The multi-million dollar man

Local entrepreneur Daren Jorgenson is involved in just about every business imaginable

Daren Jorgensen came under fire in 2007 when he bought the Royal Albert Arms. Some Winnipeggers feared he would shut down the historic music venue.

Daren Jorgenson is the anti-egomaniac. His business interests read like a quilt: He owns the infamous Royal Albert Arms – which has been called the CBGB’s of the north – the award-winning and visually stunning hair salon Vault and Four Rivers Medical Clinic.
Jorgenson first made it big as an Internet pharmacist. Yet any reference to his prodigious entrepreneurship makes him uncomfortable.

“You have to be careful what you say. People tend to attack you or accuse you of having a huge ego,” he said. “The more visible you are the more this tends to happen. That’s why I like to keep a low profile. I like to be involved with projects, but I don’t put that out there for the public, because it invites that kind of scrutiny.”

Jorgenson’s humility is disarming, but somewhat unsurprising when you consider his background.

“My parents were 16 when I was born. I grew up in public housing and moved to Winnipeg when I was eight,” he said.

Jorgenson credits his blue-collar upbringing for fostering his ambition.

“In that situation you learn how to hustle. I stole some cars when I was in the ninth grade and sold drugs from Grades 9 to 12.”

Jorgenson eventually went to university and after a few proverbial bumps in the road – including dropping out for a time in his first year – graduated as a pharmacist in 1991. His career in the medical field was how he eventually achieved monolithic monetary success.

Still, any attempt to praise his ingenuity at being a so-called “Internet pharmacy pioneer” is met with skepticism.

“With the Internet pharmacy thing, anyone who was there at the beginning just got lucky. I see myself as an average guy,” he said.

Jorgenson has since sold his pharmacy business, but at its high point, the Jorgenson Group of Companies was pulling in $350 million a year.

Graciousness and good luck aside, there is a certain tenacity that one must possess in order to rise to such stature without the backing of privilege.

“Daren is a very aggressive person. Sometimes it’s a good trait and sometimes he gets in your face,” said Dennis Meeches, former chief of Long Plain First Nation. “But he has a very powerful story. He’s an exciting person to work for. Speaking for First Nations, we’ve been head-butting with the government for a long time. Now, we have an advocate outside of the community in Daren.”

Meeches now works for Jorgenson as director of aboriginal health care and business solutions with Four Rivers Medical Clinic, which has expanded into providing health care for urban reserves.

Among his many interests, Jorgenson is a staunch advocate for First Nations issues, particularly in regards to health care.

“I first met Daren before he was very successful, when he came to Sagkeeng to open a pharmacy,” said Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. “He went on to open one of the first pharmacies on a First Nations community and he did it well.”

Jorgenson has developed a three-point plan for health care in Canada, which involves universal health care with hard limits on what is affordable, private health care with taxation to be funneled into universal health care, coupled with an independent watchdog agency, and globalization and outsourcing of health care.

“I think our ideas about health care are right on,” said Jorgenson. “Especially when it comes to outsourcing, like how we are sending people to Cuba for treatment. No matter what universal health care system is created, adopted or modified, no system will be able to keep pace with funding of future health-care advances. Thus, politicians cannot state that they can ‘fix’ universal health care or, as in the present U.S. political debate, create universal health care without stating that what we create in terms of equality of access today will not be sustainable in the long-term.”

“Daren is like a thorn in the side of the government because he is trying to change the status quo,” said Meeches. “They wonder what to make of him.”

Jorgenson does little to mask his disdain for the political process.

“Daren is an action man and anybody who wants to take action over simply talking is bound to butt heads,” said Winnipeg Harvest executive co-ordinator David Northcott, who worked with Jorgenson on a poverty reduction council. “But he is a very fair person,” he added, in reference to Jorgenson’s sense of ethics within the world of enterprise.

Jorgenson admits he has had to scale back his ambition as of late, as a tendency towards over-extension destabilized his finances over the last couple of years.

“The last two years have been the toughest yet. I have had business successes but also business failures,” he said. “I don’t think all of my ideas are correct. I’ve had stupid ideas.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 8, 2009)

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