20 things to know about Paul Tatman

20 things to know about Paul Tatman

Next month, the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation will honor four graduates of local public schools. Between now and the April 12 ceremony, we'll tell their stories.

First up: 20 things to know about 74-year-old self-made businessman PAUL TATMAN.

1 He lives in a log cabin on a large private lake in rural Oakwood, and sometimes goes fishing for dinner.

2 He grew up in a poor "as dirt" family in Urbana, the middle kid among 12 raised by their mother after their parents divorced. He first learned how to do auto body work through a vocational training program while he was still in high school.

3 He's been solicited by both parties to run for office but wants nothing to do with politics.

4 He and his wife of 42 years, Elaine, are the parents of six children. They have 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

5 He may be best known for the collision repair shops that still bear his name, but he started his career as a police officer for the University of Illinois and Urbana. He enjoyed police work, he says, but gave it up because the salary at the time was too low to support his wife and kids.

6 In his younger years, he once owned part of a bar called Scamps but didn't — and still doesn't — drink alcohol. His beverage of choice is iced tea.

7 He started his repair business behind his home during the daytime while he was working nights as a cop and put in a lot of 20-hour days. No longer the owner of the shops now called Tatman's Carcare Collision Centers, he built his auto body shop business into a small chain and also once took on the insurance industry over its preference for direct repair shops and used parts.

8 His current core business, Tatman Family LLC, does real estate development, mostly commercial, and he's been a partner in numerous developments. Some notable work: The Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites hotels in Champaign, a Walgreens and strip center development at Urbana's Five Points, the East Urbana Industrial Park, the Abraham Lincoln Hotel (Doubletree by Hilton) in Springfield, a 20-acre commercial center in Plainfield and Urbana's Fairway Estates and Prairie Winds subdivisions.

9 He doesn't just make business deals. He enjoys getting out and working on his own projects, too. Over the winter, he's been helping build a house. And when the weather warms up he'll be the one on the tractor keeping the grass mowed at the Urbana industrial park, a chore he says he enjoys.

10 Most frightening moment: Borrowing $1 million to build the Champaign collision repair shop. Up until then, he was dealing in terms of terms of hundreds of thousands.

11 What trait he believes has helped him succeed in business: A natural ability to do a quick analysis of whether something is going to work or not.

12 His pet peeve: Today's education system leaves non-college-bound students ill-prepared for the job market when they get out of high school, he says. He'd like to see some vocational training made available for those students who would benefit. "I'm not knocking college, but there are a whole lot of people who don't have the smarts to go to college," he says. "There are a whole lot of people who don't have the money to go to college."

13 He started a training program for body shop technicians with Parkland College, originally in one of his own shops. The Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation says he has donated furniture and computers to Urbana schools and a specially-painted van to Swann Special Care Center.

14 The pleasure he takes in development work comes largely from the challenge of each project and dealing with people along the way. Once a project is done, though, "time to go find another hill to climb," he says.

15 An ultra-early bird who says he doesn't sleep much, he routinely arrives in his Urbana office between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m.

16 Don't waste your time looking for him on Facebook, because he doesn't see any value in being on it. His only home computer is a tablet, but he often leaves it on the front seat of his truck.

17 On work: He's really never had a job he didn't like. It's all in the attitude you bring to the job, he says.

18 On retirement: Not really for him, at least not full-time retirement. There's still so much he wants to do. "It seems like such a waste; if you have an ability or talent to help other people, why not use it?" he asks.

19 His advice to students: "The only limits you have in your life are the ones you put on it. Dream big and go for it."

20 What many people find hard to believe about him, but it's true, he says: What you see is actually what you get.

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