Joseph Schumpeter, Austria’s celebrated economist, called them part of the “creative gale of destruction.” They are among the most progressive among us. They include Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon; Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook; Michael Moritz, an early venture capitalist in Google and Yahoo; and Jim Pattison of the Pattison group of companies. They are confident, energetic, reliable, even restless risk takers who love capitalism and reject socialism. They are restless since they are always in search of opportunities and reject advocates of the status quo. They are entrepreneurs, and they bring innovation and creativity to the capitalist system. They are the change agents of our mixed economies. Without them, we would not have the US$3 trillion technology industry, which in 2014 attracted 1 out of 5 U.S. business school graduates, and which has touched all our lives.

Jim Pattison is an entrepreneur and CEO of the Jim Pattison Group, headquartered in Vancouver. Jimmy, as he is affectionately called, is an evangelical Christian who is a generous supporter of his local church and many charities. The annual sales of his privately owned empire have been estimated at $8.8 billion, and the number of employees is over 34,000. His businesses are in 545 locations throughout North America, including the largest automobile dealership in British Columbia; Pattison started his business career as an automobile salesperson in Vancouver. The Pattison Group, a holding company for many businesses, owns a large fleet management and leasing company. Some of his companies include Westshore Terminals (a coal-exporting port), News Group (a wholesaler of books and magazines); The Sign Group (an outdoor advertising company); SunRype (an apple processing company); Ocean Brands and Canadian Fishing Company (a seafood processor and its suppliers); and Ripley Entertainment.

William Mitchell is a professor of business strategy at the Rotman School of Business and has studied entrepreneurs. He says that entrepreneurs like Pattison have three characteristics: an incredibly high level of drive, a desire for little bureaucracy, and insightful predictive abilities concerning likely “winning projects.” They are often frugal: they do not undertake high fixed-cost business projects such as a Bombardier or a General Motors would do, but make low-investment decisions, often a low variable-cost strategy until they gain momentum on their idea for a new product or service, or a new model for companies. Entrepreneurs often create a vast new set of businesses that in turn create other businesses, as did Jobs, Bezos, and Zuckerberg. How well does Pattison stack up against some of William Mitchell’s research findings?

Pattison’s record fits well with almost all of William Mitchell’s findings on entrepreneurs. Pattison has incredible drive that has propelled him into so many diverse business areas. Classical entrepreneur is a term that describes some entrepreneurs who are willing to enter a particular area and stay there only. Pattison is more of a multipreneur, taking on opportunities in a great range of business sectors with more risk. He has shown an amazing ability to pick winning types of companies, though he hasn’t always been right. But who is? Pattison’s progress in acquisitions was slow: he didn’t try to acquire too much too quickly. His strategy has been to expand slowly, so he already has accumulated capital from early starter companies, and thus he doesn’t have to borrow large amounts of capital. He has even arranged for a slow, sequenced financing of acquisitions, which one Financial Post writer called “the creeping takeover,” rather than a one-time, large-scale payment for an acquisition.

Pattison isn’t a “team player” kind of manager in the tradition of many executives in North America; his style is more individualistic, with the owner/CEO of each company making the major decisions. The only man who has Pattison’s ear on a regular basis is Glen Clark, a former BC New Democrat premier who left his political job to join the Pattison Group and is now its president. Pattison is an excellent time manager and expects the same of his executives. To keep tabs on units within the conglomerate, he organizes meetings at which the 24 divisional heads give progress reports. Meetings are short, tightly organized events with brief, summative reports, so that executives can have lunch together and quickly get back to work.

Pattison’s management style is more “tough on results” rather than “caring and consultative.” He might be called a Theory X manager. Pattison has no hesitation in firing managers who do not produce continuous growth. When he ran his first automobile sales business, the salesperson with the lowest sales volume was shown the door at the end of each month. He refuses to go public since he owns every branch of the empire. One online source said of Pattison’s business philosophy: “No partner, no shareholders, no relatives.” However, that’s not quite true. Pattison’s son, Jim Jr., is president of Ripley Entertainment.

In a profile for The Globe and Mail, author Gordon Pitts called Pattison “the Ordinary Titan.” That’s inaccurate. Pattison fits a description from Schumpeter of the extraordinary entrepreneur; Schumpeter would say of Pattison that he has “aptitudes present in only a small fraction of the population.”

  1. Althouse states that multipreneurs “thrive on the challenge of building a business and watching it grow.” What strategies has Pattison followed to make his business grow?
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