An interview with Grieg Clark, Founder of College Pro Painters and The Horatio Enterprise Venture Capital Fund

By Donna Marrin


[caption id="attachment_2466" align="alignright" width="161" caption="Grieg Clark"]Greg Clark[/caption]

Tell us about your business and how you started it.

I started College Pro Painters in 1971 when I was 17 years old. I needed $3K to return to university for the second year and my summer job would pay me $2K; I needed to make up the $1K and painting houses seemed a thing to try. I taught myself how to estimate and landed one job… learned from that one and then landed enough to make $3K my first summer, $7K my next and $11K during my final summer. I figured if I could shrink the learning curve from what I had learned so that another student could make as much in his third summer as I did in my first, we could share the profits and both do well. Three-thousand dollars was a good summer job in those days.

In the beginning, did you have any doubts, and if so, how did you overcome them?

My partner, who was going to do the painting while I worked at my regular day job, quit when we landed our first job. But I had gone to all the work of landing the job, so I went to the student employment centre and found some helpers. It worked.

What was your early vision for your business and how has it changed over time?

At first, it was just a way for me to get through school. Then we did it as a biz school case at university, i.e., the idea of growing this all across Canada. At first, I thought the idea was a pipe dream, like most of those school projects, but then I started writing up a manual of all I’d learned and began to get serious.

What has your biggest learning curve been in terms of building your business?

The challenge of managing more and more people. By the time I sold the business in 1990, we had 500 franchises across North America and nearly 5,000 painters. I always found it tough when it didn’t work out for someone. I felt responsible. That was hard.

Describe a day in the life…

In the franchise growth years, it was usually heading out on the road to visit a franchise and the painters and learn how to improve our systems and then come back and put those improvements into action… that was the fun part. The not so fun part was dealing with those messes that occur in the course of running any business.

How do you find balance between your business life and your home life?

At the time, it was near impossible. When you are growing your business, it seems to dominate everything. I even brought my kids to the company summer retreats. Eventually, you learn how to carve out time. I am much better at it now.

Do you have a favorite business tool or resource?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People… used it then, use it now.

What is the key to your success?

Three core values: (1) Keeping my promises; (2) Treating people like I would like to be treated; (3) Persisting to performance.

What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to others thinking about starting a business?

Have your own core values and stick to them—then people know what they can count on getting from you. That is called TRUST—the basis of all good relationships, including business, which is really just a series of relationships.


In 1977, Greig Clark took the one College Pro Painters outlet he had started in 1971 in Thunder Bay, developed a franchise model for it and grew it across North America until there were 600 franchises with nearly 5,000 painters and close to $35-million in summertime sales. In 1980, he was named Canada’s Entrepreneur of the Year by the Financial Post and in 1992, one of the Top Ten Entrepreneurs of the Decade by Profit Magazine. In 1991, Clark founded the Horatio Enterprise venture capital fund, bringing resources of capital and expertise to small, early-stage Canadian growth companies. Currently, Clark is chairman of the Toronto Christian Resource Centre, a charity in Regent Park that is focused on working with the homeless and marginalized people of Toronto. He also acts as an advisory board specialist for entrepreneurs, as well as writes a regular column on entrepreneurial issues for Profit magazine.

By Adam

August 11, 2010