzman, BA ’83, President and CEO at Tidal Health Solutions
Tooting the horn for entrepreneurship
With the success of Agora, Wright was eager to help students and alums take the same plunge and discover their entrepreneurial capacity.
In 2003, he joined the Ivey Entrepreneurship Advisory Council, where he took on the role of Chair from David Anyon, MBA ’97 in 2009.
One of his key tasks was to recruit and onboard key members into the council, which complimented his commitment to relationships. He was eager to create a community that challenged each other, and were passionate to see entrepreneurship grow across Ivey and Canada.
Wright also worked on the ground level, volunteering on student initiatives and programs like the New Venture Project, where he served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence. He loved seeing the enthusiasm and hope imbued by the younger generation. Former students will often tell you about the authenticity that came through his thoughtful and caring advice.
“It didn’t matter who you were, he made everyone feel important,” said Karen, whether you were white collar, blue collar, an executive or a student.
Wright also had a penchant for learning new things and took on leadership of the Council’s Social Entrepreneurship subcommittee. He openly shared his preconceived notions on the field and pushed himself to engage with faculty and social entrepreneurs to better understand the field.
Wright’s long tenure at the council never dulled his enthusiasm, and he will forever be remembered as a stalwart of entrepreneurship at Ivey, said Eric Morse, Executive Director of the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.
“Dave’s character was admired by all who met him, particularly his positive, ‘can-do’ attitude and willingness to always put others before himself. His many efforts over the past decade are reflected in the tremendous growth and success of entrepreneurship at the Ivey Business School.”
Leaving a culture
That sense of commitment carried through to other parts of Wright’s life.
“When he decided to jump into something, he went all in,” said Katzman, who recalls Wright reading three books on windsurfing prior to taking up the sport.
“He brought the same thing to fatherhood, the same thing to being a husband and he was selective in what he was getting into,” said Katzman.
Wright was intensely loyal to his family, it meant everything to him. He coached kid’s basketball and shared his love for music with his daughters, for whom he wanted to open every opportunity, said Karen.
Estabrooks remembers the early days of Agora when Wright took time off to attend school plays and other activities. “It created a culture in our company and I get it now,” says Estabrooks, who now has four kids of his own.
It was often tested when employees took off for school events in the midst of major projects and Wright would remind the team, “It’s the company we created. It is the culture we created and the culture holds… this is what we wanted.” recalls Estabrooks.
“At the celebration of his life, his kids spoke about all the events he came to, and they now hold that memory. Did he miss a client meeting or a conference because of it? Yeah, maybe. But what matters more now?” said Estabrooks.
Wright’s immortal line, ‘the road is long’ continues to permeate Agora’s culture and attitude towards customers, says Estabrooks.
And it’s a culture that will continue with the company, paying respect to Wright’s enduring legacy.
“His presence is always there, and it’s not going to go away.”