The story of multi-billionaire Jim Pattison is as inspiring a tale of bootstrapping rags to riches as any you’re likely to read these days. It would be easy to say Pattison just got lucky. However, if you take a closer look at the path his career took, it’s clear that a combination of persistence, strong work ethic, and natural sales talent enabled Pattison to seize opportunities when they came and make himself a fortune, time and time again.
Born in Saskatoon and raised in East Vancouver, Pattison displayed a knack for making money from an early age. His first paying gig was actually as a trumpet player in a kids summer camp, but it seems that his heart wasn’t in music. Rather, playing trumpet was just one of a stream of odd jobs he held growing up, which ranged from the typical newspaper delivery boy to hotel bellhop, fruit picker, door-to-door seller of seeds in his neighborhood, and parking lot entrepreneur hawking doughnuts at his high school. This last job was a sign of things to come. But first, upon completing high school, Pattison chose to forego higher education and work a variety of labor-intensive jobs, including in a cannery and on bridge building projects. A stint as a restaurant car attendant on the Canadian Pacific Railway followed, then a gig at a gas station with an attached used car lot. Pattison’s duties were supposed to be limited to washing cars at the gas station. However, the normal used car lot salesman was absent one day. Seeing an opportunity, Pattison jumped in as substitute salesman and sold his first car the same day. The rest, you could say, is history.
Pattison’s early success at the gas station lot led him to a summer job at one of the biggest used car dealerships in Vancouver, as well as gaining him a crucial connection with the General Motors company. He used the money he earned to study business at the University of British Columbia, but left school three courses short of a degree. As it turned out, degree or not, Pattison was more than ready to take the used car business by storm. With uncanny skills of persuasion, he managed to talk a bank manager into giving him a loan over eight times the official limit and, through that handy connection to General Motors, used it to open his own Pontiac dealership on the very same street where he had attended elementary school (and possibly sold seeds) as a kid. Within twenty-five years, Pattison was the biggest seller of automobiles in all of Western Canada.
Pattison hardly intended to stop at domination of the used car world. He quickly invested his new fortune in a supermarket chain, radio and print media companies, and advertising firms. In the following decades, he expanded to include fishing, shipping, and finance companies. He held ownership of the Vancouver Blazers hockey team. As if all that wasn’t enough, he also chaired Vancouver’s 1986 Worlds Fair, working full time and uncompensated for five years to make it one of the most highly regarded Worlds Fairs to date. Later, Pattison assisted the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Committee. In a touch of whimsy, Pattison also acquired the companies Ripley’s Believe It or Not! as well as Guinness World Records. Speaking of records, Pattison’s company is now the biggest privately held company in Canada, and Pattison himself is the wealthiest Canadian person.
Even in his late eighties, Jim Pattison shows little sign of slowing down. He recently acquired over 11% of the outstanding shares of Just Energy Group, an international electricity and natural gas reseller. Pattison is also very active in philanthropy, donating millions to the Vancouver Hospital Foundation and other organizations. Naturally, he holds many official honors, including membership in the Order of British Columbia and Officer of the Order of Canada. Far more impressive than titles is that fact that, as stated in the Globe and Mail, Pattison has given away 10% of his income for many years–an inspiring gesture, yet unsurprising from a man whose inspiration and dedication helped him work his way to the top of the world. Pattison’s life demonstrates that for those willing to work hard and fulfill their natural potential, the sky’s the limit.