B.C. billionaire Joseph Segal knows the importance of being nimble in business, whether you're young or, in his case, an energetic 92 years old.
"I talk to God every morning. When I look at myself in the mirror, I say, 'Thank you, God, that I'm alive.' You understand? I know it doesn't go on forever," the real estate developer said during a wide-ranging interview that covered topics such as early retirement, a prized chandelier, a $63-million mansion, the perils of retailing and the need for philanthropy.
He has a message of encouragement for middle-aged entrepreneurs – you're younger than you think, at least in the long arc of a career.
"Life is an aircraft journey. You're ascending when you're young," Mr. Segal said. "You're cruising when you're in your 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s or whatever. At some point, you descend. I'm descending but I'm fighting it."
He describes retirement at the age of 65 as packing it in early, noting that fresh business ideas emerge from those even in their 70s and beyond: "When you keep going, you haven't stopped and you don't know where the finish is going to be."
He emphasizes that it's crucial for managers, no matter what their age, to make swift adjustments to stay ahead of the competition: "When the world changes and you don't change with it, you're left stuck in the mud."
Mr. Segal made headlines in June, when he and his philanthropist wife Rosalie listed their 25-year-old Vancouver mansion for $63-million. The home features an Italian Ormolu chandelier that once belonged to an Edmonton business owner who ran into financial trouble. Decades before reaching Canada, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had the ornate showpiece.
Sotheby's International Realty Canada, the Segals' listing agent, traced the chandelier's origins back to a palace in Italy, not to France as formerly thought.
"This chandelier is a work of art. During the Second World War, it was taken by Mussolini and hung at his own place in Italy," Mr. Segal said. "When the war was over, the people who owned it got it back. It was bought at auction in the U.S."
He said the chandelier ended up in Edmonton, where a financial institution would later repossess it. "I bought it from the institution," said Mr. Segal, who is president of Vancouver-based conglomerate Kingswood Capital Corp.
Any wealthy purchasers thinking of low-balling the Segals for their Vancouver property should save their energy. "This is a home that was built with tender loving care," Mr. Segal said.
Over the years, the Segals have played host to a variety of charity fundraising events at their home, featuring celebrities such as composer David Foster and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Mr. Segal said the real estate market in general isn't too complicated. "The market is always a function of supply and demand. Too much supply, no demand, it tanks. Too much demand and no supply, it shoots way up," he said, adding that it is easy to lose perspective when contemplating an emotional purchase such as real estate.
"I would like an island, but I don't know what I would do with an island, so I don't buy an island. Everybody needs a home. Not everybody needs an island."
The Segal family controls Kingswood, whose holdings include industrial and office properties.
Mr. Segal enjoys going to his downtown Vancouver office and thrives on keeping busy. He extends his work hours through lunches on weekdays at the nearby Yew Seafood restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. "I do business over lunch," he said, squeezing as much as possible into his day.
Mr. Segal is the founder of Fields Store Ltd., a chain of discount department stores, and the former chairman of now-defunct retail chain Zellers Inc.
He exited Fields and Zellers decades ago to focus on real estate, but learned valuable retailing lessons along the way.
"If you don't change with the times, you're static. Then you whither and die. The environment changes, the business changes. Consumers change the way they shop," Mr. Segal said, raising of the example of Amazon.com Inc.'s deal to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. "Amazon is expanding its tentacles because you can't keep doing the same things. If Amazon is successful, they're going to hurt a lot of the competition."
Born in 1925 in Vegreville, Alta., he recalls his humble roots. His father ran a Vegreville store that was located across from a market with a parking area for horses and buggies.
After serving in the army infantry in Europe with the Calgary Highlanders during the Second World War, he returned to Canada and found that he had a knack for a business, running an army surplus store in Vancouver.
Through the decades, the Segals have felt the need to give back. They donated $12-million to help construct the $82-million Joseph & Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre on the site of Vancouver General Hospital.
"When you have a mental-health problem, sometimes you can't help yourself. We've created an environment where, if people have a problem, they will get the right treatment and they will retain their dignity," Mr. Segal said.
He is an admirer of B.C. billionaire Jim Pattison, the 88-year-old philanthropist and chairman of conglomerate Jim Pattison Group. Like Mr. Segal, Mr. Pattison is still hard at work.
"When you make money, you have an obligation to your community and you recognize the obligation."