TV

Arlene Dickinson, 'Dragons' Den' Host, Talks Dancing, Business And Kevin O'Leary's Secret Talents

04/12/2013 02:27 EDT
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TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Dragon's Den Arlene Dickinson arrives at Cinema Against AIDS Toronto 2011 Benefitting amfAR and Dignitas at the Carlu Hotel on September 11, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images for amfAR)

The finale of CBC's hit entrepreneurial show, "Dragons' Den," airs this weekend, and in it, the audience gets to see inside the Dragons' lives for the first time.

While most of the other Dragons show off their private jets and second homes, the lone female personality, Arlene Dickinson, focuses on the importance of charity work in her life.

HuffPost Canada TV caught up with Dickinson to talk about reality shows, women in business, and what Kevin O'Leary is really like when the cameras are off.

How did you get started on "Dragons’ Den"?

Dickinson: About eight years ago, I was sitting at my desk at my office and I got a phone call from one of the producers who said, "Have you watched the show 'Dragons' Den'?" and I had actually just watched it the week before and I went "Yeah"… I said, "You want my media team?" and he said, "No, we want to talk to you. We were wondering if you would come and audition for the show, and I went, "Seriously?" so I came in and auditioned and that’s how it happened.

How has your life changed since being on the show?

It's pretty crazy, to be honest. If someone had told me this is what would happen, I would have never expected it. Because when the show started, it was quite a small audience; I didn't think it was ever going to be as big as it is. And it has changed; it's certainly made me more aware of the responsibility of being on television. It's definitely different.

What do you look for in a pitch?

I'm a big believer in common sense and good judgment. If I can see that in somebody, if they can demonstrate that they've learned, that they're smart in a street-sense kind of way, I pay a lot of attention to that -- more than I pay attention to theory. A lot of people come in and say, "If we only did this, it'll happen," but I like it more when someone says, "Here’s the journey I've been on, the mistakes I've made." The product or the idea has got to be good. And I really look for something that I think is a market opportunity. Can marketing really make a difference here?

Do you like the gimmicky pitches, like when people come out dressed up?

If I really think about it, have I done a lot of deals with theatre involved? Probably not so much. I think I like it better when they just come out and talk to me. It's fun to have a little bit of drama. A little bit of theatre is always good because it makes you enjoy the story more, but when it's over the top, no.

What is the most memorable deal you've made?

I think we've helped a lot of people on their journeys, where even if we don't do a deal they still get the publicity and the opportunity, and the deals that we've done I know that we've helped them -- but I think a lot about Sam Kofsky.

Sam Kofsky was the 80-year-old man who had invented a sawhorse bracket in his garage and had 30 years of trying to make it go to market and had some issues with manufacturing. It was his dream. I did a deal with him and we're now about to put it into stores, and that journey, for me, amplifies what the show's about: people who have dreams and what you can do when somebody has good intentions and wants to work hard. It's a Canadian story. As you say that, I can think of a few dozen that make me feel really good about what we do.

If you could appear on any other reality show, what would it be?

"Dancing With The Stars," for sure. [Laughs] Who wouldn't want to do that?

Do you dance?

No, I'm terrible. But I would want to do it.

Do you ever watch yourself on the show?

I used to watch it all the time and I found that now I watch it and I'm so critical of myself, that I tend to not. And I also don't want to think so hard about what I look like or what I'm saying; I want it to be coming from the same place it was when I started. The more you're aware that you're on TV, the less you can be as real in the moment as you want to be. This is reality TV that's very genuine, so it's important for me not to feel like I’m rehearsed or, "Oh, I did this last time, so I should do that this time." I watch it but I don’t watch it as much anymore, because I don’t want to influence myself.

Is Kevin how he appears on the show?

Pretty much. I always see him as a bit of a Renaissance man. He's got a very multi-faceted personality and skill set. He plays the guitar, likes to barbecue, loves to drink wine and he's good at business, but he can come across a little hard-edged on the show.

For the finale, what was it like having the cameras follow you around?

It was weird. The crew was pretty fantastic about not being intrusive … they just let us live our lives. And a lot of the stuff that they followed us on -- in my case it was stuff that I really care about: breakfast clubs and the Navy, stuff that was important to me -- so I'm glad that the spotlight was able to shine on some of the things that I do that are meaningful to me. It was worth giving up the privacy for the organizations that I'm working with.

What do you think the outlook is for women in business?

I like to put things in context because it's really easy to polarize things like this, where you're really opinionated about women's rights … and I always say, men have been in business for thousands of years. From the days they were selling things in early Rome, they've been in business, and financial institutions and organizations have been built by men because men were in business and they have thousands of years of history. Women have only been in business in that context and have been able to develop careers and put themselves in that place for what, 50 years? And so I think we've come a long way.

I think we need to continue to push forward, I think we have to stand on our skills and not our gender, and I think we have to embrace our gender as it relates to the unique perspective that it brings to business. So I always say to women, "Think of yourself as a human in business who happens to be a woman, not as a woman in business who then needs different things." You're a person and have women’s intuition and women's abilities and I think that’s pretty awesome. Because I think that's a competitive edge and I think we should use it. And if you don't like where you are because you're not getting ahead, then I think you are a person with rights and you can either move or make a decision. We live in Canada. Go do something different if you want.

What advice do you have for young people who want to go into business?

I don't think there’s ever been a better time to be in business. I look at you and think of your age and I think, man, you’ve got so much great opportunity ahead of you. The world has shifted so much in terms of the public markets and manufacturing being offshore, and the ability to market yourself internationally through the internet and all of these things that are going on that create this perfect storm for opportunity. I don't think there's ever been a better time for a young person coming out of school to be in business for themselves or to be an entrepreneur and to do social good.

Catch the season finale of "Dragons' Den" Sunday, April 14 on CBC at 8 p.m. ET.

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