For a Better Toronto
How did a sports and entertainment president pivot into becoming a very engaged city builder?
In the epilogue of my book “21 Leadership Lessons” I use a quote by best-selling horror writer Stephen King which I think explains in part how I ended up as a city builder.
“When we look back we think our lives form patterns; every event starts to look logical, as if something — or someone — has mapped out all our steps (and missteps) …Once upon a time, I would have said we choose our paths at random: this happened, then that, hence the other. Now I know better.”
There is no doubt that my path to President of the Toronto Raptors was a logical, strategic step by step approach. I wrote down my basketball dream in a notebook when I was only twenty.
I wrote down my basketball dream in a notebook when I was only twenty.
Then, for nineteen years, I got my ticket punched in consumer products learning all about branding, marketing, sales, finance, human resources, market research etc. Then, I applied for the Skydome President’s role because I knew that to successfully run a basketball franchise one needed to know how to operate an entertainment facility (concerts, suites, F&B, ticket sales, sponsorships). That experience caused Larry Tanenbaum to ask me to head up his team to bring an NBA franchise to Toronto. When that failed for us (but not Toronto) I did not give up on my dream. Instead, I joined Netstar (TSN, RDS, Discovery Channel) and learned about broadcast: producing live sports and news, rights deals and how to launch a sports website. Then, after twenty-six years of getting my ticket punched, I became president of the Raptors.
My path to city builder was more like what King described. In my early presidential roles I did not give a great deal of thought to the communities I did business in. That changed for me at MLSE when we decided that one of our core values was “to be a leader in our community”. We could pursue this goal because our board approved us investing one billion dollars in sports and entertainment infrastructure. Unlike most pro teams today we did that with 95% of our own money, while at the same time paying full property taxes. We also had a MLSE foundation that invested in the belief that all kids should have access to sports and the opportunity to both develop and pursue dreams on the playing field.
When I retired, my wife Colleen and I decided to start our own foundation aimed at helping city youth. That introduced me to the Toronto Foundation. A year later I was asked to go on their board of directors.
In 2013 I wrote my first book “Dream Job”. In writing that book I did a lot of research and one of the books I read was “Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, And What Capitalism Can Learn From the NFL” by former Dean of the Rotman’s School of Management, Roger Martin. Martin said that leaders and companies could have a negative, neutral or positive impact on society. His belief that leaders should “add bricks to the civil foundation” resonated with me. So much so that I wrote a chapter in my first book entitled “On Building a City — One Dream, One Brick at a Time”. I followed up on the brick metaphor in my second book, “21 Leadership Lessons”, with a chapter entitled “Be a Builder, Add Bricks to the Civil Foundation”.
To help me be a more learned city builder, I read books on modern urbanism, met with authors, and with people from Cycle Toronto, Parks People, the Toronto Public Library, city planners, developers, media, and community activists. I learned what great international cities are doing to be more livable. l was reminded that Toronto is a rich city, but I was also alarmed to learn that many of our neighbours are struggling mightily because of the serious housing, transit, poverty, climate, and infrastructure issues facing our city.
l was reminded that Toronto is a rich city, but I was also alarmed to learn that many of our neighbours are struggling mightily because of the serious housing, transit, poverty, climate, and infrastructure issues facing our city.
Over the next many months, I look forward to introducing you to some of these books, people, and issues as well as present possible solutions.
The next twelve months are going to be very critical to the future of Toronto. Starting soon, city council will begin to debate its 2018 budget. Already, they are talking about a “status quo” budget approach that will affect many of the city services Torontonians count on. In June, there will be a provincial election. Will the ruling party be a partner to Toronto or will the strained relationship concerning funding continue? And then, in October, Toronto will elect its 66th mayor.
As you can see, there will be a lot to talk about on how we can create a better Toronto for all. But for today, let me leave my last words to English writer, Lewis Caroll with a modified quote from his poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:
The time has come to talk of many things
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot and whether
the city (pigs) has wings.
Please Stay Tuned.
For a Better Toronto