Paul’s Voice: Private musing of family fortunes

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Today, we celebrate second, third and fourth generational family businesses that are exceptional in most every Okanagan way. Our necessary and visible role at Okanagan Life magazine is to cheerlead small business, document their accomplishments and innovations and salute their productivity. This is what we do — and we’ve done it — for 30 years. 

Some 493,100 small businesses attempted to profit in British Columbia in 2017. Many succeeded — a good thing. Our collective wealth and prosperity hinges on the 1.1 million British Columbians that work in those small businesses and they literally and figuratively light up our provincial prosperity. In 2017, BC’s small business sector generated approximately 35 percent of provincial GDP, well above the Canadian average. 

Please understand, it is their entrepreneurial innovation that provides opportunity, economic safety, a sense of belonging, respect and, what else, money.

Money that is made, earned or otherwise acquired by business people, is the cornerstone of the free enterprise system and because money is so revered, we intuitively understand it represents success or failure, good or bad, happy or sad. 

Does it seem to you that entrepreneurs are struggling to understand their role in the world today? Canada leads the world in the Most Positive Influence Globally Study, a survey by Ipsos MOIR, perhaps because we share a sense of fairness and a healthy moral compass. But I ponder whether Okanagan companies are aggressive enough to compete in this winner-takes-all economy? 

Let’s face the facts. It is an incredibly unstable world we find ourselves in. A handful of corporations are pumping astronomical amounts of pollution into the air, earth and oceans while rewarding themselves with 1,000% increases in bonuses alone. If worker wages grew at the same level, they’d be making over $33/hour. 

Economists ponder how we plan, shape and provide for one another when the world’s money supply has become so tragically disproportionate. The invisible hand has been handcuffed — it dealt Amazon’s Jeff Bezos a net worth of $130 billion — and that might be chump change if compared to the fortunes of the privately-held family corporations. (Amazon also pays no Canada tax, and they pay their staff near slave wages.)

When I read and write about the long hours and dedication of local small businesses, I cannot help but also feel pride in our country, province, cities and towns and in our communities — and loathing for Bezos. 

Words can conjure up different feelings so if I mention a company is ‘privately-held’ versus a ‘family business’ will your response change? When is all-in-the-family a bit too big?

BC is home to Canada’ second largest private company in the nation, The Jim Pattison Group, which employs nearly 16,000. Two million shoppers enter their grocery stores every week. Pattison also owns 47 radio stations helping the company post $10.6 billion in annual sales.

In BC, the Pattison private fortune is followed by the Gaglardis — father and son team Robert and Tom, the force behind such brands as Sandman Hotel Group, The Sutton Place Hotels, Moxie’s Grill & Bar, Chop Steakhouse & Bar, Denny’s Restaurants and the Dallas Stars. Net worth: $3.92 billion. 

Across the globe, the top 750 family businesses generate annual revenues of more than $9 trillion. The world leaders of today are bullish on huge corporations (public or private) and quite squeamish on small business. Big translates to big political influence and puts small business at or near the bottom rung. Add to that, massive, over-consolidated billionaire media gurus gushing over the too -big- to- fail corporations and no one hears much of the mom and pop shops and father-and-son and mother – and – daughter businesses that are the powerhouse of our local economy.

They say it is easier to fool someone than to convince them that they have been fooled. Well, welcome to Fools R Us. My eyes were opened a decade ago when I discovered that digital marketing was absolutely drenched in fraud yet digital ninjas from Wall Street assured us that they could walk on water. Remember the blatant and obnoxious sub-prime fiasco? Today, monopolies like Amazon, Google and Facebook are still screwing small businesses. The resulting grotesque income inequality is a moral outrage. It is devastating for the Okanagan economy and the world. This should cause you to question almost everything. 

However, what it shouldn’t question is the passion of the small business owner here in the Okanagan and the desire for his or her legacy to continue; the vital contributions small business make in our local economy; and the possibility that “small” can prevail. 

Shop local my friends.