Entrepreneur and Dragon Jim Treliving dishes out business wisdom for launch of Beedie CKNW CEO Series

Sep 13, 2012

Jim Treliving (left), co-owner of Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube, and one of the “dragons” on the television program Dragons’ Den, being interviewed by CKNW host Bill Good (right).

Jim Treliving, co-owner of international retail franchises Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube, and one of the celebrated “dragons” on the reality television program Dragons’ Den, today shared insights and experiences from his expansive and colorful career in business with a live audience at the Beedie School of Business.

The event was part of the Beedie School of Business’ partnership with prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW, which sees SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus play host to “The Chief Executives”, a series of live radio interviews conducted by CKNW host Bill Good, profiling some of the country’s top executives.

The interview began with Treliving reminiscing about his early career in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), before opening his first Boston Pizza restaurant in Penticton, BC. “When I told my father that I was leaving the RCMP to get into the pizza business, he told me I needed to see a psychiatrist,” he laughingly shared with the audience.

Despite his initial skepticism, Treliving’s father played a major role in funding his son’s first restaurant. After his bank manager granted him a loan to start the business, he warned Treliving to make sure he never missed a payment. “It was years later that I learned there had never been a bank loan after all,” said Treliving. “My father had gone to the bank earlier that day and deposited the money I needed in an account. He asked the manager to pretend it was a bank loan, to teach me the value of repaying debts.”

A little-known fact about Treliving’s career is that he moonlighted as a professional wrestler to make ends meet in the early days of Boston Pizza. His own children only discovered his pro wrestling background when the subject was mentioned on an episode of Dragons’ Den. “I was asked to referee a wrestling match on the show,” he explained. “I was praying that the host wouldn’t mention my previous career.”

It was after Expo 86 that Treliving’s restaurant chain Boston Pizza experienced its biggest growth. Originally forecast to receive around 16 million visitors, poor weather initially looked to have deterred crowds from attending. However, Expo 86 eventually recorded over 22 million visitors, and as the official pizza supplier to Expo, Boston Pizza benefited greatly from this exposure, with the following two years seeing 17 new locations open as visitors flocked to Vancouver and British Columbia.

Treliving admitted to making mistakes in his career, one of which was the first expansion of Boston Pizza into eastern Canada. “We weren’t prepared for the differences in culture between the east and west coast of the nation,” explained Treliving. “Eventually we decided to cut our losses. I was seething that we had to admit that we had failed at the first attempt in Canada’s biggest market. We regrouped for two years and returned having addressed the mistakes we made at the first attempt.” Today, the company has 334 locations across Canada.

Treliving then took questions from the audience, touching upon how his company tailors its marketing strategies for different regions; personal setbacks in his life which have had a profound effect on him; and what he would do if he woke up and found his wealth had been wiped out.

He then spoke of his strong belief in the responsibilities people in his position have to society. “The greatest guy I ever met was Warren Buffett: he made a fortune and has given it all away,” he said. “Life is like playing monopoly. At the end of the game you put it all back in the box. You can’t take it with you. I’m a firm believer in giving back to society and my wife and I have just donated $1 million towards schizophrenia research.”

When asked whether he had envisioned his success, Treliving was emphatic in his response. “Not in my wildest dreams did I dream I would be where I am today,” he answered. “I still go back to my home town and see my old friends whom I grew up with working on the same rigs where I worked when I was younger. They still treat me the same as they always did. My mother used to say, ‘be nice to people on the way up, because you will see the same people again on the way back down’. I have always tried to stay true to that.”

The next CEO to be interviewed as part of the Chief Executives Series will be Angus Reid, Chairman of Vision Critical.

For more information about the CKNW Chief Executives Series at the Beedie School of Business, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/

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