Billionaire returns to former high school in Vancouver

Jim Pattison graduated from John Oliver secondary in 1947

Stay in school kids, it could help you become filthy rich.

This was the underlying message at a recent talk given to 200 or so Grade 11 students Wednesday morning at John Oliver secondary by the school's most successful alumnus.

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Jim Pattison, who graduated from the high school in 1947, is the chairman and CEO of the Jim Pattison Group, the third largest privately held company in Canada, with annual sales of more than $7-billion and global operations in such varied industries as food, packaging, distribution, entertainment and cars.

As one of the architects of both Expo 86 and the 2010 Olympics, he has probably made the singlehanded greatest impact on the city of Vancouver since Gassy Jack Deighton decided set up an illegal saloon at what is known today as Gastown. Like many of the students assembled inside the school's auditorium, however, he also came from a humble home. The only child of a traveling piano salesman and a school teacher, Pattison grew up in the attic of a cramped rooming house on nearby 49th Street.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see on the drive over here that it was still standing," said 83-year-old, who was accompanied by his assistant of nearly half a century, Maureen Chant, and Scott Kille, the captain of his 150-foot yacht. "It feels pretty amazing to be back in my old neighbourhood again and to see not as much has changed as I would have thought."

While Canada's third richest man is famous for having made his fortune through selling used cars, it turns out his career as an entrepreneur instead first began through selling doughnuts in the school's parking lot. "We were always quite poor, and I was interested in how to get ahead. It was just another way to help make ends meet."

The billionaire urged students to stay in school as long as possible.

"Get as much education as you can because it will always stand you in good stead. It's easy to quit and go make some money instead, but a good education is so much more important. You'll wind up having a better standard of living and be able to do more things"

It is advice he said he wishes someone had given him, as he eventually dropped out of UBC just nine credit short of a degree. "I got married and we started to have children so I never graduated," he said.

Pattison also stressed that honesty and hard work are the key to success in life. "I was never a good student, but if you work hard, you persevere. There was never anything special about me, I was just prepared to work hard all my life to get the things I wanted."

In order to help drive Pattison's point home that anyone who puts their mind to it can achieve great things, John Oliver principal Gino Bondi shared with students some of Pattison's old report cards.

Turns out he was mostly a B or C student with one unsurprising exception: young Jimmy Pattison always got an A in business class.

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