Vancouver Island’s major transportation firm has followed a road from simple beginnings.
It all started in 1962 on Saltspring Island when Kello Wilson, with the support of his wife Mary, started a general delivery company with a single truck. Today, Wilson’s Transportation Ltd. is the largest motor coach and transportation company on Vancouver Island with 150 vehicles.
Bus charters and rentals for all types of groups and events constitute the core of the business. The company also operates a sightseeing business in Victoria and connects travellers to Victoria International Airport and the BC Ferries terminal in Swartz Bay. It is the agent for Greyhound Canada in Victoria and operates an eight-bay mechanical and body shop facility, where it serves among other clients, BC Transit. The company also supports a long list of community organizations that cover the full range of causes.
Kello’s son and current CEO John Wilson is one of four local co-owners of the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club of the West Coast League. He is also part owner of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s Peninsula Panthers.
Not surprisingly, the Wilsons and their business count among the leading lights of the local business community.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce named John Wilson its 2016 Business Person of the Year and the Vancouver Island branch of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprises named Wilson’s Transportation its Family Enterprise of the Year.
Catherine Holt, chair of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, calls Wilson a “presence” and a “great personality,” whose various accomplishments reflect his can-do-attitude. “The tone is set from the top in any organization and he sets a fantastic tone,” she says.
The success of Wilson’s Transportation Ltd. also speaks to the potential of family-owned firms.
“There have been some players come to Victoria in ground transportation and busing,” said Wilson. “And none of them are here anymore…that has a lot to do with hard work and family.”
John Wilson’s wife Val, his daughter Samantha, his son Andrew and his nephew Travis all play active parts in the affairs of the company.
“It makes you want to work harder,” said Samantha, who works in marketing for the company. “Everybody wants to take pride in their work for a company that has your last name on it.” The familiar feeling also heightens professional success. “We all get to celebrate together as well, when we have successes,” said Samantha.
Her brother Andrew, who oversees maintenance operations, agreed. “It is very rare that families are this close,” he said. “A lot of people I grew up with, a lot of friends, their families aren’t nearly as close as we are. We are very grateful for a lot of the opportunities we get to travel and have fun as a family together is because of everybody’s hard work.”
John Wilson said the key thing to remember is to make sure everybody is enjoying what they are doing and not just doing it for the sake of the family. Wilson certainly enjoys the challenge of running a family business.
“You’ve got to have a certain personality and John has the personality,” said his mother. “He wanted to take it over. It wasn’t something that we said ‘you know, will you do this now. We are getting older.’ He was ready to step it and he has never looked back. He just enjoys what he does.”
Yet for all of his current success, Wilson appreciates those who have come before him and those who are following him.
“I wouldn’t be here today without Mary and Kello Wilson, who started our company,” he said, while also expressing pride in the next generation of Wilsons. But Wilson arguably saved his biggest praise for his wife Val, who manages dispatch.
“Without her, these (buses) do not run.”