After the initial public offering and a couple weeks of trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, what's changed for Whistler's largest employer?
Well, Whistler Blackcomb has now been cleaved from the once-mighty-today-modest stable of Intrawest resorts. Operated as a separate, independent entity, Whistler Blackcomb profits will no longer be used to prop up less profitable resorts elsewhere. This is significant.
Profits from ski operations aren't the spectacular numbers that real estate development once produced but they have been solid and steady, even through the great recession and the Olympic winter. More of those profits should, in the future, be available for reinvestment in Whistler Blackcomb, which hasn't been the case in recent years.
Ownership of Whistler Blackcomb is now split between two companies: Nippon Cable, owner of Sun Peaks, owns 25 per cent and the new, publicly traded Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. owns 75 per cent. Fortress Investment Group, through Intrawest, owns approximately 24 per cent of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings. The rest is owned by individual and institutional investors. Who the major players in that group are may become clearer when fourth quarter financial statements are released.
So who runs Whistler Blackcomb now?
On the surface, not much has changed. Long-time managers and Whistler residents remain in place, including Dave Brownlie as president and COO, Doug Forseth as senior vice-president of operations and Stuart Rempel, senior vice-president of marketing and sales.
Just as importantly, all three are executive officers, part of the management team, of the new Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. Combined with the fact that Whistler Blackcomb is now an independently operated resort, that means local voices have a greater say in how Whistler Blackcomb is operated.
The board of directors isn't the first list of names that comes to mind when a chairlift stops or the food service in Christine's isn't what it should have been, but they are the ones who shape the way the company is run. And under Whistler Blackcomb Holdings the faces and names are more familiar than they were under Fortress Investment Group.
The trio of Brownlie, Forseth and Rempel is, of course, the local connection. The chairman and CEO of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings is Bill Jensen, who has been CEO of Intrawest for about two and a half years since moving over from Vail Resorts, where he was president of that company's Mountain Division.
Kevin Smith is the executive vice-president and CFO of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings. A UBC graduate, he has been with Intrawest since 2006 in various senior financial positions.
Fortress, naturally, is well represented on the board. Wesley Edens, co-founder, principal and co-chairman of the board of Fortress Investment Group is a director of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings. Based in New York, Edens was a partner and managing director of BlackRock Financial Management, another private equity fund, and a partner and managing director of Lehman Brothers prior to founding Fortress in 1998.
Jonathan Ashley is also from New York and is a managing director of Fortress Investment Group in charge of the capital markets group for the private equity business.
Other members of the Whistler Blackcomb Holdings board include Russell Goodman, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers in Montreal and former member of the Canadian Alpine Ski team form 1969 to 1975; R. Scott Hutcheson, chair and CEO of Aspen Properties Ltd., a company that owns and manages office space and parking stalls in Calgary and Edmonton. Hutcheson was also a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team from 1978 to 1982 and is a member of the board of directors of the Norquay ski area in Banff; Graham Savage of Toronto is the recently retired chairman and founding partner of Callisto Capital, a merchant banking firm. He was a senior officer at Rogers Communications Inc. and serves as a director of Canadian Tire Corp., Cott Corporation and Postmedia Network Inc.
The other two members of the Whistler Blackcomb Holdings board are well-known in the sports world. John Furlong was CEO of VANOC, responsible for delivery of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Cam Neely is president of the Boston Bruins Hockey Club, responsible for the organization's business and hockey operations. Neely grew up in Maple Ridge. He played three seasons for the Vancouver Canucks before being traded to the Bruins, where he became a star player.
The key people on the management team, from the Whistler community's perspective, are undoubtedly Brownlie, Forseth and Rempel. The Fortress representatives - who are said to have become quite enamoured by Whistler - represent the largest single shareholder in Whistler Blackcomb Holdings. The others are solid business people with ties to Whistler, to B.C. and to the ski business.
It's not 100 per cent local ownership of Whistler Blackcomb, but the board of the new Whistler Blackcomb Holdings should bring a broader perspective to the operation of Whistler Blackcomb than simply the bottom line.