Turning Magna into magnanimous

Frank Stronach’s plans to run for office in Austria sound familiar to me. In 1987 he hired me to write a book about his life that would also contain policy ideas for Canada. The story of his business career creating Magna was inspiring but his policy platform was a tad thin. The book was never published.

Frank would have loved to be prime minister, particularly if he could somehow just be appointed to the job, but he was willing to go through the democratic process. He ran as a Liberal for Parliament in 1988 in York-Simcoe and finished second, about 7,000 votes behind the Progressive Conservative candidate, John Cole. Frank later launched an essay contest called If I Were Prime Minister that annually gave away scholarships.

Because he’d built a global auto parts business from a one-man shop, he thought he could succeed at anything. He launched a magazine called Vista, of which I was editor for an afternoon, sought to get into broadcasting, owned a restaurant, and created a racing stable. He was more hands on than any entrepreneur I’ve ever seen. He owned a local newspaper and once grilled me at length how the paper should be displayed in those dispensing boxes on street corners. All those sidelines evaporated when Magna nearly went under in the recession of the early 1990s. With help from Scotiabank, he righted the ship.

Frank had two great attributes. First, he believed in himself. He built a new factory every three months, always assuming that when it was ready, he’d have an order to fill the plant with workers and he always did. Second, he had ten new ideas every day. Mind you, eight of them were stone stupid, but how many business leaders come up with two good ideas in a quarter, let alone daily?

Now that he’s eighty years old, he wants to succeed where he previously failed: get elected to office and run a successful restaurant chain. His new dining idea is organic beef grown on his own farms. He hopes to have 100 outlets. You can’t help but love a guy who still dreams big.

But there’s another step he should be taking. Frank claims he’s going to live until he’s 150, but barring that, if he seeks immortality (as do all entrepreneurs), he’s going to have to decide what to do with his billion-or-so-dollars of net worth. Here are my two ideas for today: He should build a school to train skilled workers and/or establish a foundation to back immigrants who want to start a business.

Knowing Frank as I do, he probably thinks he can take his money with him. I wouldn’t put it past him.

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