Looking back, Mark Goudie can’t help but get the feeling he was destined to do big things at Lansdowne Park.
The 52-year-old officially becomes the new chief executive of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group on May 1, but he’s been a regular fixture at the downtown sports and entertainment venue for decades. His uncle, Howard Darwin, was the original owner of the Ottawa 67’s, and Goudie often attended their games.
Later, as an up-and-coming young executive, Goudie cut his teeth in the sports business with the Ottawa Senators, where his boss was Bernie Ashe – the man he is now about to replace as head of OSEG.
“Everything just seems to have led me to this job,” Goudie says with a smile. “You’ve found your right job when you wake up in the morning before your alarm goes off because you’re excited about getting to work. And that’s kind of where I am here.”
The Carleton University commerce grad has been with OSEG since 2013, when he came on board as a consultant at Ashe’s request after stints as chief financial officer at tech firms including World Heart and Mxi Technologies.
“I was driving home on the Queensway and heard it on the newscast that Bernie Ashe was the new CEO of OSEG,” he recalls. “I called him right then from my car, and I think within 24 hours we were having a beer and talking about (Goudie joining the organization).”
Soon afterward, he became CFO, adding the chief operating officer’s duties to his job description two years later.
He worked side by side with Ashe for five years, watching his close friend and mentor navigate the upstart organization through a series of roadblocks that included opposition from some local businesses and residents, construction snafus and negotiations with the city over a defective arena roof – not to mention all the headaches associated with trying to run three sports franchises while finding tenants to fill 400,000 square feet of retail space.
Through it all, Goudie says, he was receiving a master class in leadership from his boss.
“He’s been a mentor to me throughout my career,” he says of Ashe, who is retiring as CEO on April 30. “What I learned from him is calmness – and particularly calmness in adversity. He taught me when people are stressed out, that’s the time for you to be calm and to be resourceful. That’s something that’s served me well through my career. He’s the ultimate definition of what a leader should be.”
Goudie is heading into the top C-suite at a time when OSEG is entering a more mature phase of its existence. What was a team of 12 people when he joined five years ago is now an organization with 125 full-time employees and a total workforce that balloons to 900 part-timers on Redblacks game nights.
'Running 200 miles an hour'
“We’ve been running 200 miles an hour for the last five years,” he says. “It’s been one thing after another, getting all of this open and getting the teams established and retail full. It feels like we’re standing at the top of the mountain right now. 2018 gives us an opportunity to kind of take a breath and figure out what we’re doing well and how we’re going to continue to do that.”
Even many of OSEG’s early critics would probably concede it’s doing many things well, but Goudie still faces his share of challenges as he gets ready to replace his good friend and confidant Ashe.
For all its growth, the organization still isn’t profitable. OSEG’s combined net loss in its first two years was $27 million on revenues of $93 million, although Goudie says Lansdowne’s retail component – which is 97 per cent leased – is now actually running a “little ahead” of projections.
Mark Goudie at a glance
Chief operating officer, CFO, OSEG
President, Mauve Advisors
CFO, VP finance and administration, Mxi Technologies
CFO, VP finance and administration, World Heart
CFO, VP finance and administration, Ottawa Senators
“It just took a little longer getting there,” he says.
And while the Redblacks have surpassed expectations on and off the field, winning a Grey Cup in 2016 while playing to nothing but sellout crowds at 24,000-seat TD Place, OSEG’s other sports properties haven’t matched the CFL franchise’s success.
The United Soccer League’s Fury averaged 5,300 fans in 2017, about the same as the year before. The Ontario Hockey League’s 67’s, meanwhile, have struggled to fill the stands at the adjacent 10,000-seat arena, averaging just over 4,000 spectators per game.
That’s up about 15 per cent from season, Goudie notes, but he concedes there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“It’s something that we need to figure out – how to make the 67’s relevant again in Ottawa and capture the imagination of folks,” Goudie says. “That’s important for me as well, given my uncle was one of the founders of the 67’s. It’s near and dear to my heart.”
The stadium and surrounding facilities such as the Aberdeen Pavilion have become a haven for major events such as last year’s Grey Cup and NHL outdoor game, not to mention major concerts.
“It feels like we’re standing at the top of the mountain right now. 2018 gives us an opportunity to kind of take a breath and figure out what we’re doing well and how we’re going to continue to do that.”
Lansdowne hosts more than 100 events annually, and Goudie says he one of his top priorities will be figuring out ways to ensure the 40-acre site attracts repeatable events that bring visitors back year after year. Mayor Jim Watson has mused about making last year’s popular Canada Welcomes the World exhibits a regular occurrence, something Goudie says he’s looking at closely.
“We hope to find things – in particular, hopefully annual things – where we can build something that’s going to be back same time every year for decades.”
One thing the organization is not contemplating, he says, is buying the Ottawa Senators from Eugene Melnyk – despite continuing rumours to the contrary.
“We’re flattered that people enjoy what’s happening with the Redblacks and consider us as a potential (owner), but that’s nothing we are pursuing,” Goudie says.
From Goudie’s perspective, it’s all about continuing to build Lansdowne into a premier entertainment and shopping destination.
“We have the capacity and the ability … to do more on site here and to bring things that might not be in Ottawa right now to Ottawa and to Lansdowne,” he says.