Leadership expert launches new company

October 20, 2011
Raina Delisle

Peter H. Thomas had an impressive board of directors when he launched his first company at the age of 28: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ernest Hemingway and Ghandi.

"These were men of distinction, with much wisdom, so I appointed them as my board of directors," Thomas wrote in his book Be Great: The Five Foundations of an Extraordinary Life, in Business and Beyond. Of course, the mentors were virtual. The budding young entrepreneur cut out black and white portraits of the leaders from a book, framed them and hung them in his office. At the time, Thomas had not yet met people who could offer the advice and guidance he needed, so he improvised. However, as his career progressed, he met many mentors along the way and credits them with playing significant roles in shaping his life and businesses.

Thomas, founding partner of the Todd Thomas Institute for Values-Based Leadership at Royal Roads University (now known as the Institute for Values-Based Leadership), eventually became a mentor himself and says mentoring is one of his greatest pleasures and an energizing experience. While he no longer has time for much one-on-one mentoring, his way of giving back to the business community is through his LifePilot workshops and his new venture, Thomas Franchise Solutions.

Thomas Franchise Solutions (TFS) takes mentorship to the next level. The organization, which will officially launch Jan. 1, will offer business advice and investment capital to people with franchise ideas. Thomas decided to focus on franchise businesses because that's his expertise; he founded Century 21 Real Estate Canada Ltd., the largest real estate network in the country, among other franchise ventures. Thomas and his associates put together a fund of $10 million to launch TFS, but says the money went quickly so he increased the fund to $15 million. If TFS proves successful, the directors will put together a $100-million fund. Although it hasn't officially launched, the organization already has about 35 proposals under consideration. "If anyone has any ideas, we look forward to have them send them to us," Thomas says.

TSF is open to all ideas, but will focus on ventures that blend technology and health care to benefit seniors. "People are living longer and they're healthier," Thomas says. "That trend is getting bigger and bigger. There are going to be many more senior citizens who are going to be living much longer and they're going to need to be serviced and looked after. Applying technology to that area is going to be quite exciting."

"Peter is constantly thinking outside of the box," says Mary Bernard, associate vice-president (research) at the Institute for Values-Based Leadership. "He's always thinking of new and better ways of doing things. And he's got a level of excitement about things that he thinks will work."

Even if you don't have an idea for a new franchise, you can still learn a lot from Thomas. Bernard suggests making him a virtual mentor by reading his books and stories that have been written about his achievements, or even studying at the Institute for Values-Based Leadership, where Thomas's ideas set the groundwork.

In addition to helping businesspeople, Thomas is passionate about lending a hand to those in need. LifePilot alone has raised more than $3 million for children's and mental health nonprofits in Canada and the U.S. The prolific philanthropist has received widespread recognition for his charitable work, including a 2010 National Caring Award from the Caring Institute, which has also honoured the Dalai Lama and Lance Armstrong.

Thomas, who splits his time between Victoria, Arizona and Europe, is also keen on giving back to the business community by staying connected to Royal Roads. On Oct. 18, he spoke at the Summit of Values-Based Leaders and on Oct. 21, he will be awarded an honorary degree from Royal Roads for his outstanding commitment to values, ethics, entrepreneurship and quality of life.

"I'm very, very excited," Thomas says of receiving the doctorate. "What I see in the value of that honour is approval and confirmation that my theories and my life's work are very real. And to have that embraced by Royal Roads and for the university to honour me for that work, it humbles me and it encourages me." Thomas says he's looking forward to joining the alumni network and hopes to help open the university to the community and establish Royal Roads as a gathering place for business and community thought leaders. "Royal Roads has good karma for that."