The billionaire and the socialist: they are no longer the weird couple, believe it or not

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BC billionaire Jim Pattison, left, and former BC premier Glen Clark in 2007.

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For Glen Clark, former premier of British Columbia, NDP politician and union organizer, redemption came from an unexpected place.

A conflict of interest scandal forced him to resign as premier in 1999, though he retained his seat in the British Columbia legislature for another 21 months. In the spring of 2001, he chose not to run for his riding of Vancouver-Kingsway.

With his political career in tatters and the NDP nearly wiped out by the Liberals in the May 2001 provincial election, Mr. Clark’s job prospects appeared limited. At the time, he was faced with criminal charges for alleged breach of trust and acceptance of a benefit. He was later found not guilty.

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Dave Barrett, who was premier of British Columbia from 1972 to 1975, called Jim Pattison, the billionaire owner of the Jim Pattison group of Vancouver, to recommend that he hire Mr. Clark.

Mr. Pattison followed his instincts. Instead of waiting for the outcome of the trial, he took Mr. Clark at his word. “Before I hired him, I asked him a lot of questions and he answered all the questions, and from what he told me, I believed him,” Pattison told The Globe. and Mail. “I hired him at the time because I thought he would do well with us, and it turns out he did.”

In 2001, exactly 20 years ago, on Saturday, Mr. Clark joined the Pattison Group Brands Division as Regional Director. The alliance between the two men has since turned into a flourishing commercial dynamic. Mr. Clark lacked professional references when he joined the company, but he learned quickly. He became president of the conglomerate in 2011 and then added the title of COO in 2017.

Mr. Clark and Mr. Pattison started out as a corporate couple. Media coverage of the early years highlighted the stark contrasts between the two men. “Yes, the billionaire and the socialist,” Mr Clark, now 63, said in an interview.

It would be simplistic to present Mr. Clark only as the trade unionist and Mr. Pattison as the capitalist. “They’re both kind of self-taught in East Vancouver,” said Bill Tieleman, communications consultant and former NDP strategist from British Columbia who worked for Mr. Clark in 1996 in the Prime Minister‘s Office.

On closer inspection, he added, the two complement each other and each have a strong work ethic. “There was never any question of them getting along,” Tieleman said.

This spring, Mr. Clark and Mr. Pattison together toured one of the Pattison Group’s newest operations: a Quality Foods grocery store in Parksville on Vancouver Island.

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The trip, with the aim of taking a close look at this new part of Mr. Pattison’s sprawling business empire, underscored the bond between the two men.

The conglomerate’s eclectic assets today include supermarket chains under the Quality Foods and Save-On-Foods banners, car dealerships, billboards, Guinness World Records, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Great Wolf Lodge, Canadian Fishing Co ., and a broadcasting unit with more than 45 radios.

Normally, Mr. Pattison and Mr. Clark would cut a ribbon to open the Quality Foods store and cheer on the local marching band. But with the COVID-19 restrictions still in place, they wanted to avoid attracting a large crowd of buyers. Instead, they took a business jet to Vancouver Island and arranged to be driven to Parksville two days before the grand opening. In late March, the store manager held a small-scale ceremony with the Mayor of Parksville, after Mr. Pattison and Mr. Clark left.

When possible behind the scenes, Mr. Pattison and Mr. Clark strive to maintain the tradition of pressing the flesh with managers and employees at the local level. It is a practice they have maintained during the pandemic, despite the need for masks and physical distancing.

“You can’t really know what’s going on sitting at a desk in Vancouver,” Mr. Clark said. “You can read the statistics and all the financials, but you really don’t have a clue of the business until you go talk to people. It may be old fashioned, but it is certainly our rule of thumb.

During their travels together, Mr. Clark and Mr. Pattison take the time to verify not only the wholly owned assets, but also the companies in which Mr. Pattison has significant interests. Among its holdings are 51 percent of lumber producer Canfor Corp. and 38 percent of the coal export operator Westshore Terminals Investment Corp.

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Pattison Group is a holding company that promotes decentralization, with the head of each operation being responsible for managing a tight ship. “We truly believe that the heart of the business is operations,” Mr. Clark said. “We want to talk to operators, we want to visit people. We really try to visit as many as possible every year. This is why I am often on the road.

Mr. Clark visited over 200 grocery stores belonging to the Pattison Group. “I went to all of them,” he said. “It’s the funniest part of the job.”

He oversees several divisions of the company, including Ripley’s, whose odd-filled museums have been hit by closures linked to the pandemic. Pattison’s grocery chains and car dealerships, meanwhile, flourished during the pandemic.

Mr. Clark prospered by working long days in his political life. He’s learned that in the corporate world, the pace can be just as grueling, especially when reporting directly to the boss. Mr. Pattison, who turned 92 last October, still works seven days a week as the owner, president and CEO of Pattison Group.

Mr. Pattison’s roots are humble. He was born in Saskatchewan. His parents moved to working class east Vancouver when he was five.

Following his entrepreneurial dreams, Mr. Pattison completed three courses before earning a business degree from the University of British Columbia. In the summer of 1948, at the age of 19, during an interruption in his studies at UBC, he landed a job that required wearing rubber overalls while washing used cars with a hose.

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At Fred Richmond Motors in Vancouver, he seized an opportunity when the manager allowed him to sell used cars in the field as well, as long as the only salesperson was not on duty. “The first week I was washing cars, I sold three,” Mr. Pattison said.

He opened only one Pontiac and Buick dealership in Vancouver in 1961. Since then, the Pattison Group has grown by leaps and bounds. Last year, it generated sales of $ 12.7 billion, with 51,000 employees at 565 locations around the world.

Mr. Pattison’s trust in his staff has been rewarded with loyalty. Her longest-serving employee is Maureen Chant, who has been her administrative assistant since 1963.

Over the decades, Mr. Pattison has become a renowned philanthropist in Canada. In 2017, he donated $ 75 million to the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation in Vancouver and $ 50 million to help build a new children’s hospital in Saskatoon.

“Jimmy Pattison believes in sharing wealth. He just wants to do it on his own terms, ”Tieleman said. “And he maintained a pretty good relationship with the unions, not that there weren’t any differences in the negotiations and the issues.”

Mr. Clark was born in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and raised in the eastern part of Vancouver. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Simon Fraser University and a Masters in Community and Regional Planning from UBC.

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A former union organizer, he took advantage of the support of the labor movement to win a seat in the British Columbia Legislature at the age of 28 in 1986. As British Columbia Minister of Finance in in the early 1990s, he got to know the hustle and bustle in the business world.

“He was going to meetings with business people and they would be willing to be anywhere from skeptical to downright negative,” Tieleman recalled. “But I certainly remember meetings where business leaders were just amazed at how much they knew about their business. He’s always been a super fast student.

In the summer of 2002, nearly 14 months after Mr. Clark joined the Pattison group, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge cleared him of all criminal charges. He remains a supporter of the BC NDP and has never given up on his social democratic ideals.

He said he admired his boss’s tenacity and was grateful for the opportunity Mr Pattison gave him to make the transition to a second career after the vagaries of politics. “No one offered me a job because I obviously had to clear my name. Then Jimmy called and invited me over and it was fantastic that he offered me a job, ”he recalls. “I had a mortgage to pay and didn’t have a lot of prospects.

Despite mutual admiration, Pattison cautioned against speculation about succession planning, dismissing the idea that one particular person is ready to take over as CEO. Industry insiders say a variety of scenarios are possible, with several candidates capable of leading the Pattison Group when the time comes to pass the torch.

The billionaire car salesman stressed that as a private company, Pattison Group will not wire what exactly happens next. He said he didn’t regret his decision two decades ago to trust Mr Clark.

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“Well, it certainly worked from a business perspective. Everything went well, ”said Pattison. “I just can’t say anything negative about Glen. He’s a hard worker and people like him. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do anything different.

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