It’s been a long time coming. And some resort critics might argue it’s already too late. But a recent memo from the desk of new Intrawest COO, Alex Wasilov, has made it amply clear that a brand new vision is animating the corridors of this Vancouver-based Fortress subsidiary.
In a bold move that has industry watchers still shaking their heads in wonder, Wasilov has swept the old Intrawest corporate structure — with its multi-layered, Byzantine leadership arrangement and dog-eat-dog mentality — right into the waste bin. In its place he’s introduced a new, much simplified business model that suggests the company is finally realizing that its many resort holdings are not simply loss leaders for real estate sales but are indeed, important assets that can actually deliver value to their investors (and to their customers!).
Talk about changing the direction of the corporate battleship in one fell swoop…
Still, what fascinates me most are the rumours that this change in focus didn’t originate with Wasilov, but was actually dictated by his bosses at Fortress. Who would have thunk it? “Look — it’s simple,” says a veteran Intrawest watcher from the U.S. “Intrawest has made some pretty big mistakes in recent years. Where once they were the uncontested leader in the resort real estate development game, they now have to convince the market that they are in this for the long term. So it’s a good move to re-focus the company’s priorities. It should have happened years ago…”
But until now that was simply not part of the company’s operational DNA.
From the very beginning of Intrawest’s incursion into the ski resort market, it was obvious that Joe Houssian’s vision was deeply entrenched in the real estate development world from which he came. After all, he wasn’t a skier. Wasn’t much of a cold-weather guy by most accounts. Houssian was a hardcore developer/deal-maker who had only discovered that there was money to be made from skiing through his Young Presidents Association pal, Hugh Smythe. And the big money, Houssian was convinced, would come not from mountain operations but from mountain real estate development.
Consequently, the whole ethos of the company revolved around the real estate game. Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. All you have to do is compare the sumptuous décor of Intrawest’s downtown offices in Vancouver to the overcrowded gerbil cages that serve as an excuse for offices at Whistler-Blackcomb to understand where the company’s priorities lay.
“That’s business,” some of you will counter. “It’s just the way things are.” And I don’t disagree. I’m just not sure that this approach served their mountain communities very well.