She started as an office cleaner at just 10 years of age and has worked her way up since.
Today Kate Wells is an owner operator with her family, who run five DriveWise franchises in B.C. including three on the Island, Victoria, Langford and Nanaimo. It’s a business her dad Arthur Harris got into 40 years ago. From their Saanich-based office, Arthur is still instructing new drivers and mom Patricia still doing the accounting, with Wells at the helm.
This year they joined the Family Business Association of Vancouver Island and already are a recipient of the 2018 Family Business Excellence Awards.
“We are a family business,” Wells said. “My husband Seann is a firefighter but is also a [part-time] regional trainer for our instructors. It’s such an honour to be nominated for this award, we’re just thrilled about it.”
This year’s group of recipients is unique, as DriveWise will share the FBE award with Sidney’s Titan Boats. Mike Geric Construction was a finalist and Daisy Klaibert of Beacon Hill Wealth Management has been named the recipient of the family business Young Entrepreneur Award.
“This award strengthens in me the qualities that make a successful entrepreneur: confidence in one’s self, tenacity and unwavering optimism,” Klaibert said.
For Wells, being part of DriveWise means being part of the largest driving school in B.C. Wells’ parents started their business 40 years ago and that company switched from its previous brand name to DriveWise about eight years ago. Over the years, they’ve taught more than 50,000 drivers of all ages, totalling about 900,000 lessons.
“When I started I was cleaning around the office, then I was helping my parents take money for driving, registering people for classes, and by 16 I was full time [in the summer],” Wells said.
DriveWise has 20 driving instructors on the Island and another five people based out of the Saanich office who handle administration for all five franchises, which also includes Kamloops and Kelowna. In 2010, the company trained 5,000 volunteer drivers for the Vancouver Olympics.
Titan Boats began in the basement of founder John Stanners’ home. When asked why he started the business, he said: “Well, I had to do something.”
Stanners said he’s always liked complex projects and boats in general. He’s been in the business on and off for 30 years, but started Titan in 1997. The local eco-tourism industry was growing then, and he thought he could offer a product to meet their needs.
Now, they deliver boats to as far as Slovenia, but the business is staying firmly put on the Peninsula. He said he’s proud to pay his employees well, which has allowed them to stay in the area, even though housing prices are high.
Titan has produced over 400 vessels to date that are still in operation. Titan currently employs 30 full-time staff including five family members.
“It was just a natural transition from my kids growing up in the backyard with me, building boats…They were always kind of around it,” said Stanners.
Winning the Family Business Excellence Award is a proud moment for Stanners.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it feels like an accomplishment. We’ve been working for many, many years, so at the end of the day it means a lot,” he said.
The award recipients will be celebrated at the FBE gala at the Beach House in Saanich on Feb. 8.
Mike Geric Construction, FBE finalist, was founded by Mike Geric in 1968 to build quality homes in Saanich. In the almost 50 years since, the Geric family has built more than 1,500 homes and grown their company into a leader in the industry.