Driven to succeed

Bonnie Belec
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It takes more than luck to make it in business, says Danny Williams; he advises young people to be informed and be prepared to work hard

Newfoundland’s political history and quite possibly the strength of its economic prospects might not be what they are today had Danny Williams followed his first love in school.

The ninth premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, former owner of Cable Atlantic and president and CEO of the St. John’s IceCaps, Williams is clearly one of the most successful people to come from this province.

The 64-year-old says while law was his calling and his father’s profession, he had hoped to enter the field of medicine early on in his life.

“My best subjects in school were math and science” he said, sitting in his fifth-floor office in the Paramount Building on Harvey Road.

“I mean, I wanted to be a doctor but I didn’t have the stomach for it,” he says, breaking into laughter.

“That’s the truth of the matter — that’s the God’s truth. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I’d be passed out all over the place.”

“My sciences were good, but eventually I went into law because my father was into law. The law gives you an opportunity to do things — it took me places and I met people and got connections. As a lawyer, people want you involved as an adviser or a partner, so it leads to other things,” he said.

Born in St. John’s in the summer of 1949, Danny Williams was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship at the age of 20 and attended Oxford University in England.

At age 23, he says he embarked upon one of the biggest ventures of his life, one that would shape his future endeavours in business.

He says he was only out of law school for about a year when he put together a group of investors to buy a cable company. The group held onto Cable Atlantic until early 2000. when it was sold for almost $200 million, according to reports at the time.

“That application was completed in the early ’70s, so the cable business got me more into the business side of it, but I still had a full law practice,” Williams said.

“I was flat out with court cases. It was a really busy time. So, the practice was my bread and butter and there were side investments into businesses, but the cable company eventually grew into a big business,” he said, smiling confidently.

Williams said it wasn’t easy and being successful takes a lot of hard work.

He says he’s always worked hard and earned his first dollar when he was 11.

“I worked on an oil truck as a helper in the winter, then I worked at a gas station, pumping gas. I sold Christmas trees when I was in university, for pocket money. I was always doing stuff to earn money. I’m just driven, I always was,” he says.

Williams said today’s generation has a different work ethic because there’s more of an entitlement mentality. Parents, now, are a little more affluent and they want to give their children more than they had, he said, and this can affect the children’s motivation.

There’s also more social pressure on today’s generation, he says, with the prevalence of social media and technology.

But if young people want to be successful entrepreneurs, they still have to work hard and read, he says.

“Gather as much information about what you’re doing as you can. I’m an insatiable reader. If I’m doing a project, I’m reading all the time. I don’t mean leisure books — I don’t read leisure books — but I read all the time,” he said.

“There’s also risk and reward, too. You have got to be a bit lucky, but hard work makes luck, and you don’t win them all. Anyone who says they never had a venture fail is lying. The object is keeping the wins ahead of the losses,” he said.

Visions of Galway

Williams’ latest venture that he’s betting on being a winner is the development of 2,000 acres of land in Southlands that borders Mount Pearl, St. John’s and the Trans-Canada Highway.

Recently branded as Galway — in honour of his mother’s maiden name — Williams said he bought the land after seeing an ad in The Telegram about 20 years ago.

He said the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. was offering about a dozen parcels of land around the province for sale. The Liberals were in power at the time.

“I went in and got a copy of what they were selling, because I was looking to build a golf course, and found this piece out here and said it was ideal for the golf course and that is exactly what it was for,” he said.

“I bought it all because that is all that was available — they weren’t selling it in pieces. I had to buy it all in one shot,” said Williams.

“It was about $450,000 — it was cheap, but since then I’ve spent $10 million putting (Glendenning Golf Course) out there, and golf courses don’t make any money. First time that golf course made any money was last year, and now it just cost me $4.5 million just to clean up less than 10 per cent of the site, so I’ve got $15 million-plus into that raw land out there now, even though I got the first chunk for a song, basically,” he said.

“When I bought it originally, there was no plan to build that city out there, it was to get a golf course. But a decade later, as the city of St. John’s started to move out — which is basically running out of space, and the city of Mount Pearl is pretty well out of space, it was the next logical place to do something,” he said.

The multi-billion-dollar development is well underway and Williams says he is now working on a joint venture with partners to develop the retail area while the land is also being prepped for the industrial side of the project.

He said the idea is to develop facets of the project concurrently, but the industrial side will be done first, followed closely by retail, and finally residential.

 Another housing development he’s involved in, which provides affordable housing, is Westfield off Blackmarsh Road. Williams said that project involves about 15 acres and will see more than 60 buildings constructed, with four homes per unit.

When it’s all said and done, Williams said, about 250 affordable housing units will be available.

“It’s a nice site up in Gulliver’s Farm in the meadow, up behind the Hydro Building, and it fills a real void for people to get a home in the city who couldn’t otherwise afford to,” he said.

Organizations: Cable Atlantic, Oxford University, Trans-Canada Highway Newfoundland and Labrador Housing

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Harvey Road, England Mount Pearl Southlands Blackmarsh Road Gulliver

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Recent comments

  • Mike
    April 03, 2014 - 16:17

    "when the liberals were in power" should be written as "when my good back room buddy, Brian Tobin was in power". Let's not pretend the reigns of power weren't handed over by Captain Canada himself.

  • Joseph McDonald
    March 31, 2014 - 21:06

    Greatest leader we ever had, taught us to be proud of who we are and what we can accomplish when we are not held back by the concept of second class citizens.

    • david
      April 02, 2014 - 09:09

      Unlike Norwegians, or Alaskans, or even Saudis, we are the most self-absorbed, smug population of 'oil barons' ever to have walked the Earth....and quick-marching towards yet another of our appointments with provincial bankruptcy. T'anks Danny by'e!

    • Seriously
      April 03, 2014 - 05:27

      I don't, and didn't, need anyone to "teach me how to be proud". What horse manure.

  • Joseph McDonald
    March 31, 2014 - 21:03

    Greatest leader we ever had, taught us to be proud of who we are and what we can accomplish when we are not held back by the concept of second class citizens.

  • Success breeds contempt.
    March 31, 2014 - 14:26

    He's not shy about showing his love for his Mom. That alone raises him up above many in this province. He's worked hard and prospered and his hard work hasn't only been for the benefit of himself. Good for him.

    • Seriously
      April 03, 2014 - 05:33

      Actually, it's all for him. Always was. All the Danny cheerleaders out in full force on this disgusting puff piece. Pathetic.

    March 31, 2014 - 01:50

    "fills a real void for people to get a home in the city who couldn’t otherwise afford to" satisfy their "entitlement mentality." FRIG MILK, "got connections" YES BY, and the rest is mythology that is truer than truth. "golf courses don’t make any money".....just connections READ, READ, READ, and read between the lines. "There’s also more social pressure on today’s generation, he says, with the prevalence of social media and technology." Too many people watching. Danny would have went "too viral" during his first trips to the States as a "MEDIA MOGUL", crashing parties in the States on his NEWFeau Riche Tare. Please Danny, spare us the old pulled me-self up by me bootstraps, me-luck, me-Irish. You made it through school and leveraged your situation - great for YOU. YOU WERE LIFTED, carried for portions I propose. We can smack a dirty big load of kisses on your arse forever, thats no problem, but in return, will you please frig off and stop fondling your own myth? Let it grow naturally, you little bugger! You set us back 60 years in Canada with your little big man act - frig off OK? This is as much as I can vent with a picture of you mudder on here! Including a pic of everyone's mother should be the new standard practice. The woman who taught our little prince his ABCs couldn't have guessed the campaign this would inspire to capture the illiterate vote.

  • grant
    March 30, 2014 - 19:08

    If he wasn't a premier he wouldn't have had the opportunities he had or the land banks he has today.

  • Louis Humphreys
    March 30, 2014 - 18:28

    Best premier NL ever had. Actually, he has had very little competition - from Wells back to Smallwood.

    • david
      March 31, 2014 - 10:03

      With a modest "opportunity adjustment" factored in, Danny Williams was by far the worst. Using Alberta's experience under Peter Lougheed as the perfect template, Danny Williams was a complete, utter, ruinous failure.

  • Brad Cabana
    March 30, 2014 - 17:43

    I thought Danny Williams was against give aways, or does that apply to everyone but him. "I got it for a song". He got it from the people of this province.

  • Robert
    March 30, 2014 - 17:00

    Still can't and never will understand why NLers demonstrate so much bitterness towards a fellow NLer who has done well for himself! He has every right to be proud of himself and his accomplishments! It would be interesting to know just how many families have bread on their table because he has chosen to spend his money right here!

    • Anne
      March 31, 2014 - 07:54

      I agree with you. As someone told us a long time ago, you have a person trying to get ahead, than you have all the naysayers gripping at your bootstraps pulling you back. Danny was a great Premier. It would be a different story if the oil from NL ended up elsewhere like Smallwood did to our electricity!!!!

  • eastCoaster709
    March 30, 2014 - 13:11

    The comments here are appalling. In typical Newfoundland fashion - sit on the stoop and bitch and grumble over their neighbour's success. While sitting back wondering why they weren't afforded the same opportunities. It takes motivation, ambition and balls to be successful, drive to do something for one's own good. People need to give credit where it is due.

  • darrell
    March 30, 2014 - 12:27


  • david
    March 30, 2014 - 10:55

    Cable TV was a once-in-an-eternity financial opportunity, and Danny Williams and a few others were very fortunate. Not "lottery lucky", but fortunate. No heavy lifting, no great tactical decisions required, and no demand/market risk.....people are addicted to TV. So shut your pie hole, you wealthy, arrogant, delusional fool. You are NOT a business guru.

  • ok
    March 30, 2014 - 10:25

    As much as people complain about Danny, he's ok. He worked for what he got. Not everybody studied to be a lawyer, he did. Not everybody had a cable company, he did. Not everybody was premier, he was. He likes the attention but he'll say hello to little Johnny hanging out on the corner. He probably has what we all want. The difference is that he worked for it.

  • Don II
    March 30, 2014 - 10:03

    It appears that Danny Williams is confirming that the former Liberal Government sold 2000 acres of Crown land located next door to a major metropolitan area to him for $450,000 or $225 per acre! That is confirmation that the Government of Newfoundland is so incompetently run that it can dispose of the peoples land without any realistic plan to maximize the value of that land for the benefit of the people. What was the appraised market value of those 2000 acres of Crown land land before it was sold for a "song"? It appears that the Government of Newfoundland transacts business in this manner on a regular basis and that may explain why the Province is $10 Billion in debt! It appears that Crown land located near to the cities of St. John's and Mount Pearl is valued at around $25,000 per acre or more today! With give away deals like this being facilitated by the Government of Newfoundland, it is surprising that there are not dozens of Billionaires living in Newfoundland and Labrador or maybe there are!

    March 30, 2014 - 09:50

    It takes a whole of taxpayers/ratepayers/interest rate (Visa Cards) to keep his business going, Danny Williams is not doing any of us any favours.

  • Kevin Power
    March 30, 2014 - 09:19

    Great story and I would think a true accounting of what made Danny successful. Hard work combined with recognizing opportunities and taking chances..

  • Laughable
    March 30, 2014 - 09:05

    All you need is friend with a ideas, then take it and run with it.

    • Yo mama
      March 30, 2014 - 16:11

      All you need is to rewrite that properly.

  • Affordable Housing
    March 30, 2014 - 08:38

    In the article it says it will have 250 affordable housing units, does anyone know how much these affordable houses will cost? And question 2, how will the City of St. John's keep up with the sewage coming out of such a large development???

    • a business man
      March 30, 2014 - 21:17

      I hope they cost a lot of money. I hope they are "affordable" in the context of the oil boom. Hire priced units will keep the overall price of house high. As an owner of many rental homes, I want to the real estates price to new and ever increasing heights

    • Business Man??
      March 31, 2014 - 09:24

      A Business Man: If you understood economics, your comments would not be so idiotic.

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 30, 2014 - 07:30

    This guy turned being Premier into a business. Now he is just running things in the shadows and still making millions off the taxpayers. Land deals, tobacco deals, mining deals, etc.

  • Donna Handrigan
    March 29, 2014 - 22:03

    Danny you are an inspiration to those who will come behind you. I have a great admiration for you and the things you do. It was a very sad day when you left the Premiers job!

  • Donna Handrigan
    March 29, 2014 - 22:02

    Danny you are an inspiration to those who will come behind you. I have a great admiration for you and the things you do. It was a very sad day when you left the Premiers job!