Volunteer Profile – Patricia Dent

Have you ever dreamed of moving to Australia? How about handling millions of dollars while working at the Toronto Stock Exchange? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then today’s Spotlight about Barrie Chamber Ambassador, Patricia Dent, is the perfect read for you. Grab a snack and buckle in. 

Patricia Dent was born in Toronto and raised there until the sensible age of ten. Then, her parents decided that the time was ripe for a change of scenery. They packed their belongings, sold the house, and moved to Ontario’s most dramatic town, Stratford. 

But they didn’t stay in the theatre capital for long. After a few months, Patricia’s father got restless and said, “Kids, we’re moving to Australia!” 

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it played out, but you get the idea. They were moving again, but this time to a different continent. Once again, they packed up, more frugally this time because, you know, moving via air isn’t cheap. Can you imagine the luggage fees just for transporting the living room couch? 

Patricia’s father was what you might call a spirited entrepreneur. His impulsive move to Australia was based upon a business opportunity he had found down there. He decided it was too good to miss. 

But business opportunity or not, ten-year old Patricia was pretty darn excited to move Down Under. What kid wouldn’t be? She had seen pictures of the kangaroos in wild expanses of desert. She had heard of the funny-sounding Aussie accents that everyone had there. The continent was like a mythical dream to her. However, when they did move, the reality of it was starkly different than what her imagination had pictured.

“Well, for one thing,” she began, “I was shocked to find out that we were moving to a city. We were sitting on the plane, and I look down and see all these buildings. All I could think was, ‘Where did they all come from?’” 

They settled in Melbourne for a little while. And that’s when Patricia started attending school. Slowly, she adjusted to the culture of these strange British-sounding cowboy people. She also discovered that, in Australia, she – not them – was the one with a funny accent. 

“Everybody said I had an ‘adorable accent,’” she said with a chuckle. “I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.” 

Finally, a few months later, they moved to Australia’s big city, Sydney.  There, Patricia worked her way through elementary and high school, everyday becoming more accustomed to the fact that kangaroo sightings were a little rarer than she had originally thought. 

She graduated high school. Then, her father made another flash decision. 

“Kids, we’re moving back home!” 

That really happened. Just as she was getting used to being an Aussie, Patricia found herself packing boxes to move yet again. She had been accepted at both U of Sydney and New South University, but neither of these were possibilities anymore. Her life had been upended, and she now had to wait months until she could apply to any North American universities. 

“And we didn’t know many people back home other than family,” she said. “And at 18, as I’m sure you know, making connections can be difficult.” 

All the same, she tried. She was accepted at University of Toronto, and at age 19, began the life of a post-secondary student. 

But not long after beginning, Patricia met her soon-to-be first husband. She dropped out of school, they got married, and lived happily ever after. The end.

Or not. They moved out of Toronto in order to pursue her husband’s career in radio. They went from Mississauga, to a small town called Wingham, and then to Ottawa. They were constantly on the move. And then came a baby. 

“I was barely 21 when my oldest daughter was born,” said Patricia. “So I stayed home with her, except for part time jobs in retail. Then, two years later, my second daughter was born.”

And then she and her husband were really scrambling for money. Patricia was faced with the dilemma of needing to take care of her children, but also having to find a job in order to support the family. Her husband simply wasn’t making enough to cut it. 

“I really didn’t have a lot of practical experience,” she explained. “I had been raised in another country. I had never really done the whole summer job thing. So when it was time for me to work, I was clueless. And of course, as a student, people don’t really want to take a chance on you.” 

Without any job experience, Patricia had no idea what she was good at. She didn’t even know where to start. She found a job in retail and decided she’d make it count. 

“I grew from there. So it was kind of an aggregate of different experiences. Once I started working full time, then I started to apply the skills that I was learning while trying to go up in job complexity, skill, and pay.” 

Things were on the uptick. They had enough money coming in to get by, and she was slowly but surely working her way up. And then her marriage ended. All of a sudden, she was a single mom, solely responsible for raising and supporting her two kids. 

But instead of lamenting her situation, Patricia got to work focusing on two things. One, she looked for increasingly better paying jobs, thus patiently growing her income. Two, she looked for jobs that would improve her skills. 

She worked two jobs at once. Most days, she would work a day shift at one job and then go straight to an evening/night shift at her other job. And she did it all so that she and her children could eat and have somewhere to live.

After some time, she landed a corporate job doing administration work. She started climbing the corporate ladder by working admin positions for the presidents and vice presidents of large corporations. And, at the same time, she was still working night shifts as a bartender. How’s that for dedication? 

Patricia stayed on this grind for a few years, exhausting herself to support her kids. Then, she met someone new. They got to know each other, then dated, and before long, she knew he was the one. They got married and have stayed that way ever since. 

“We’ve been married for 30 years,” she said. She then added with a smile, “I think we’re gonna make it.” 

But besides the joy of discovering her soulmate, getting married allowed Patricia to slow down a little. She no longer had to work two jobs at once. Instead, she was able to put all her working efforts into pursuing a corporate career. Plus, she found the time to return to university and finish her sociology degree. And she didn’t get just any old degree. She graduated with Honours. 

After this, she decided she wanted to keep learning.  By this point, she knew marketing was her passion, but she didn’t know enough about it to obtain a lucrative salary. So she enrolled in marketing at Ryerson University, and three years later she emerged with a certificate. 

Her dedication to education started paying dividends. First, she rose from her admin position to communications analyst, and then was promoted to event manager. And it was at this point that she came across the defining moment of her career: working at the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). 

All in all, Patricia’s tenure at the TSX lasted seven years. She worked for several different CEOs, wore a few different hats, and headed projects with multi-million dollar budgets. But she didn’t start at the top. In fact, she was initially hired at the TSX to fill a temporary opening from one employee going on maternity leave. The job wasn’t supposed to be permanent, but Patricia intended on making it so.

Although she was hired to be a sales rep, Patricia decided to be bold. She told them that she had just obtained her marketing certificate and that she would prefer to work as a marketer. Ordinarily, new employees at the TSX take what they get without a peep, but not Patricia. She was determined to get what she wanted. 

And the strategy paid off. She didn’t end up in sales, and a few months later, she landed something much bigger. 

At that time, the TSX was on the verge of a large renovation project for its conference and broadcasting centre. All the CEO needed was somebody to head the project.

“The boss called me to his office one day,” she said. “He showed me an org chart. And the chart had my name at the top right beneath ‘Conference and Broadcast Centre.’”

He then asked Patricia if she would like to take charge of the project and she readily agreed.

But shortly after this, 9/11 happened, which meant that Patricia’s budget would be significantly cut. And by significant, I mean she was forced to reduce it by more than half. And, on top of that, when you’re handling millions of dollars, there’s a whole lot of pressure that comes along with it. 

“So I did a cost-benefit analysis,” she said. “I figured it was going to cost us a million bucks just to repair the existing situation, but that didn’t include any renovation. So we went back to the drawing board, reconfigured the spaces, and in the end, I cut the project’s budget to 3.2 million.” 

Needless to say, her boss was thrilled at the prospect of saving that much cash. It earned her an excellent reputation at the TSX and she would maintain it for the rest of her time there. 

And she was never afraid to tell the boss what she wanted or needed for a project. On one occasion, she was given a $400k budget for a project that she knew would require much more to be done properly. So she did some convincing on the higher-ups and ended up getting it raised to $2.6 million. Easy-peasy work for Patricia. 

By the time her seventh year at the TSX rolled around, Patricia was working with double the salary she began with. She had made a name for herself and was proud of the work she’d accomplished. However, she was working under a new CEO and things just didn’t feel the same. So when they offered her a severance package, she said, “thank you very much,” and hit the road. 

She and her husband decided it was time to move out of the city. Patricia’s entrepreneurial spirit was calling to her. But instead of following in her father’s footsteps and moving to the other side of the world, they chose somewhere a little closer and a little more familiar. 

They chose Barrie. 

Patricia said, “We looked at different areas, but we wanted somewhere with a hospital, tourist attractions and good restaurants. And most of all, we wanted a great community. So that’s why we picked Barrie.” 

Without further ado, they moved one hour north. And in 2013, Patricia fulfilled her entrepreneurial urges and purchased Grow Vantage, a training program that helps entrepreneurs design, launch and grow their businesses. Being a certified coach, Patricia decided that an organization that could offer educational classes combined with an element of personal coaching would be unique and lucrative. She certainly wasn’t wrong. 

Since then, Patricia has been teaching, coaching, and constantly adding to the long list of courses offered by Grow Vantage. Soon after taking over the business, however, she hit a speed bump that forced her to a sudden halt. She was diagnosed with two different kinds of breast cancer. 

But just because she had hit a slowdown, Patricia was not about to let the cancer have its way. For one year, she did everything in her power to defeat it. Chemotherapy, naturopathic remedies, surgeries – everything she could possibly do to overcome it. 

And in 2014, she had done just that. Over the course of a single year, she had beaten the cancer into the dust and emerged victorious. She got back to her life, and back to Grow Vantage. She got everything on track again and has been pushing forward ever since. 

Because if you could sum up Patricia in one word, it would be determination. Ever since she was a kid, she’s been adapting to new and possibly hostile situations. Whether that be getting over the fact that kangaroos don’t roam the streets of Sydney, or working day and night as a single mom to support her daughters, Patricia has always found a way not just to get by, but to thrive. 

Written By Peter Wilson

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