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Former B.C. premier Glen Clark explains why he's leaving Jim Pattison Group after 22 years

For the last 10 years, Clark has been the company president, and the chief operating officer for the last seven. In 2022, the company had 60,000 employees in 97 countries, and did $16 billion in sales.
Glen Clark, middle, with Jim Pattison, right, at the announcement of the new St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver in 2019. JASON PAYNE, PNG

VANCOUVER — Many people were shocked when former NDP premier Glen Clark went to work for B.C.’s most successful businessman, Jim Pattison.

But Clark thrived at the Jim Pattison Group. For the last 10 years, he has been the company president, and the chief operating officer for the last seven. In 2022, the company had 60,000 employees in 97 countries, and did $16 billion in sales.

Now the shock is that Clark has resigned as the Pattison Group’s president and COO, effective Dec. 31, 2022.

Reached on his cellphone, Clark sounded a bit surprised that the media would be interested.

“I don’t think it’s big news, is it? I just turned 65,” said Clark, whose birthday was Nov. 22.

Asked if he is retiring, Clark replied, “No, I want to do something else, maybe.”

Then he laughed.

“Well, I’m leaving the Jim Pattison Group after 22 years,” he said. “It’s been fantastic. (But) I’m still on the board of Canfor and West Shore Terminals. Jimmy’s kept me on those boards.”

Pattison said he wasn’t surprised that Clark decided to leave.

“No, not at all,” said the 94-year-old. “He’s 65 years old, and most people in their 60s usually retire. That’s just part of the game.”

Pattison acknowledged that people were surprised when he hired Clark, especially in the business community. But Clark’s work ethic and sharp business sense helped propel him to the top of the company.

“Glen’s a good worker, a hard worker, and he’s got a lot of common sense,” said Pattison. “He’s decisive, he’s a hard worker. We like Glen a lot. Of course he’s going to stay on the board of a couple of companies, as a director of a couple of our important companies.”

Clark said he learned a lot working with Pattison.

“Jimmy’s been a great mentor to me,” said Clark, who was a union organizer before entering politics. “I would argue he’s the most successful business guy in our time, so you learn a lot.”

Such as?

“The importance of cash flow, the importance of management, of dealing with issues, execution of decisions,” he said. “Those are things you just get drilled home. You have to make a return on your invested capital. Those are things that become second nature when you work there, because they’re just part of the culture of the company. Accountability.”

Pattison famously jets around the continent and the world to check up on his many companies. Clark did too.

“Jimmy is hands-on,” said Clark. “It’s not an office job, you’re out talking to people all the time. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it is all people. I guess I learned this from Jimmy, you can’t really get to know what’s going on sitting behind a desk, you’ve got to get out and see people.”

Clark said his time as B.C. premier (1996-99) and finance minister helped prepare him for the business world. But there are differences.

“It’s all leadership,” he said. “Business is pretty straightforward, the rules of business: You’ve got to try to make money. If you don’t make money, you go out of business. You have an imperative, sort of a structural imperative, that kind of drives your business forward.”

Former NDP premier John Horgan served as a staffer in the Glen Clark government.

“What I learned from him I tried to implement when I had the opportunity,” said Horgan. “What he’s demonstrated over the past 22 years is you can go from a so-called unwashed socialist union leader to being the head of the largest private-sector company in the country. That’s extraordinary. That speaks to Glen’s ability to realize and recognize where people are, not just in business, not just in labour, not just in community, but all of those things intertwined. That’s what Jimmy saw in him, and good on both of them.”

The new president of ­Pattison Group is Ryan Barrington-Foote.

“He’s a really good guy,” said Clark. “Young guy, he’s an accountant. The timing just seemed to work well. The company has a good group of younger leaders coming up.”

Pattison, meanwhile, is still going strong at 94

“I haven’t retired, because I like going to work every morning,” said Pattison. “I started the company 60 some-odd years ago, and I like coming to work. That’s what I do.”

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