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Pattison: 'Serious damage,' but things will eventually go back to normal

Bob Price discusses the pandemic and long-term outlook with BC's best-known business leader.
Streets will fill back up again, one day. (Adam Melnyk/

Sometimes described as Canada’s Warren Buffett, Jim Pattison still reports to work every day at the age of 91. The timeless business magnate, investor, philanthropist and sole owner of the Jim Pattison Group of companies may have thought he had seen it all – but that was before COVID-19.

Still however, Pattison remains confident.

Bob Price: Could you ever have imagined the current COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on business?

Jim Pattison: “The answer is clearly, no! I don’t think very many people could have dreamed that something like this could happen.”

 BP: The damage being done to the economy is unprecedented…what are you detecting within the business community?

JP: “Frankly, I haven’t spoken with many people about this as we’ve been busy trying to look after our own affairs. My personal opinion is this will certainly pass as time goes by…certainly some industries are going to get hurt much worse than others. As you correctly stated, we’ve been going through unchartered waters here, but as time goes by, things will go back to normal – although some industries will indeed suffer more than others. For some, I expect the recovery will happen very quickly.”

 BP: For the Jim Pattison group, what area do you expect to suffer the most?

JP: “I think at this minute, it would be our retail car business. People are always going to buy cars…but given how serious this is, I expect people to tread carefully with major purchases.”

BP: At the other end, I suspect that your grocery business would be rather robust right now?

JP: “Yes, we have never seen the food business better than it is right now. We are diversified. The foundation of our business of course has been automobiles. People are still going to purchase vehicles. But I think coming back, people will be much more cautious when it comes to borrowing – particularly if they don’t have to do it.”

 BP: Some economists have suggested that post-pandemic, the economic recovery could be rather quick. Do you agree?

JP: “In my opinion, the key is repairing the damage being done to the economy right now. That damage will have to get fixed in order to keep on going.

 BP: In your lengthy career in business, is there anything that compares to the current situation?

JP: “I think the last world war, which I grew up with. That of course disrupted a lot of things…but once that was settled, things moved rapidly. I can assure you, that in the current situation, things will get better; it’s just a matter of how long it takes. It all comes down to confidence.”

 BP: What is your view of how the provincial and federal governments have handled this crisis?

JP: “Well certainly, if you borrow money, you have to pay it back sooner or later. But (in the) long run, I believe we’ll be fine. We just have to go through the bottom of the cycle here…but long term, I’m optimistic.”

 BP: Would I be putting words in your mouth to suggest that Jim Pattison is supportive of the government spending and overall response so far?

JP: “I do support the government because they are doing what they think is best and getting advice from a lot of people who are a lot smarter than me. Certainly, they are helping a lot of people who need that help on the spot – and that is positive.”

 BP: Do you have any encouragement or advice for businesspeople who might be fearing the unknown that lies ahead?

JP: I don’t really have any advice. But I would suggest we all take one day at a time right now. I can also assure everyone that we are going to be okay. It is just a matter of how long it will take to get back to normal. Yes, there will be serious business damage that will need to be dealt with. But long term, we’ll be just fine.”

 As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter @kammornanchor and email [email protected].

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.