Sixty-eight years ago in Alberta, Canada, 7-year-old Peter H. Thomas chopped wood and picked blueberries to earn pocket money. So it’s perhaps no surprise he went on to become a successful serial entrepreneur.
Now 75, a founder of countless companies—as well as the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)—and the author of five books, Thomas still has his taste for independence. His latest enterprise, launched in 2011, is Thomas Franchise Solutions, which helps develop strategic business plans for its global clients. Its genesis came 37 years after his life was shaken to the core by another entrepreneur.
At a Young Presidents’ Organization lesson in Hawaii in 1974, Thomas and about 15 others sat on rocks outside the Makena Beach Resort, with notepads and pencils in hand. Red Scott, a more seasoned businessman leading the session, questioned them. “Are you living lives that honor your values?”
Scott asked each person to write down his or her values and daily activities. Thomas, then running his young mutual fund company, looked down to find that his lists didn’t align.
“It was a major epiphany,” Thomas says. “I was sitting there with these beautiful surroundings, and we went through and listed what we thought our values were and what we actually did with our time. When I did it, it was a major disconnect for me.” After the sudden moment of clarity, Thomas wrote down a number of goals for himself. Within 90 days he moved to the west coast of Canada and reorganized his entire life. Soon he started Century 21 Real Estate Canada, the country’s first franchised real estate operation.
And what, exactly, are Thomas’s values? Health, happiness, freedom and integrity have worked for him. “There are no wrong values—there are your values,” Thomas says. “I’ve found that those four have helped me to be prosperous and successful, and to live what I feel is a balanced, assuring, giving life. But those are just my values.
“I knew that I needed to delegate more in order to enjoy my own life. I moved and segmented my life into how much time I spent working and how much time I spent with my family.”
Thomas’s entrepreneurial spirit has since guided him through a life of taking chances and seizing opportunities, particularly when the economy’s condition isn’t at its finest. “The best times to find deals and opportunities are in the tough times,” Thomas says. “If there are tough times now, you go look for the deals.”
He didn’t stop with Century 21 Canada. In 1984 Thomas founded a real estate financial services company, Samoth Capital Corp. (now known as Sterling Centrecorp Inc.). He also served as chairman and CEO for the publicly traded Toronto Stock Exchange Co.
At the same time, the real estate business in Canada was booming, and Thomas sold his rights to Century 21 Canada in 1987. The company had reached $9 billion in annual sales.
“I felt that I had won the lottery,” Thomas remembers. Today, though, he recognizes that his success was no fluke. It was possible because of the values-based philosophy he promised himself to live by in Hawaii.
Today, Thomas sees it as his mission to dole out similarly prescient advice—after all, he credits his own coaches and mentors with giving him the tools to be successful. “Before I get into any area where I feel I need help making a decision, a tough one,” Thomas says, “I reach out and include the people I respect.”
Among those who have Thomas’s ear is SUCCESS columnist Tony Jeary, whom Thomas enlisted as an entrepreneurial coach. More recently, the two have written a book together, Business Ground Rules: Be Great in Business, released in January. Also an advocate of the values-based approached to life, Jeary is an obvious fit to partner with Thomas.
“His stuff and my stuff combined—it’s natural,” Thomas says.
After decades of success in starting and running companies, Thomas says his greatest satisfaction comes from being an original founder of EO, which he now serves as chairman emeritus, and from his work as a coach.
“I’m proud of being a mentor to literally thousands of people,” Thomas says, “through my work, through my books and through my philosophy.”
The Ground Rules: A few points of advice from the new book
In Business Ground Rules, Peter H. Thomas and Tony Jeary explain the path to success in life and business.
Avoid Negative Thoughts. You wouldn’t keep stinky garbage in your living space, so why would you keep a negative thought in your brain? Remove it.
Value Solitude. Regularly find a quiet place to think and just be. It will refresh your mind and help clear out any cobwebs. People who don’t make a point of this find themselves cluttered with the ideas and plans of others.
Express Gratitude. Successful people are grateful for the positive things in their lives and think of them regularly. Gratitude impacts the way you view life.
Develop Perseverance. The simple willingness to keep going, switch gears, attempt new things and work harder than others will win in the end. Remaining focused on an ultimate goal will keep you solution-oriented.
Have a Plan. Every entrepreneur needs an action road map. If you don’t have one, you’re costing yourself time and money. Don’t lead your business on autopilot. Document a clear idea of where you are trying to go—it should be a values-based strategy for the long haul.