From Gas Station Attendant To Used-Car Salesman To Multi-Billionaire – The Inspirational Life And Career Of Jim Pattison

By on January 2, 2015 in ArticlesEntertainment

Vancouver-based businessman Jim Pattison is the third richest person in Canada with a current personal fortune of $7.8 billion. Jim is the president, managing director, chief executive officer, chairman and sole owner of the Jim Pattison Group, the largest privately held company in Canada. His company owns, among other things, Guinness World Records, Ripley's Believe It or Not and Canadian wine purveyor Everything Wine. It's an impressive empire for a man who started out as a gas station car washer and used-car salesman. So how did this $7.8 billion dollar man go from owning car dealerships, to owning all of the world's world records? Let's take a look at the amazing self-made career of Jim Pattison.

Jim Pattison was born in 1928 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and raised in East Vancouver where his first summer job was as a trumpet player at children's church camps.  After high school, he worked in a cannery, a packing house, building bridges in the mountains, and as a dining car attendant for the Canadian Pacific Railway before he landed a job washing cars at a gas station next to a small used car lot. One day when the regular salesman was unavailable he managed to sell one of the cars on the lot and found out not only was he good at it, but he enjoyed doing it. That summer he got a job selling cars at one of Vancouver's biggest used car lots which enabled him to pay for college. He enrolled at the University of British Columbia and left school just three classes shy of a BA in business.

Why he left school so soon before graduation is unknown, but it could be because he had an opportunity with a local General Motors dealer where he worked for several years. In 1961 he used his well-honed sales skills to convince a banker to loan him EIGHT TIMES the bank's lending limit so that he could open a Pontiac dealership. Within 25 years, he was selling more cars in Western Canada than anyone else.

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Pattison's first fortune started with those car dealerships and by the end of the 1960s, he had expanded into radio and newspaper companies, a grocery store, and an advertising company.  Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s his businesses grew and he added shipping, fishing, and finance to his stable of companies.

In the 1980s, Pattison was very prominently in the public eye as the chairman of Vancouver's extremely successful World's Fair, Expo 86. His salary for his services on Expo 86 was $1 dollar per year. He worked tirelessly for five years to bring the World's Fair to his city and make it a success. The theme of the fair was "Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch" and coincided with Vancouver's centennial.

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At the turn of the millennium, Pattison expanded into packaging and entertainment. He acquired Ripley Entertainment – owners of Ripley's Believe it or Not and Guinness World Records, technically making him the owner of ALL of the world's world records.  The annual book is the best-selling book in the world, published in more than 100 countries and 37 languages.  While these acquisitions were surely motivated by finances, they also show a bit of whimsy.

The Jim Pattison Group had more than $7.5 billion in sales in 2012 from more than 35,000 employees working at 470 locations around the world. That's a hell of a long way from his days as a used car salesman.

Pattison owns a corporate jet and a 147 foot luxury yacht called the Nova Spirit that he often parks in Vancouver's Coal Harbor. But lest you think he's a rabid materialist – Pattison is also a huge philanthropist who has donated more than $25 million to hospitals in British Columbia.

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He was also an integral part of the committee for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Not surprisingly this man who has done so much for and in promotion of Vancouver is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Order of British Columbia.

His Jim Pattison Group owns numerous car dealerships selling Toyota, Lexus, Subaru, Hyundai, Volvo, Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge; Sav-On Foods and Overwaitea Foods, the Canadian Fishing Company, Guinness World Records, Ripley Entertainment, an outdoor advertising company, Canada's largest soft drink and beverage company, Western Family food brands, 30 radio and three TV stations in British Columbia and Alberta, and four Everything Wine stores—to name just a portion of the company's assets.

He's also a bit of a hockey fan. In 2009, Pattison announced that Save-On Foods donated $100,000 to CBC Television so that they could rent high definition trucks for away games during the Canucks' 2009 1st round NHL playoff series against the St. Louis Blues after CBC has said it would not broadcast HD away games due to the high cost associated with renting equipment. Pattison stepped in and made many Vancouver Canucks fans very happy in a city that, despite their lack of a Stanley Cup, takes their hockey very, very seriously.

Jim Pattison worked his way up from the bottom—first to literally make the money to attend college—and then to become one of Canada's richest citizens. He's a perfect example that with a little bit of luck and, more importantly, a lot of hard work, anyone can make a massive fortune if they put their mind to it!

Articles Written by Amy Lamare
Amy Lamare is a Los Angeles based writer covering business, technology, entertainment, philanthropy, and pop culture. She spent 8 1/2 years covering the entertainment industry for www.hsx.com. She attended the University of Southern California where she majored in Creative Writing. An avid long distance runner, weekends she can be found running the streets of Los Angeles training for 1/2 and full marathons. Follow her on Facebook.
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