At 87, Jim Pattison still runs Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group, which has $9-billion in sales from car dealerships, grocery chains, radio stations, fishing and more. Pattison also owns stakes in forestry and port-service companies.
Many entrepreneurs take their companies public to fund growth. Why haven't you done so?
I prefer to stay private. You have more freedom. You can plan for the longer term, and you don't have to worry about each quarter. When you make a mistake, it's also not nearly as visible. While our key company is private, we do invest in public companies from time to time.
Your firm is an eclectic mix of companies. Is there a thread that connects them?
No, it's a collection of random opportunities. We have a number of consumer-focused businesses, as well as those involved in manufacturing and the service industry. But my background is basically in retail. I started selling used cars. Then I sold new ones. I also sold products door to door—from pots and pans to adhesive tape.
What are the key attributes when looking at potential acquisitions?
We look for businesses we can enjoy being in and where we can get a reasonable return. Hopefully we can grow it. Cheap is not necessarily important. You may be better off to pay more and get a good company than wind up with a headache.
What's the appeal of two of your most unusual acquisitions—Ripley's and the Guinness Book of Records?
Ripley's is in the entertainment business. Their business is selling fun. But we find it fun to deal with all the businesses we're in. If you don't find it fun, sell it. We consider ourselves operators of businesses, not investors.
You own a stake in Canfor and recently increased your interest in Westshore Terminals, which operates coal-export facilities. What is your outlook for these resource sectors?
We haven't invested a lot in commodities. There are a lot of things you can't control in that business.
What advice would you give to would-be entrepreneurs?
Anybody who is trying to do new things will make mistakes and feel discouraged from time to time. Just be honest, work hard and, when failure comes, don't give up.
Do you have any thoughts of retiring?
No, but we've had a succession plan in place since 1979. We have an outside board of directors, and it will decide who my successor will be. We have been grooming people who can take over, including president Glen Clark, a former premier of B.C.
Do you have any hobbies?
I don't have a lot of time. I play the trumpet, but not often. We have a few vintage cars. I did buy John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls-Royce, but I gave it away to the British Columbia government to help promote tourism.