Many will build fortunes but very few will build dreams. Meet a man who’s got the money, the toys, the success, and the fame. He’s also got something that many wealthy individuals don’t have: true happiness and a family’s genuine love.
Everyone has a dream. Some dream of fame, others dream of fortune, but how many people actually have the discipline, self-motivation, and determination to go after it?
If you look up the name Pat Neve on the Internet, the first listing you’ll see is a profile on www.classicbodybuilder.com. It’s a testament to his achievements as a bodybuilder and his desire and determination to be the best. Early on Pat realized that with hard work, anything is possible. He started competing professionally, winning Mr. Phoenix at age 19. To many people’s surprise, he won his first 10 contests in a row, and a few short years later he won the overall title for Mr. USA—a title rarely obtained by competitors in the middleweight class.
Alongside his success in bodybuilding, Pat also built a career around another passion of his, cars. He worked his way up through the car-selling industry and eventually reached another dream that many have but rarely achieve: he bought the lot. He turned his locally known car dealership into one of the top-selling dealers in the nation. He set his financial goals high but never too high where they couldn’t be reached. First $100,000, then $500,000, then a million, and before he knew it he was a multimillionaire with access to the top-of-the-line Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
We all know that person with all the potential in the world who never achieved a single goal. How do you keep yourself from being “that guy” and ending up a loser? According to Mr. America, it’s all about commitment, self-motivation, and having a dream.
What was your life like growing up?
I was brought up in the projects, in a rough neighborhood. It was hard just going to school. I used to have to fight everyday to keep my lunch money. My parents were immigrants from Italy, so I’m the first generation here. We were very poor. My parents decided to move to the west side of town, and that change of environment affected me tremendously. I came from the east side where you had to fight for everything. I asked the first person I met, “Who’s the toughest guy in school?” And he said, “I don’t know? Why would you want to know that?” I said, “Well, I just have to fight him so I can get it over with.” He said, “Well, I don’t know who the toughest guy is but that guy over there is the best athlete.” At that moment I found out that if you were an athlete you would be more popular and successful. So I picked up sports. That was one of the turning points in my life.
Were you a natural athlete?
I excelled at sports from the seventh grade on. The confidence and hard work that came with sports and the change in my environment changed my train of thought. It made me focused. I tried different kinds of sports and excelled in all of them. Then someone introduced me to weight lifting, and I picked that up too. That’s when I started bodybuilding and everything went from there.
Tell us about your last business and how you sold it.
My last business was a Nissan car dealership. I sold it about a year ago. Someone came along who had 16 other dealerships and wanted a Nissan dealership. He called me up one day and said, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” So I said OK, and he made me the offer. The offer was quite a bit more than I thought. When we look back now it came at a really good time because the economy and car industry has slowed down.
Tell us about the dealership?
We had over 10 acres of land and we carried $20 million worth of cars. It was a big dealership.
What kinds of things did you look for in an employee?
I was really a hands-on owner. I went to work every single day. Before I owned the store I worked my way up so I knew what each position had to do and what I wanted to find in each person. I bought the store from a man who didn’t have any kids and who had instilled the ideas of loyalty and working hand in hand with your employees. I had an open door policy where whoever was at that door when I came to work, I had time for them.
Did that approach work well for you?
We did real well. You can either be the nice guy or the bad guy. I wanted to be the nice guy. I had a good relationship with all my employees. We had a home atmosphere in the dealership. That’s hard to do when you have over 100 employees. I made sure everyone felt as important as the next person and that everyone had an important part.
What kind of business were you in before you owned the dealership?
Before the car dealership I owned a gym. It was called Pat Neve’s Fitness Center, which I opened up in 1979. It was right after I won Mr. USA and Mr. America, and took Second in Mr. World and Mr. Universe. I had the gym for about seven years.
How did you achieve your success in bodybuilding?
I had a philosophy: I thought that if I trained very early then I would have a head start on everyone else, so I would train everyday at 5 a.m. I knew if I worked harder, longer, and faster then I would be successful.
How young did you start competing?
I started lifting weights at about 15, I started competing when I was 18, I won Mr. Phoenix at 19, and Mr. Arizona at 20. Although, there’s no money when you win these amateur contests.
How did you keep yourself going in those early years as an amateur?
I was really fortunate. I won my first 10 contests in a row, so even though there was no money, I went from winning Mr. Phoenix to Mr. Arizona to Mr. Southwest to Mr. Western America to Mr. North America, and so on. Later, I didn’t always win. I went to one contest and took 11th place and then the next year I went back and won it. I set six world records in the bench press. I didn’t set it on my first try, but I always knew that I could do it. You use determination and motivation and you can’t give up on yourself.
What kind of role did your wife played in your success?
Well, without a doubt my wife played a major role in my life. My wife is 100 percent my best friend. She was always behind the bodybuilding. Never once did she discourage me at all. I remember when we were about 18 or 19 years old we would sit on a swing out in front of the trailer her parents owned and we would talk about getting married, having kids, and we would say we wanted a double-wide trailer, a Corvette, and I was going to be Mr. Arizona. Those were the goals we started with. Now we have over a $1 million house, $600,000 worth of cars, and I’ve won Mr. USA, Mr. America, and Mr. World.
What obstacles have you overcome in bodybuilding?
I’ve overcome so many obstacles. When I was 32 years old, two weeks away from Mr. Universe, I was riding by bike doing my daily 10-mile ride when a truck runs a stop sign and runs me over and breaks my hip and my elbow. At the time that happened I thought, “This is the end of my career.” I got down on myself and started to think, “Man, I did all this for nothing.” But time heals all and I started healing myself. I remember getting physical therapy and walking in the first day with my elbow as big as a watermelon. I had a cane and as I was limping in, there was this elderly lady. She looked at me and said, “One year from now you won’t even remember those injuries.” That stayed in my mind and one year later I came back and won Mr. Universe. That’s what life is. Life has its ups and downs. Life is not up all the time. Bad things are going to happen and you’ve got to fight through them.
How did you keep chasing your dreams even when things went wrong?
You can’t give up on your goals. There was a time when I was down to my last 500 bucks. This was in 1979, and I told my wife, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.” Two weeks later I go to this contest and win $7,000 and I keep going from there. In one month I went from $500 to like $25,000. But I didn’t know where I was going, I just kept plugging away. People would tell me, “Get out of the bodybuilding stuff. Get a real job.” But I turned it all around. Now they ask me how I did it. Whatever your goal is don’t think you can’t reach it because you can.
So many people are their own worst enemy. What do you say to someone who tells themself they can’t do something?
Don’t talk yourself out of it. If you start thinking, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” eventually you can’t do it. I’ve lived long enough to see poor go to rich and weak go to strong. It doesn’t just happen by luck. When things get hard your mind wants to say, “No!” It’s really hard to make a lot of money. Not only that but anything in life that is worth having is really hard to do.
Considering that you’re both a successful bodybuilder and businessman, do you see any correlation between the discipline necessary to train and the ability to make millions in business?
Everything I learned from bodybuilding. Let’s say for instance if you thought you needed to work on your waist area. Well, you just work on that area harder and it improves. The same goes for business. If you think your closing skills are bad, you just work on that. When I won Mr. USA I was the first middleweight who had ever won the overall title. Usually, the middleweight doesn’t win the overall because you have to beat the light heavyweight and the heavyweight. I wasn’t happy with just winning the middleweight title. I wanted to win the overall title too. So I did that.
When did you start making millions?
You have to know that when I bought the dealership it was like winning the lottery. The person I bought the dealership from didn’t believe in doing any advertising. As soon as I bought the store we increased the advertising to $150,000 a month and we increased business by 66 percent. All of the sudden I’m like one of the top dealers in the United States because we turned it around so much. Well, it’s like I won the lottery. I was buying everything. I was buying $5,000 suits, $30,000 watches, $1,000 shoes, and $1,000 ties and pens.