Pickup Truck Running Boards – Jim Pattison roared in Saskatchewan countryside with his silver pickup truck, gliding down the prairie road that stretched straight to the horizon. Throwing into the back seat is a sleeping bag and deep red pillows – an impossible place for Canadian billionaires themselves when she can’t find a motel.
Observing the speed limit appears optional, using a turn signal afterwards. Not because there are many obstacles – only glittering wheat fields stretching across the ground are so flat that if you lose a dog, as the saying goes, you can see it running for three days.
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Here, in Canada’s vast bread basket, Pattison was born and where, at the age of 90, she oversaw one of the newest arms of the kingdom C $ 10 billion ($ 7.4 billion) of hers: Pattison Agriculture, a series of John Deere equipment dealers who serving 21 million hectares of land. farmland.
“We saw more opportunities than we ever had,” Pattison, who was driving confidently, his tiny body weighed down by a large black leather chair from his Laramie Ram 1500 truck. “There are still many opportunities with all the changes that occur in the world.”
The trip offers a very personal and very personal glimpse of Pattison, the third richest person in Canada, who created his iconic business group that seems to oppose the construction of a modern empire. He avoids e-mails, carries cellphones but barely checks them, and can rely on one side how many times his group uses investment banks in memory recently.
Pattison is often dubbed Warren Buffett Canada – a trophy that underscores how relatively unknown he remains outside Canada even though there are conglomerates operating in 85 dizzying industries: supermarkets, timber, fisheries, disposable packaging for KFC, billboards in Canada and ownership of the best-selling seller No. 1 which is protected all time, “Guinness World Records.” Believe it or not, he even owns the kingdom of Ripley Entertainment Inc.
“Back in Omaha, I was known as Jim Pattison of the United States,” Buffett joked this month when he surprised Pattison on stage in Toronto when Canadian billionaire was sworn into the Walk of Fame in the country. Pattison rejected the comparison. “Warren Buffett is alone in class,” he stressed.
Pattison has traveled 1,700 kilometers (1,000 miles) from the headquarters of Jim Pattison Group Inc. in Vancouver, across the Canadian Rockies which soared to the meadow where he acquired four agricultural equipment companies to create Pattison Agriculture. He likes to stop by without notice in his ownership, including supermarkets and dealers, but the news quickly spreads.
“You’re the man we’ve all been waiting for,” said the receptionist at a dealer in Moosomin, Saskatchewan (population of 3,100). “You got a call, right?” He said with a smile when he walked to the store, helping himself to popcorn when he asked the employee.
He listened attentively as they shared their points of pain – the scarcity of mechanics, narrowing the margin of sales of new equipment, and the unbearable noise in the cabin of the new tractor that made farmers complain. He occasionally takes out notebooks and a series of colored pens, but most depend on his still sharp memories.
The story of Patt-to-rich Pattison reminds of a different era. Born in Luseland during the Great Depression, he wore clothes sewn together from other children’s clothes because the money was very tight. The family moved west when he was 6 years old, settling on the sandy east side of Vancouver. In the summer he will return to the family home in Saskatchewan, where the land is still hijacked by horses. A natural seller, he touted seeds from house to house at the age of 7 and in a few years had beaten adults in a competition to sell most of the Saturday Evening Post subscriptions.
The road to now worth about $ 6.3 billion in wealth began with a Pontiac Buick dealer in 1961. He bought it with a $ 40,000 Royal Bank of Canada loan after persuading local managers to exceed the five-fold branch loan limit. He kept his yellowed financial statements, handwriting from that first year in a clear plastic folder.
Pattison said her favorite job was still a used car salesman. “If I have to, I can always come back.” He put it in the global business empire for the next five decades, completing hundreds of acquisitions to create the second largest private company in the country.
Pattison’s simple approach undermines the tectonic shifts faced by some of his businesses. Magazine in their heyday was their best business, he said, but people no longer read the print – the group agreed to sell the U.S. magazine distribution business last month. His car dealership has seen sharing trips and driving autonomously threatening to accelerate the potential death of vehicle ownership.
One of the biggest stocks in an outside company is Westshore Terminals Investment Corp., the largest coal export facility in North America, in Vancouver – dairy cows with a shrinking lifetime in the era of tightening emission standards. Its biggest public ownership is controlling shares in Canfor Corp, a timber company that has slumped around 35 percent this year as the US housing market slows.
“Some businesses – we are exposed like bad things,” he said. “But we did the best we got. This is part of why I got a job. ”
Behind the old-fashioned image there is a business that navigates technological disruptions.
The Pattison Farm Dealer in Yorkton is a newly renovated center in the 60,000 hectare area, some of which are larger than Lichtenstein. Most of the equipment in each costs half a million dollars; some customers will drop as much as C $ 40 million a year in purchases.
“See how much it costs to be a farmer lately?” Pattison asked when he walked around the warehouse, a 5-foot-6-inch skeleton dwarfed by tires on several engines. “They will become smaller farms. What happened was consolidation, consolidation, consolidation. ”
Pattison’s low profile is sometimes interspersed with spectacles that are well calculated. When the provocative, flesh-colored gown worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1962 to sing “Happy Birthday” for the moment – President John F. Kennedy came for the auction, Pattison called his son, Jim Jr., who runs the Ripley Entertainment business.
“I almost had a heart attack when I saw what they thought would be suitable for the dress,” Jim Jr. said in a telephone interview from Orlando, Florida. “We must get a return on everything we invest. I do not want it. “His father still bid for it, paying more than $ 5 million, making it the most expensive dress in the world.
The company has reaped dividends in publicity from purchases, said Jim Jr. News of Ripley’s purchases in 2016 sparked a storm of global tweets. The dress has attracted many people to Ripley’s places throughout North America, and the outfit will soon begin a world tour, where visitors will be able to try the correct hourglass-sized replica.
The dress is a rare outfit for a man who starts very little.
“Most of the time, I don’t have money to buy anything that is of use, so I have to buy things that nobody wants,” Pattison explained. “I don’t know good intentions for a long time,” he said of premiums paid in acquisitions for intangible assets such as brands.
Historically, he guarded the management in his place after the takeover, and he gave his representatives a long time. “He trusted people to do their jobs,” said his son. The organizational hierarchy is as flat as the surrounding grasslands.
“My responsibility is to help you become the most competitive in this field,” Pattison Sr. often notify employees, instruct them to record the numbers if they hit a wall. “But we can’t fix it if we don’t know what the problem is.”
Instead, he demands results. In the early years of running a car dealer, Pattison would fire the lowest performing salesman in the parking lot every month. In practice, he said he was more flexible and intuitive.
“The best seller I’ve ever sold didn’t have a car for two months, but I stayed with him,” Pattison said. “It only took a moment to decide what he needed to help him.”
For companies with 45,000 employees, it still runs like a startup. To this day, the company’s headquarters on the 18th floor overlooking Vancouver Harbor and Stanley Park do not have a human resources department. The most important recruitment decisions for years have been made by Pattison and Maureen Chant, his executive assistant for more than 50 years.
Chanting may have the most modest job title in a Canadian company. With snow-white white hair and a round face, he looks more like a friendly grandmother than an invisible hand that makes Pattison and his empire irregular.
Chant advises nearly 30 group business divisions and has influenced who runs it. He oversees the $ 25 million 150 foot Pattison yacht, “Nova Spirit,” which has hosted everyone from Princess Diana to Oprah Winfrey. He also takes care of his private jet, the Vancouver condominium office and the Palm Springs property (previously owned by Frank Sinatra) where Pattison gathers his main lieutenants once a year. For most of his career, Chant has worked seven days a week.
He first came to his notice as a switchboard operator the night when he listened to him practice his speech and told him that he was “not good.” In the late 1970s, when Pattison made a disaster robbery into commodity trading, Chant lowered the margin call from the broker because the $ 78 million paper profit evaporated.
Realizing Pattison won’t cut his losses, he tells him that he ran out of cash. “In the meantime, without telling me, he saved $ 6 million that I didn’t know I had – otherwise I just spent it,” recalled Pattison.
Asked if he had ever considered giving Chant, 79, a more prominent title, Pattison seemed surprised – it had never occurred to him, he said. “He was a big influence,” he said. “He can retire whenever he wants, but he works because hopefully he likes it.”
While he likes to entertain visitors about his company’s past, Pattison is firmly focused on a troubling future.
“One thing is certain, everything will be very different 25 years from now,” he said, returning to the truck. “You saw those big tractors – who ever dreamed that such equipment would sow soil seeds or harvest them?”
On this trip, Pattison has picked up an old friend on the trip – Bill Stinson, 83, head of the Westshore coal business and former chairman of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. The two business giants sometimes struggle with Google Maps and try hard to see if there is a paper map on the board. But soon they returned, continuing their conversation about the inevitable churn of the world. Drones can send food ingredients. Autonomous trucks can overhaul distribution. The company is getting bigger; dogs must be smaller.
“You see them, Bill, in downtown Vancouver? They have dogs now the size of cats,” Pattison was surprised.
The afternoon was getting longer, and Pattison couldn’t wait to stuff several more dealers before finding a motel for that night. Neither he nor Stinson did not eat since breakfast at 6 am at the Days Inn that morning at Yorkton. When they finish the Saskatchewan and Manitoba rounds in a few days, they will return in a straight shot, alternating behind the wheel for 22 hours of travel.
Has he been on vacation? “Well, I get 365 days,” he joked. “If you like your job, it doesn’t work.”
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