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The Paletta factor.

HOW INDEPENDENT BUSINESS MAKES ITS WAY

IF PEOPLE COULD BE TURNED OUT LIKE ROBOTS THERE WOULD BE PLENTY OF ORDERS FOR THE DELUXE PACKAGE, WHICH WOULD INCLUDE THE ENTREPRENEUR CHIP, PRE-PROGRAMMED TO SUPPLY AMBITIOUS, HIGH-FLYING INDIVIDUALS WILLING TO START THEIR OWN COMPANIES. AS THEY ROLLED OFF THE ASSEMBLY LINE THERE WOULD SOON BE HUNDREDS OF SMALL FIRMS HIRING, BUYING, SELLING -- WHIPPING UP A FRENZY OF ECONOMIC ACTIVITY.

UNFORTUNATELY, REALITY DEMANDS THAT INSTEAD OF CALLING THE ORDER DESK AND ASKING FOR A FEW DOZEN EXTRA ENTREPRENEURS, GOVERNMENTS, UNIVERSITIES AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR HOLD CONFERENCES, SET UP CLASSES AND commission reports all aimed at finding out how we can get, or encourage, more entrepreneurs.

One recent report was filled with gloomy news. The-two-year-old Economic Development Strategy of the City of Winnipeg says, "Entrepreneurs are very much isolated.... They perceive that in Winnipeg it is not socially acceptable to display success in business.... The entrepreneurship climate is poor."

What the report refers to as "climate" means a lack of entrepreneurial culture, role models and leadership. But any policy that aims to build a better future must have an abundant supply of the raw material -- in this case appropriately driven people -- to succeed. So where do we get new entrepreneurs?

Professor Walter Good, head of the marketing department at the University of Manitoba, has no pat answers, but he says wherever they come from, we had better find more, and soon. "The way the economy is going there is an increasing need for entrepreneurs," he says. "With the decline in large, multi-national companies, all the conventional sources of employment are also on the decline." Because we can't order entrepreneurs from the factory, governments, universities and others turn to real entrepreneurs to find clues as to what kind of people have the right stuff.

The Paletta family has it. Under the holding company, Paletta Company Hotels, the family owns the Grant Motor Inn, the Continental Hotel and a mall in East Kildonan. Starting with a father, Antonio Paletta, who values independence, the nine-member family has defined its corporate identity and its strategy for success: hard work.

In the mid-'50s, Antonio left his young family in southern Italy and came to Winnipeg. After a summer of seasonal work on the railroad he scraped together $300 to buy an old station wagon and a few bushels of fruit and vegetables. For six years he was a familiar sight in Fort Rouge and the North End of Winnipeg, selling his produce door-to-door.

In 1961 he bought a grocery store on Notre Dame for $1,000. By 1965 he had sent for his wife and children. Eleven years later Paletta bought a larger store on Sargent Avenue and started specializing in ethnic foods, catering to the tastes of the Vietnamese, Jamaicans, Portuguese and Italians in the neighborhood. But then in 1978 a market study painted a dim picture of the future of independent supermarkets. So the family sold the store and bought a hotel.

"We had to get into something else," says Joe Paletta, Antonio's second son and now the president of the company. "The hotel business is not different from the store; you're just serving people in a different way." Although they have done well in the hospitality industry, the family wants to move on. The hunger to do something new is growing. Eventually Joe sees the family company going full circle and returning to the food business. This time though, it's not selling fruit and vegetables, but manufacturing food products.

He credits the example of his father and the supportive nine-member family for giving him his entrepreneurial edge. "Business is like music; you have to have it in you; it's a natural gift," he says. "It's a gift you're born with but it's developed by how you grow up. And if you have a team |the family~ with you, you're not afraid."

ALANA LANGELOTZ DOES ADMIT TO BEING AFRAID -- about the reliability of her telephone. "There is no other feeling like going two weeks and thinking the phone is not working," she says with a smile. "I pick it up once in a while to see if the line has gone dead." Langelotz works alone as the owner and sole employee of Arlan Public Relations. When clients do not call for awhile she wonders if she made the right decision to go it alone two and a half years ago.

For four years in the late 1980s Langelotz worked for the locations program of the Manitoba Film Commission. Her job was to convince movie makers this province was a great place to bring their cameras. But government cutbacks in 1989 meant the end of that job. What was she going to do? She had 10 years experience in the film business, including a stint in Toronto as a producer of TV commercials.

"I always wanted to own a business by the age of 30," she says. And when she lost her job the timing seemed prophetic -- 1989 was the year of her 30th birthday. Using her contacts in the film world led to work as a freelance unit publicist, planning the marketing, posters and opening night parties for new Canadian films such as Bordertown Cafe and Dance to Remember.

Today her business has changed. She now works less with artists and more with corporations, planning events and dealing with the media. For example, she coordinates all the sponsorship events for the Royal Bank in Manitoba and last year she planned the gala ball for the Chamber of Commerce. Other work includes product launches, fundraisers and small conventions.

She too credits her family for her entrepreneurial instinct. "My parents |who both own businesses~ instilled the idea that if you work hard and do what you want to do, you would succeed." There are no guarantees though. "The cocoon is gone when you start a business," she says. "When you're on your own you have to do a lot more strategic thinking because your name is on every project."

PROFESSOR GOOD SAYS ONE OF THE POSITIVE results of the recession is that more people like Langelotz may be forced to become entrepreneurs. "The environment right now is very conducive to starting up a business," he says. "There's hardly an individual who hasn't thought at some stage of going into business, and severe dislocation |getting laid-off~ can precipitate that."

Jonas Sammons is vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers Association (Manitoba) and chairman of the National Entrepreneurship Development Institute (NEDI) headquartered in Montreal. He says that by taking steps now, Canada will have more entrepreneurs in the future.

"Entrepreneurship is an attitude of creating your own business and believing you can do it," he says, adding that the necessary attitude is lacking in this country. "I am discouraged that we turn out a populace that doesn't see itself in an entrepreneurial way. Canadians don't seem to have a sense of urgency and as a society we seem to want to come out second best."

Sammons says NEDI is trying to change attitudes, and the best place to start is in school. Recently the group sponsored a national education conference in which teachers in the public school system were encouraged to tell kids they could create their own jobs.

Good says it takes more than just government support to turn people into business entrepreneurs.

"People who start up businesses have problems and they need someone to talk to and get advice on how to solve those problems." He suggests groups such as Winnipeg 2000 and individual companies should reach out to budding businessmen and women with advice and solutions. Citing the example of Silicon Valley in California, he says entrepreneurial activity feeds off other entrepreneurial activity. That is what the decision-makers want in Manitoba. The goal is clear, but how we get there is murky.
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Title Annotation:entrepreneurship of Frances and Joe Paletta of Paletta Company Hotels
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:1302
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