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.
What do you think it was that drove you to succeed?
You have to find that motivation within yourself. It’s not always about making money, it’s about setting a goal for yourself and then going after it. Anyone who knows me will say the same thing: Pat Neve is focused, he’s determined, and he’s motivated. I didn’t start with my dreams saying, “I’m going be a multimillionaire.” You’ll defeat yourself if you do that. You have to stick with the thing that you love and try the best you can. That’s how you really succeed.
Did you ever have people who doubted you?
There are doubters in everything you do. When you start getting a little bit successful people will always doubt you and say things to try and hold you back, but if it’s something you really love, you just have to keep pushing yourself. I’ve found that positive thinking and motivating yourself are really important. You can’t be successful if someone else has to motivate you. It has to come from within. I remember there was this man when I was 17 who used to help all the kids in the neighborhood with bodybuilding. He had his PhD in Kinesiology. He contacted me and brought me over to his gym and said to me, “Pat, I know all about you. I hear you’re really strong and I think you’re going to be one of the best Mr. Arizonas we’ve ever had.” I told him, “Well, I hope to be one of the first Mr. USAs the state has ever had.” He looked at me and said, “Pat, you’ll never know what it takes to be Mr. USA.” Eight years later when I won Mr. USA, my wife and I landed at the airport, got in our car, and went straight to his house. He already knew I’d won because it was in the paper the night before. I knocked on the door and he answered and smiled and said, “Congratulations.” I looked at him and said,” You will never know what it takes to win Mr. USA.”
Did you have your family’s support?
My parents never motivated me. My dad actually had a saying, “If it doesn’t give you money, it’s not worth doing.” Every weekend my dad would come over and I’d show him all the new stuff I’d bought because I wanted him to be proud of me. He would just laugh at me and say, “ Who do you think you are, one of the Rockefellers?” But one Sunday I had it all planned. Finally, I got my first exotic car after all these cars I had (Porsches, NSXs). I got a Ferrari 512 Testarossa. I had it shipped from Denver to my house on Easter Sunday. The truck drives up and that’s the first time in my life I can recall my dad smiling. Being born in Italy, that Ferrari meant something to him. We took the car off the truck and put it in my driveway. The first thing my dad said was to my wife, “Vicky, you got a camera? Take my picture.” I think that was the first sign of my dad finally realizing, “I guess my son did make it.”
What would you say to someone who wants to be rich?
I have people say to me once or twice a week, “Boy, I’d like to be as wealthy as you.” Well, it didn’t come to me. I had to go get it. I had to go grab it. It’s not going to come to you no matter how religious you are. You can pray everyday to the Lord to make you rich but it’s not going to happen. He’ll give you the capabilities to get wealthy, but you have to take the bull by the horns and do it yourself. That’s how life is.
What about getting to the next level? How do you become a multimillionaire?
When I made that first $100,000 I just thought, “Alright, I’ve achieved this level, now it’s time for me to go to the next level.” So I just put more of myself into the business. With my training, everyday I would try something a little bit different to motivate myself and keep me on top. In business, I reached that $100,000 mark, then I reached the $500,000 mark, and then the goal was a million. Someone once told me, “You’re not a millionaire until you have $1 million in the bank.” Well, my business was worth many millions but at first I didn’t have that million in the bank. When I finally did I started thinking about achieving more millions I wanted to make myself more successful. It’s about competing against yourself and competing with your mind.
At what point did you realize that you were truly successful?
I think after we found the land our home is on. We designed one room for the Ferrari and the Lamborghini. The Ferrari was the ’92 512 TR and the Lamborghini was a ’01 Diablo. I can remember walking in by myself and looking at those cars and getting a real humbling feeling. I thought to myself, “How did I do this? How did I overcome all of these obstacles?” It all hit me at that one moment, with the accomplishment of having two successful boys, the love of my wife, and the backing of all my friends, I really felt like I had made it in life. I felt humbled to think I paid cash for these cars and I have all this—everything I ever dreamed about and more.
Having The Best Cars
Tell us about your cars?
All throughout my life I always had the coolest cars. Of course, being Italian, my first [exotic] car was a Ferrari, and I just ordered what is called a 599 GTP GTB Ferrari. They’re only going to send 250 to the United States and only three in Arizona. You have to be on a list to get them. I paid my dues on this list—$400,000 and it’s completely top of the line. Those cars to me are like art. Sometimes you think of a person like Steve Wynn who has a $30 million Picasso painting, and you think to yourself, “What the heck does he do with that $30 million painting?” Well he looks at it. In my garage, I have it all fixed up. I just go in there, I look at the cars, I polish the wheels I dust them off. I just love looking at those cars. Don’t get me wrong, I like driving them but I truly have love affairs with my cars. My first two or three Ferraris I always traded in for better ones. The same goes with my Lamborghinis. I always upgraded them. So when I get the 599, it’s the highest upgraded Ferrari you can get. It’s more than driving them. It’s feeling humbled to be able to afford to own them.
Are you going for quality or quantity in your car collection?
The harder they are to get, the more I want them. For instance, the Ferrari I have right now is called an F430. When it first came out there was a waiting list. I was on the list and I got mine in one year. For the 599 there’s a five-year waiting list. From the time I ordered mine to the time I’ll get it is about a year and a half. What makes me proud is to be able to get something that is so hard to get. It doesn’t matter who walks in that Ferrari store. Ferrari sees no one except for the people on the list. You have to work your way up. Of all the things I’ve accomplished, last month when I sat down and got to order that 599 from beginning to end, from color to interior to wheels, was another humbling experience.
Do you have any other collections?
I have about 20 watches. Probably one of my favorites is one I got about seven or eight years ago. My wife, Vicky, and I were in New York and we stopped at the Harry Winston store. I have this thing that wherever we go I buy a watch. So I was just looking to buy a $2,000 or $3,000 watch, since I buy one everywhere I go but for some reason the salesman says, “You know, we just got this new model that they only made three of. The one we have is the first one.” He brings it out and I don’t even want to ask how much it is at the time. I just looked at it and thought, “I don’t want to spend this much, but wouldn’t that be something to have the first one.” I got discouraged, so we left and I thought about that watch all night long. I kept thinking, “Number one, to have the first one.” We went back there the next day and I purchased that watch.
What do you think these cars and watches say about your personality?
A watch for a man is one of the first pieces of jewelry a person sees. It doesn’t really matter how you’re dressed. If you have a $30,000 or $40,000 watch on, you have a certain status. People see that right away. A real big compliment to me one time was when I took my Porsche to Walgreens. I was inside the store and I saw a man walking up and down the isles. He comes up to me and says, “You own that Porsche out front don’t you?” I said, “Yes, I do. How did you know that?” He said, “’Because I can tell by the way you carry yourself.”
Do you have any words you live by?
There are two things I really believe in: You can either be the smartest or work the hardest. Since I wasn’t the smartest, I knew if I worked the hardest good things would happen. I went from being a professional bodybuilder and owning a gym to being in the car industry. I used the same things that made me successful in the bodybuilding world and in the workforce and it all worked out the same. It’s all about commitment, hard work, and loyalty. In everything I did, including when I trained for Mr. America, I used these same principles.
It sounds like motivation is a big thing for you, is that right?
As soon as you start doing something you love then you have to try to be the best at it. Even if you don’t become the best, just trying to become the best will make you successful. That’s how you motivate yourself. If you do well you usually get promotions, but you have to love what you do. If you don’t then you should keep trying to find something that you do love. I loved cars from day one, ever since 1964 when my dad gave me a ’49 Chevy. It’s funny how something like that can turn out to be your occupation and make you a multimillionaire. I’ve met the top bodybuilders in the world and I’ve also met billionaires. They all have the same competitive, straightforward, hardworking, focused attitude. It doesn’t matter if I was talking to Arnold Schwarzenegger or the number two car dealer, they’re talking about different things, but they sound the same and they all have self-motivation.
A former feature said in his interview that the two hardest things were getting money and muscles. Do you agree with that?
That really made me laugh. I told my wife, “Look what this guy said. He thought the two hardest things are to get muscles and to get rich, and I did both. I was Mr. USA and am a multimillionaire.”
Which one do you think is harder to do?
If I had to choose between those two and if I were doing it right now, I’d say they’re almost the same. I think the hardest thing in life is trying to be a good person. When you pass on, people don’t necessarily say, “Boy, he had the best build,” and they don’t say, “Man, he had millions.” They usually say he was either a good guy or a bad guy. I think it’s better to go through life thinking, “I need to make enough money to help my family get everything they want and leave a good impression on this world.”
How did you raise your sons to have the same values as you?
My sons know that their dad was famous. All their friends know that I was Mr. America and Mr. World. Sometimes that was good for them and sometimes that was bad. They had their own little problems because of my name but I think it made them better people. They excelled at sports also. They knew that was how their dad did it. I always told them, “If it isn’t sports, do something else. I will help you with whatever you want to do.” They used to see me at that car lot and if a car was out of place I’d walk out there, get the keys, and pull that car in. It didn’t matter if I had my $5,000 suit on and it was a 115 degrees out. They found out that if you do it yourself, it’ll get done. They’re real good boys—they know what’s right and wrong, they know what hard work is, they know success comes from hard work. It really rubbed off, but it took a while. They went their ways, got their tattoos, did things I didn’t really like, but they turned out to be real good men and they both have a child now and are doing well.
What advice do you have for someone just beginning to be successful and make money?
I know you’ve probably heard this before but sometimes it’s easier to make the money than it is to hold onto it. I wouldn’t start spending big money, like $600,000, on cars, and $1 million on a home, until I was sure I had the money in the bank. I think it’s really important to make the money and save the money before you start spending the money. Every time I think of someone like Mike Tyson making a $100 million and losing it all is just crazy. It takes a smart person to hold onto their money after they make it. It’s not easy.
Do you believe that money can make you happy?
There are so many people who make millions of dollars and are so unhappy. I’ve been in a car with a billionaire sitting next to me and everything he said was negative. He wasn’t happy with his life, his business, and he was in love with his billions, which was crazy, but he wasn’t happy with his life. How do you call yourself successful if you have lots of money but you’re not happy with your life? The money can’t bring you happiness. A good living and trying to reach a goal will make you successful and happy. You don’t have to have millions of dollars in the bank to be happy, but so many people think that’s what it’s about.
Name: Pat Neve
Occupation: former Nissan Dealership Owner and Former Mr. America