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Cover Story – Jim Treliving – May/Jun2016

Cover Story - Jim Treliving - May/Jun2016

By Cece Scott

A passionate venture capitalist and the original dragon on CBC’s highly popular Dragons’ Den.

If you have never heard of Dragons’ Den, the aspirational entrepreneur-based reality television series on CBC, most likely you’ve been living in your own dinosaurus den for the last ten years.

Jim Treliving, the original dragon, is a former RCMP officer turned highly successful businessman who, along with his partner, George Melville, is owner and chair of Boston Pizza International Inc. (BPI), through their company T&M Management Services. T&M is a billiondollar company that also owns Mr. Lube, Stonebrook Benchlands Development, White Rock Commercial Real Estate, Kitchen Partners Limited, among others.

A passionate venture capitalist, Treliving is also the author of Decisions: Making the Right Ones, Righting the Wrong Ones (Harper Collins, 2012), and most recognizably, an investment architect on Dragons’ Den.

Known alternately as the “nice dragon” or the “quiet dragon,” Treliving is anything but a push over.

“A lot of it is listening to other people, analyzing what they have to say. When you are listening to someone else you are mentally using your brain,” Treliving says. “On Dragons’ Den I listen, don’t say much, then I make the decision. If you talk to people who have been around me for a long time, they will tell you, I’m a little bit feistier than that of a ‘nice dragon.’ I can be tough if I have to be, and I’m strong as to what I want to get across.”

As the recipient of a long list of prestigious awards and distinctions, which includes Canada’s Top Ten Most Admired Corporate Cultures, 50 Best Managed Companies Platinum Club, the Henry Singer Award from the Canadian Institute of Retailing and Services, the Canadian Franchise Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Canadian-American Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award (Texas), and the Order of British Columbia, Treliving acknowledges that up to and throughout his 40s, his career was the priority. His ultimate focus centered on the business at hand, ensuring that it was running well and successfully on all fronts. However, Treliving says, the business as his driving force changed dramatically as he evolved through his 50s and 60s.

“It became a question of, what am I going to do with the rest of my life,” Treliving says. “It was a question of how I could give back, how I could make a difference; that’s what changed in my 50s and 60s. They say as you grow older you get wiser; I don’t know if that’s true but you get more involved. You have a chance to sit back, and a chance to give back to the community.”

When Treliving was in his 60s, life as he knew it spun on its axis, delivering fortune and fame on two highly visible fronts: Boston Pizza’s IPO and Treliving’s starring role on Dragons’ Den. “The IPO let me do things I couldn’t do before, including a lot of travelling. My role on Dragons’ Den had a major impact. It was a big transition and probably one of the biggest and hardest of my life.

“Suddenly in my 60s I was being perceived as a rock star, (although I don’t see myself as such), and the notoriety was hard on my wife and my family. The show is aired in 14 countries and people stop me in the streets in places as far away as Italy and Australia. I have to be careful as to how I present myself, and I have to make sure it doesn’t cost me.”

Treliving’s inherent beliefs and defining qualities started with the childhood grounding that he was not the most important person in the world. Those qualities manifest in his advocacies for a broad spectrum of communities, as well in his mentoring roles and sporting activities with young people.

“As you get older, you go back to how you can help other people,” Treliving says. “I like to sit down with young people and tell them, ‘Look here’s the pitfalls I went through.’ I tell them, ‘Live your dream like I did. It’s all about that. That is the single most important lesson: don’t take life too seriously and live your dream.”

Treliving’s empathetic heart, not unlike the outsize heart of a dragon, is deeply committed to the cause of helping both kids and disadvantaged Canadians of all ages across a spectrum of various endeavours.

“I don’t want to be the richest guy in the graveyard,” Treliving says. Treliving’s daughter, Cheryl, is the Executive Director of the Boston Pizza Foundation, (founded by Jim), an organization that has raised, since 1990, in excess of $20 million dollars to help Canadians in difficult circumstances.

CAMH, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is a personal cause that Treliving, along with his wife, Sandi, are committed to nurturing across the country. Treliving sits on the Board of the David Foster Foundation, which does replacements for lungs and hearts for kids, as well as Jays Care, an organization that helps boys and girls who might not otherwise have the chance or opportunity to get involved and play baseball. Treliving also sits on Hockey Canada’s Foundation, which has the goal of getting more kids involved and back into the game of hockey.

At 75, Treliving is far from interested in seeking out a quiet place to retire and enjoy the legacy he has created; one, in fact that he is still in the epicentre of crafting. Twice yearly vacations—a winter sojourn in Hawaii and three weeks in the summer at Muskoka’s Lake Joseph, where Treliving revels in his love for golf—are virtually the only two occasions when he actually stops. Although, compared to most, it probably wouldn’t be considered a “hard stop.”

“I can be decompressing and then compressing,” Treliving says with a laugh. “I go for long walks on the beach then I’m fired up and ready to go! I’ve invested in a couple of lots in Hawaii, and I’m involved in three golf clubs there.”

Treliving does not hesitant when stating that there is not a lot that he misses about being young, other than the fact that when he was younger he was more carefree and, well, younger.

“I’m not as physical as I used to be, and the travel keeps me busy,” Treliving says. “I can’t play hockey like I used to, and I can’t hit the golf ball as far. But I’m not going to have a one handicap again or be on the ‘ Tour,’ so I don’t have to worry about that. I have fun with what I do, golfing and good business deals.”

What is of tantamount importance to Treliving is his family, whom he considers the “gifts of this stage of his life.” His wife, Sandi, is an integral partner with him on his charities; his daughter, Cheryl, is the Executive Director of the Boston Pizza Foundation; his son, Brad, is the General Manager of the Calgary Flames; and his four granddaughters keep him “centered and busy.” Now he has great grandchildren just beginning to come along.

Treliving muses that if he were a new supplicant on Dragons’ Den his pitch would probably revolve around a techie business, although he does reinforce that he is more of an investor now.

“My bliss is about being involved in the action, being around young people and helping them make their deals,” Treliving says. “It’s about the next big idea and how I can be a part of it.”

With all of Treliving’s gargantuan successes and an estimated net worth of $640 million, one might be forgiven for thinking humility might not be front and centre for such an achiever. Not so with the ‘quipwitted’ genuinely affable, loyalty-driven Treliving, who states, “Basically, I’m just a business guy selling pizza.”

Well Jim, that’s one hell of a family-size pie you’ve created, topped with all the extras a humble boy from small-town Manitoba could ever hope for.