Bernie Ashe steps aside as OSEG chief executive

Bernie Ashe

The original quarterback of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group’s front office is calling it quits.

Chief executive Bernie Ashe, who has led the organization since January 2013, will retire at the end of April, OSEG announced on Wednesday. Chief operating officer Mark Goudie will replace Ashe as CEO.

Calling Ashe a “tremendous leader,” OSEG executive chair and managing partner Roger Greenberg praised the Ottawa native for his work in building the owner of the CFL’s Redblacks, pro soccer’s Fury and junior hockey’s 67’s into a major force in the city’s business community.

“It’s hard to fathom how far we’ve come in the last five years,” Greenberg said in a statement. “Harder still to imagine the journey without Bernie leading the way.”

Known for his easy-going manner, infectious smile and towering six-foot-seven frame, Ashe has overseen management of the revitalized Lansdowne Park sports, retail and entertainment complex and its crown jewel, TD Place stadium, since the project’s inception.

Under Ashe’s guidance, OSEG’s sports franchises quickly became winners both on and off the field.

The Redblacks captured the Grey Cup in just their third season in 2016 and hosted a sold-out crowd for the big game at TD Place last November. Fans also packed the refurbished stadium for an outdoor NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens in mid-December.

Aside from sports activities, the stadium and surrounding area have hosted hundreds of concerts and other events since the complex opened in 2014. Though Lansdowne’s revenues have been less than OSEG expected (about $50 million for 2016, $5 million less than anticipated) and the park hasn’t hosted as many major events as its owners hoped, the site still drew 3.4 million people in 2016 – an increase of 41 per cent from a year earlier – and turned an operating profit of $2.9 million.    

“When I look back on everything we’ve done in such a short time, I couldn’t be more proud of our staff and I thank them for their hard work. I’ve been privileged to work such exceptional people,” Ashe said in a statement.

The father of three adult children added that at age 61, he’s “looking forward to spending more time with my family and beginning the next phase of my career where I can share some of my experience consulting with business leaders in Ottawa.”

CEO of the Year

After earning a degree in business administration from the University of Ottawa, Ashe held various high-level executive jobs before joining OSEG. He was the Senators’ inaugural chief operating officer from 1991-97 and later served as chief executive of Advanced Information Technologies and lumber supply company Kott Group.

In 2015, OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce named Ashe the city’s CEO of the Year for his work at OSEG.

In an interview with OBJ at his Lansdowne Park office that fall, Ashe said he felt like he was living a childhood dream.

“I used to come down here as a kid, go to Rough Riders games, go to the Ex, sneak into the Ex as a kid,” he said. “I have all kinds of great memories as I walk around this site. It’s really, really cool to be on the site doing the stuff that we’re doing, all these years later.”

Ashe will be succeeded by Goudie, who joined OSEG as chief financial officer in 2013 before adding the chief operating officer’s duties to his job description two years later. The nephew of original 67’s owner Howard Darwin, Goudie grew up attending sporting events at Lansdowne and spent nine years working in the Senators’ front office before serving as chief financial officer at several local tech firms.

“I feel that everything in my career to date has led me to this job,” he said in a statement. “I am privileged to be part of an exceptionally talented team that is focused on creating special memories and exceptional fan and customer experiences.”