Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Uncle Joe and the Intrawest Myth



Because of the sensitive nature of this column, most people who are quoted below requested that their names be withheld. I have respected their wishes. But I do encourage them to stand up and speak out soon!

The money-seekers certainly won this round. And what an easy round it was for them to win. Barely had I put the finishing touches to my story on W-B COO Dave Brownlie last week when a piece came out in the Vancouver Sun claiming that his boss, Intrawest Capo Joe Houssian, would be netting over $126 million from the Fortress buy-out. One-hundred-and-twenty-six million semolians! No, I didn’t get it wrong. That wasn’t the company’s profit. That was Joe’s personal cut. All his. As the Sun’s 40-point type asserted: “Intrawest sale worth a fortune to executives”.

Fortune indeed. Given that the Whistler-Blackcomb property has been estimated to represent roughly a third of the deal’s overall value (give or take a few million), one could then posit that Joe did very well from the ski business here. And that begs a few questions:

Will we ever see Joe at a ski resort again? Will he ever spend some of that hard-earned cash on the slopes? Who knows? But then Joe’s never been much of a Snow-eater. I think he was in it mostly for the money.

And he certainly succeeded there. Especially considering how badly the Intrawest ship had been listing of late. Reality could no longer sustain the company’s rhetoric in recent years. Debt was rising way too fast. “Too many chiefs. Too many agendas,” opined a long-time insider. Everyone in the business talked about it — the Intrawest vision was no longer workable (if it ever was in the first place). And yet here was Joe brokering a deal that still has most experts shaking their heads in wonder. “He was brilliant,” says a former business associate. “For years, he managed to pit his top managers against each other in a fierce contest to see who could most raise the value of the company. And then, just as his house of cards was about to topple and crash, he sold it and walked away with all the chips. As I said: Brilliant.”

So what about the guys and gals left behind? What about the vaunted Intrawest team spirit? How does that play in the overall story? “I’m mad as hell,” said a highly-placed senior team member who is scrambling to craft an exit strategy now that he finds himself without a team to belong to. “I feel totally betrayed. I’ve given nearly half of my life to this company. Done all I possibly could to make it successful. And this is what I get in return?”