Dallas Stars owner and Northland Properties CEO Tom Gaglardi talks hockey and hospitality at BeedieOct 18, 2012
Tom Gaglardi, CEO of Northland Properties Group and owner of the Dallas Stars NHL franchise, shared with a live audience at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business his experiences as head of one of Canada’s largest hospitality organizations, as well as the new owner of one of North America’s top hockey franchises.
The event was part of the Beedie School of Business’ partnership with prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW, which sees SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus play host to “The Chief Executives”, a series of live radio interviews conducted by CKNW host Bill Good, profiling some of the country’s top executives.
As the owner of a National Hockey League (NHL) team, Gaglardi would likely have expected questions about the current lockout which has delayed the start of the 2012 season – even sharing a joke with the audience before the interview commenced after Good asked him how freely he would be able to discuss the situation, in light of the surrounding legal issues.
Gaglardi opened the interview by reminiscing about the first job he ever had, working as a bus boy in one of his father’s hotels at the age of thirteen. “I remember working for six hours a day with a half hour break, which was a big day for a kid” he said. “I couldn’t imagine working for eight hours a day, and used to marvel at the adults who worked a full day.”
Good then asked whether the experience of working in his father’s hotels had driven him to realize what he would do with the rest of this life. Gaglardi replied that he had known from a young age that he wanted to join the family business. “I remember one day at school I had just got a good result in a math test,” he said. “I called my dad from a payphone and told him I was going to take his job.”
As the head of the family business, Gaglardi is responsible for a diverse portfolio of organizations, including a number of hotel chains ranging from two to five-star, a number of restaurant chains such as Moxie’s and Denny’s, as well as two professional hockey teams, the Dallas Stars and the Kamloops Blazers.
Questioned about how he maintains the success of such a diverse organization, Gaglardi said that the key was in hiring the right people, stepping aside and letting them manage the day to day running of the business. He explained that although it is still technically a family business, as their business has grown it has become necessary for them operate in this manner.
When the floor was opened up to questions from the audience the topic of conversation moved on to Gaglardi’s plans for succeeding in the highly-competitive sports franchise market in Dallas, Texas. Gaglardi explained that good management lay at the core of his strategy and declared himself optimistic that the team would benefit greatly from future realignment of the NHL structure. He also pointed out that in less than half a season of him taking over as owner, the team had increased sponsorship by some 30 percent.
Almost inevitably, the subject of the NHL lockout arose on multiple occasions during the interview, with Gaglardi taking all questions in his stride. He expressed his frustrations at the situation, and sympathized with those whose livelihood depended on hockey being played. “We’re all fans, I’m certainly a fan first of all, and the current situation is no fun,” he said. “Unfortunately there is a business underlying the game and it has to get on a solid footing to get the sport played again.”
At one point, Good posed the question as to why any sensible person would decide to get into the hockey business. “In other words, I’m not very sensible,” replied Gaglardi, to a chorus of laughter from the audience.
Citing his connections to the area through his Texas-born mother, he explained that when the opportunity arose it seemed like a natural fit, and that the possibility of owning an NHL franchise was something he had considered for some time. “It seemed like the stars aligned,” he said.
Over the course of the interview, Gaglardi fielded questions from the audience, touching upon what he would look for in a potential employee if he was building a board from scratch; the difficulties the NHL had run into through over-expansion; his pride in his company’s culture; and his hope that his children will join him in the family business.
Gaglardi was finally asked when his father had decided he was ready to take over the company. He explained that he had held a number of positions in the company over the years, working in kitchens, construction, hotel operations and as regional manager for one of the hotel groups, learning as much as possible about the entire business along the way.
In the early 1980s, when the organization found itself in financial trouble, his father pulled him out of university mid-way through his final year in order to help run the business. “I remember going to court to see if the judge would give us more time to get our plan together,” he said. “I grew up fast. Having more bills to pay than you had cash in the bank was a great lesson. I had to make smart decisions. Today, we still manage our business that way.”
The next CEO to be interviewed as part of the Chief Executives Series will be Christine Day, President of Lululemon Athletica.
For more information about the CKNW Chief Executives Series at the Beedie School of Business, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/