Pattison goes for the record books
JOHN PARTRIDGE | Globe and Mail
Friday, February 15, 2008
To heck with just setting records. Vancouver billionaire Jimmy Pattison has decided to buy the record book.
Jim Pattison Entertainment Ltd. announced Friday that it has bought the storied Guinness World Records from Britain's HIT Entertainment Ltd. for an undisclosed price.
Mr. Pattison's business empire already had a link with Guinness World Records, which first published its annual book of weird and wonderful – as well as more prosaic – achievements in 1955 and has turned it into what it claims is the best-selling copyrighted book ever.
Believe it or not, his holdings include Ripley Entertainment Inc. and for more than 10 years Ripley has owned the worldwide rights to develop and run Guinness World Records museums and attractions. There are currently six such emporiums in locations that include Niagara Falls, Ont., Hollywood, San Antonio, Tex., Gatlinburg, Tenn., Copenhagen and Tokyo.
“It gives us another iconic global brand that works very well with the Ripley's brand,” Jim Pattison Jr., Jimmy's son and president of Ripley, said when reached by telephone at the company's head office in Orlando, Fla. “The Guinness book is a world authority on records, it is recognized and has no equal. Ripley's in its own right is a global authority on the odd, the unusual and the very strange.”
The records book is now published in 37 languages and more than 100 countries, and recently launched a new specialty edition for video gamers. There also is a television program spinoff.
According to Mr. Pattison, close to 5 million of the books are sold each year, and Ripley sees plenty of potential for expansion. “We think the book and the brand name have a lot of opportunities globally,” he said, citing the Guinness gamers' edition as an example of the potential spinoffs he sees.
As for Ripley, which the Jim Pattison Group bought in 1984, it already has more than 60 attractions. These include 30 Ripley's Believe It or Not! museums that it calls “odditoriums,” along with a handful of Louis Tussaud wax museums, several minigolf courses and a sightseeing train in St. Augustine, Fla. It also has broadcasting and publishing divisions.
HIT Entertainment, meanwhile, is a major producer and distributor of family television programming and specializes in children's characters. Its roster boasts such kiddie stars as Bob the Builder, Barney the dinosaur, steam engines Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam and Angela Ballerina. The company's owner is Apax Partners, a private equity investment group.
The first editors of the record book were twin brothers Ross and Norris McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding and research agency in London. They were commissioned to put the book together by the Guinness brewing company.
The book's web site says the inspiration dated back to 1951 when the brewery's then managing director, Sir Hugh Beaver by name, went on a shooting party and became involved in an argument about whether the grouse or the golden plover was Europe's fastest game bird. “He realized then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove popular,” the web site says. “He was right!”
For the record, according to Forbes magazines annual rankings, Jimmy Pattison was the world's 230th richest person – and Canada's eighth richest – in 2007, worth a total of $3.8-billion. The Jim Pattison Group, bills itself as the third-largest private company in Canada, with about 28,000 employees and 2005 sales of $6.1-billion.
Besides the entertainment businesses it owns through Ripley, its holdings range from automotive, media, packaging, food sales and distribution to magazine distribution, entertainment, export and financial industries.
But neither the company nor any of the Pattison family have yet won an entry of any sort in the Guinness World Records, as far as Jim Jr. knows.
“There's nobody in there. I'm pretty sure of that,” he said with a chuckle.
As it happens, for those who care – and, indeed, for those who don't – the most recent record compiled by the Guinness feat finders was set in Doha on Feb. 3. Qatar Food Company (Americana Group), owner of the local KFC franchise owner, cooked up a brand new record for the “Largest Serving of Fried Chicken,” a single, giant bucket containing 300 kilograms of KFC fowl.