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Yet the big questions for me were: Who was going to take over from Wasilov? And where was the ‘new’ Intrawest heading?
Well, time is telling us. And Fortress is showing its hand quite clearly. For make no mistake — Bill Jensen is Wes Eden’s man. And by choosing such a committed mountain operations guy as the new boss of their subsidiary, Eden and his Fortress brain trust are sending a very clear message to the marketplace.
“From my perspective, Jensen’s appointment is a really positive move,” says Whistler-Blackcomb (WB) resort chief Dave Brownlie.
Showing a level of confidence commensurate with his new ‘resort chief’ position, Brownlie seems to be blossoming as headman at WB. And he was uncharacteristically candid with me on the subject of his new boss. “It only confirms for me that the mountain resort business is back in the forefront where it belongs,” he told me. And then he laughed. “At least I don’t have to worry that we’re going to be transformed into a high-end spa or anything like that.”
So what does Jensen’s appointment mean in the bigger picture? I have my own ideas – and my ‘panel’ of experts mostly confirmed them. Here’s my scenario:
Fortress always had a plan for Intrawest. They bought the public company, took it private, and will run it that way for a few years while repositioning its core business for taking it public once again – at a much-inflated price of course. “After all,” said one of my experts, “that’s what those private equity guy do.”
But why appoint Jensen if all Fortress wants to do is re-package an old product? Explains McCarthy: “They needed a front man for this process and he needed to be new and he needed to be from a publicly traded company and Bill was there from Vail. Now Vail is a name that the whole of Wall Street knows. And that’s crucial for getting the money people to pay attention. So it totally makes sense.”
Indeed. Yet from my perspective, it leaves one of the industry’s most respected professionals, Hugh Smythe, out in the cold. Looking at both careers – on paper at least – it would seem that Smythe is easily as qualified as Jensen. But as McCarthy explains in light of the Fortress strategy: “Hugh could have been wearing a tutu, he still wasn’t going to be the guy.”