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Entrepreneurial Inspiration – Jim Pattison, prolific and diverse

By Samantha Garner | June 1, 2013

BC residents have probably shopped in an Overwaitea or Save-On-Foods store. And it’s pretty likely that Canadians everywhere have read a billboard or transit ad.

So what do these things have in common? They’re just a few examples of the reach of the Jim Pattison Group, overseen by one of Vancouver’s most prolific entrepreneurs.

Jim Pattison was born in Saskatchewan, moving to Vancouver with his family at the age of six. He caught the entrepreneurial bug early, spending his youth selling magazine subscriptions and seeds for the garden. By the time he was a student at the University of British Columbia, he’d gotten a bit more creative. Each night, he would scan the local classifieds for used car ads. He’d buy a car for cheap, take it to the UBC campus and sell it to a student with a decent – but still student-friendly – markup.

This early experience with selling cars was what led to Pattison’s first purchased business. In 1961, he bought his first car dealership in Vancouver. This sole dealership soon expanded to 13, all over southwest British Columbia. Already a savvy businessman, Pattison saw the value in diversification and purchased a Vancouver radio station, CJOR-AM, in 1965. He would go on to own nearly 30 stations, making the Pattison Broadcast Group the sixth largest in Canada.

Pattison’s diversification model extended to grocery stores (purchasing the Overwaitea Foods, Buy-Low Foods and Save-On-Foods brands); transportation businesses; media outlets; financial groups; entertainment (the Jim Pattison Group owns Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museums and Guiness World Records Museums); signage (Pattison Outdoor is Canada’s largest outdoor advertising company); periodical distribution and packaging for food and products.

However, it was the Expo ’86 World’s Fair that made Jim Pattison a true Vancouver icon. What marks the entrepreneurial spirit above all else is passion, and Pattison displayed a true passion for success as head of Expo ’86. Exemplifying true entrepreneurial leadership, Pattison inspired his team to work just as hard as he did. He worked at this role nearly full-time for five years – without compensation. In 2009, Pattison further proved his commitment to the success of his home city, when Save-On-Foods donated $100,000 to CBC Television to rent HD equipment for broadcasting the Vancouver Canucks’ first-round NHL playoff series.

Pattison is a recipient of both the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. He may be the third richest person in Canada, but entrepreneurs at any level can learn some valuable lessons from Jim Pattison’s success. His unique merging of diverse and successful business concepts with hometown pride has made Pattison an entrepreneur Vancouver – and all of Canada – can be proud of.

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