Like many of the best personnel signings in pro sports, Erin Crowe’s career with the Ottawa Senators began as the product of timely advance scouting.
In 1996, Crowe was a young accountant on the rise at KPMG. The Nepean native had joined the professional services firm’s Ottawa office two years earlier after earning her commerce degree from the Queen’s School of Business, and she had every intention of following the traditional route to success in the accounting world by working her way up to partner.
Mark Goudie, however, had other ideas.
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Goudie, the Senators’ chief financial officer at the time, was looking for help with some of the heavy administrative lifting as the fledgling NHL club was shifting its operations from the Civic Centre to its new home in Kanata.
Goudie’s wife Lisa, then a senior accountant at KPMG, suggested he talk to her co-worker who’d performed an audit of the Senators and was impressing everyone at the office with her financial acumen and tireless work ethic.
Lisa told her husband “if she had to hire one person to work in industry, she would hire Erin,” Goudie, now the president and chief executive of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, recalls.
“We had tons of new stuff to figure out and processes to get in place and a new arena to run. I needed a workhorse, and people assured me that Erin was the right person for that job. She ended up being that in spades.”
So much for being a career accountant. Instead, Crowe embarked on a path that saw her become the financial boss of a pro hockey team, a major real estate firm, a waterside company and a software industry trailblazer incubated by some of the city’s highest-profile entrepreneurs.
Last February, Crowe’s journey came full circle when she rejoined the Senators as chief financial officer and executive vice-president.
The timing was fortuitous. Within months of her return, Crowe was knee-deep in perhaps the two most important assignments of her career — working side by side with president of business operations Anthony LeBlanc as the club’s two most senior executives attempt to simultaneously secure new ownership for the team and hammer out a lease with the National Capital Commission for a new arena site at LeBreton Flats.
One of those tasks alone would be all-consuming. But two at the same time?
True to form, Crowe is taking it all in stride.
“Both of those are great opportunities for the future of the club at the end of the day — and lots of fun to work on,” the 51-year-old mother of two says. “It keeps me on my toes.”
Those who know Crowe best say it’s no surprise she’s in the thick of things as the Senators head into what might be the most critical 12-month period in the franchise’s 30-year history.
“Erin’s position becomes the eye of the storm,” Goudie says. “The fact that she is trusted by everybody, respected by everybody, makes her the ideal person to be playing that role.”
Indeed, the high-stakes world of pro sports is old hat to Crowe, who originally joined the Senators just as the club was moving into a new rink and later helped stickhandle the franchise through a dicey stretch that saw it file for bankruptcy protection before Eugene Melnyk came to its rescue in 2003.
“It was a really chaotic, busy time … and she never missed a beat,” says Cyril Leeder, who helped spearhead Ottawa’s return to the NHL and served as team president from 2009-17.
Like Goudie, Leeder calls his friend a “workhorse” who loves to roll up her sleeves and solve problems.
Crowe, he explains, is as well-versed in the art of dealing with people as she is in the science of crunching numbers. Whether it’s courting big banks to help restructure the team’s finances or politely inquiring as to why a certain department isn’t meeting its revenue targets, Crowe gets her message across with aplomb.
In addition, Crowe has been a force in other ways, shattering the glass ceiling in a series of industries — pro sports, real estate and tech — with C-suites that have traditionally been dominated by men.
When she attended her first NHL board of governors meeting at age 38, Crowe was one of only a handful of women in the room. Leeder says it didn’t take long for the grizzled veterans around the table to realize she belonged.
“Erin was a bit of a trailblazer there,” he says. “It didn’t faze her. She didn’t really think anything of it.”
Craving a new challenge, Crowe left the Senators in early 2015 after more than 18 years with the organization. Since then, her resume has covered a range of industries virtually unmatched by any other C-suite executive in town, including stints as CFO and chief operating officer at real estate firm Regional Group; CFO of waterslide manufacturer ProSlide Technology; a consultant at Stratford Managers; and, finally, CFO of up-and-coming Kanata software company Martello Technologies.
Martello chief executive John Proctor describes Crowe as the steady hand on the tiller while the firm went public on the TSX Venture Exchange via a reverse takeover in 2018 and later made a series of key acquisitions to help fuel its growth.
When others were questioning whether a deal would get done, Proctor recalls, Crowe would be the one to say: “We got this.” Over the years, she became the CEO’s close confidante and a trusted sounding board.
“One of Erin’s strengths is her calm demeanour,” Proctor explains. “Martello would not be where we are without Erin.”
Now Crowe is back in the eye of the storm with the Senators — but maybe a little wiser than before, she says.
“People are excited about the team, they’re excited about LeBreton, they’re excited about the fact that we’re front and centre in the community,” Crowe adds with a smile. “It’s exciting to be part of that, and it’s exciting to feel like you can actually have an impact on some of those things.”