Ron Bremner is currently the CEO at UNISYNC and the owner of Gold Medal Consulting Group. Ron is known across the country from his 23 years as a broadcaster and his induction to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2000. Ron was also the president and CEO of the Calgary Flames.
I had no intention of leaving broadcasting but at end of day, I asked myself: Do I want to look back some day and wonder what it would be like to run an NHL team?
How did you move from being inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of fame straight into the sports industry and then starting your own consulting company?
Well I was in broadcasting for 25 years, 23 of them in Vancouver. From 1974-1990 I worked with a radio station in Vancouver, starting at sales and moving up to President and General Manager. Out of blue one day back in Ottawa for a new service hearing, I was asked to run BCTV television which was the largest TV station west of Toronto. I then worked there for five years and one day a head hunter in the sports business called and asked if I was interested in a position which several of my colleagues recommended me for. The position was the President of Calgary Flames. I thought about it. I had no intention of leaving broadcasting but at end of day, I asked myself: Do I want to look back some day and wonder what it would be like to run an NHL team? So I ended up in the hockey business for 5 years—it was extremely challenging. The Canadian dollar was worth about 63 cents against the US, and the significance of this is that we pay all our players in US while earning in Canadian. This was one of the reasons why the Quebec and Winnipeg hockey teams had left at the time. There just wasn’t enough revenue to support a team.
My wife and I then took a 2-year sabbatical. It was a great time in our lives to do all the things that people plan to but never do it until they have 6 months to live. We travelled all over Europe, and after the trip I went back to school and took French immersion at Laval University.
When I came through Toronto, I was introduced to Larry Tanenbaum—a successful businessman who is the Chairman and part owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. He offered me a job with Professional Sports Publications in New York so we worked out a deal where 15 days each month I would help run the company down in New York. We then sold it to one of the largest competitors for a very healthy return.
Today I’m undertaking various projects as President of Gold Medal Consulting, where I retain most of the time to mentor and coach company executives.
The challenge is to go into each business to learn a little about the business, and trying to gauge the key people in each company to help them be the best.
Your experiences include President/CEO of BCTV in Vancouver, President/CEO of Calgary Flames, CEO of Professional Sports Publications NY, and Founder of Gold Medal Consulting Group; it seems like you have lead a trail of success since 1990’s.What is by far your proudest moment, and what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in any of these jobs?
Well not to be evasive, but each project has its own proud moment for me. They are each like a child and I have a great affinity for them in different ways. I had a special moment with each of them such as in New York City when we sold PSP for great profit, or getting new distribution for our products in the broadcasting digital business. The challenge is to go into each business to learn a little about the business, and trying to gauge the key people in each company to help them be the best. I would never consider myself an expert in any particular business. My job is to be the captain of the ship and to steer the boat—not to row. The Captain doesn’t tell the cooks how to make good food, or how to work the engine room. The key thing is making sure you have good people in key positions, challenge them, and eventually let them do their job.
How do you balance your multiple roles in these companies every day and how do you achieve a good work-life balance?
I’m not involved in many projects at a given time; I only take one major project on at a time for 3 days a week. Other days I spend as a mentor, or a keynote speaker. I think it’s a matter of just keeping focus, and compartmentalizing your thinking. I like to play golf when I can and definitely enjoy sports, but work is my priority, and therefore I need to make time to be available for clients.
I don’t think business schools do enough to educate students on these social skills.
What advice do you have for people out there who aspire to be a successful businessman like yourself?
I think for young people, the key advice is to spend a lot of time reading and understanding things to do with business as they relate to people. The important commonality of all successful businesses is that they have good people. The important thing when in charge is to have the people skills, as well as the ability to relate, communicate and develop loyalty amongst your peers. I don’t think business schools do enough to educate students on these social skills. They’re exceptional at technical skills like reading balance sheets but when you get to a certain level, no matter what you are doing you have to work with other people whether in your own department, or other departments. The importance is not in reading the balance sheet but in presenting the impact and the relevance of this information—what are the numbers foretelling? How can they use these numbers to help operate more efficiently? Communication skills, presentation skills, public speaking, and personality are all extremely important regardless of the field of business, and students must continue to work on these.
Many of your employees and peers consider you a wonderful leader who is wonderful to work with. What do you think is the most important two character traits that have led to your success today?
I have always prided myself for never putting myself up on a pedestal—I consider myself no more important than other team members. Whether you work in the stock room, sweeping floors, or driving the Zamboni, the important thing is everyone has a job to do and they are all important. Respecting people, encouraging them and listening to them on every level is the key. In many cases the most important answers for running company don’t come out of executive meetings around tables, they come from regular conversations with staff members; trying to understand the frustration they have dealt gives great insight into the bigger problems.
The other thing is to always try to better yourself and never taking yourself too seriously; never be someone who is not open to criticisms.
We must ask ourselves: how can you help others with your resources as a businessman?
What is your motivation to go above and beyond just your day job to actively participate in organizations that benefit the community? Examples being on the board for the Ontario March of Dimes, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Women in Communications and judging entrepreneurship competitions for students.
I have always been on a lot of boards; I have chaired hospital boards, radio boards etc. It stems back from when I was a kid and my mother and father drilled the importance of giving back. When I work at Western National Communications, the whole culture of the organization was driven by Frank and Emily Griffiths. They stressed the importance of making a profit and the importance of making a difference as well. We must ask ourselves: how can you help others with your resources as a businessman?
For example in the hockey business, I was lucky enough to work for an organization that gave back to the community. The Calgary Flames allocated resources, time and effort to take on projects aimed at encouraging kids in public schools since reading was one particular area where the kids were not getting a lot of encouragement. Having famous hockey players read to kids, share their own beliefs about reading then allowed the kids to associate reading with these high profiled hockey heroes.