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One-On-One with Jon Patten

By Autumn Gray
Assistant Business Editor
          The Basics: Born Jon Peter Patten on July 10, 1953, in Pontiac, Mich., but grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; attended Alma College in Alma, Mich., and then St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., where he studied Western civilization and philosophy for about two years but did not get a degree; married to Julia for 20 years; four sons: Louis, 29, Jason, 27, Timothy, 16, and Andrew, 14; one granddaughter, Isabelle, 1 1/2; five Australian shepherds named Pasqual, Zella, Charlie, Jack and Kalle, two Havanese dogs named Monte and Raymond, a cocker spaniel named Snicker, and "my dog, Gibson," a Bouvier des Flandres. The family also has 12 sheep, 12 ducks, two reptiles and a cat named Mario.
        Position: Co-founder, chairman of the board and chief financial officer of Dion's pizza
        What You Didn't Know: "In high school, I was in a one-act play, and there was a one-act play contest in Michigan. There were like 1,100 plays that were entered. There were five plays from our high school. We won that, and then we went to the city competition, and we won that. And then we went to district, and we won that. We went on to regional and finished second in regional. And the top two from the six regions went to the state, and we didn't place there but those were the top 12 of 1,100. I played Oscar in "The Odd Couple." And what I learned from that is that I was not a good thespian. That was the last time I acted. What I knew from that and I use today is it's good to know what you're good at and what you're not good at. I knew I wasn't gonna be a good actor. I knew I was good at playing Oscar in the "The Odd Couple." And being a CEO it's important to know (what you do well and what to allow others to manage)."
        It's no wonder that Jon Patten is a successful entrepreneur. He has no fear of failure.
        Here is a man who knew he excelled at math in high school, taking every advanced math class offered before he entered his senior year. Yet, come college — "I wanted to be a writer, and I couldn't get through English 101," Patten says. He tried three times and failed every one.
        Patten is also quick to point out that he failed first grade, too.
        However, the Dion's pizza founder did know he could cook. "For Christmas and stuff like that, what I would do is I would bake a lot. I'd bake a lot of bread and give it and rolls and cookies and stuff to my friends. So I thought I should go into baking 'cause I like making mass quantities of food. So I thought the restaurant business makes sense."
        It didn't matter that he knew nothing about starting a restaurant. It didn't matter that he'd never been to Albuquerque when he decided to move from his home state, Michigan, to start the business here.
        Patten had been encouraged by George Zanios, founder of Albuquerque's Zanios foods and former neighbor of Patten's dad, to move West. So when Patten reunited after college with childhood friend Bill Scott, the two followed Zanios' lead.
        They arrived in January 1978, and with $5,000 each bought New York Pizza on Montgomery the next month.
        "You know the No. 1 reason businesses fail? They have a backup plan. I had no backup plan. There was no way to fail," Patten said.
        Inside of the year, Patten and Scott renamed the restaurant Dion's, serving a mix of pizza and Greek food. Their original idea was to call it Dionysus after the Greek god of wine and indulgence, only they couldn't afford a sign large enough to hold that many letters. Half the name meant half the price. Dion's it would be. (They would also soon drop the Greek food to focus on pizza.)
        "Our first day we did like $20, and the second day we did like $28, and we thought, 'Wow, the business is on the upswing," Patten said.
        Annual revenues their first year totaled $80,000, he said, with each taking home a salary of about $450 monthly.
        Today, annual revenues come to $48 million among the 15 Dion's locations — nine in Albuquerque, one each in Santa Fe, Los Lunas, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, and two in Lubbock. Patten employs 1,100, many of them teens.
        Q: When it became clear you would not become a writer, what did you do?
        A: I worked in the radio business for a couple of years. I wasn't very good at that either. I was a DJ.
        Q: Did you have any entrepreneurial experience before Dion's?
        A: In third grade, I went with my dad once a month to one of his clients, a friend of his, who made toys in a factory. I'd go, and I'd say, 'I want some of these and some of these,' and I'd go and pick them up, and he'd charge me (wholesale). And then I'd take them to school and sell them. I made over $100 in the two or three months I did it but less than $250. I don't remember exactly. For a third-grader I was considered very wealthy.
        Q: How did you and your business partner, Bill, get to know each other?
        A: In school, we were lab partners in ninth grade. We lived about four blocks apart. But outside of school we had a Rock Valley Racing Team. It was a motorcycle/motocross team. It was the two of us and my brother.
        Q: You're on the board of Santa Fe's International Folk Art Market. What is your interest in art?
        A: I like things that are made by people, that people use every day. So I really like the way the International Folk Art Market is helping keep the tradition alive of people who make stuff with their hands. ... I don't like art collecting. I'm not an art collector. ... And I like pots and pans for cooking. I cook quite a bit. My wife is gonna send me to 'Pans Anonymous' 'cause she says we have plenty of pots and pans.
        Q: You state on your résumé that you failed English 101 three times. Why put that on there?
        A: That's actually a résumé I did for Vistage (an exclusive coaching program for executives), which is something I'm doing now. I want people to recognize that I'm not successful at everything I do, and so it makes me more approachable. But we're afraid to admit that we don't look really good all the time. So I just said, I'll put it out there.
        Q: Why did you want to be a part of Vistage?
        A: I like business. I like listening to people and helping them be more human as CEOs in growing themselves and their companies. It means a lot to me to really help people to reach their potential.
        Q: What's the best thing about owning Dion's?
        A: This happens to me about once a month: A guy comes up to me and says, 'My name's Jimmy, and we've never met. But I want to thank you because my son and daughter worked here, and they loved their job.' It means a lot to me that they thought this was a good place to work.
        Q: Do you have a favorite pizza?
        A: Green chile and pepperoni.
        Q: We've established you have been fearless about a lot of choices in your life. Is there anything you are scared of?
        A: I am afraid of spiders and small spaces.
       


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