He brought the West Edmonton Village offer to the family table, a deal ultimately consummated by Luigi. (It is one of the largest rental complexes in Canada, with nearly 1,200 units.) He was at the front end of the King Edward Village condo project at Knight Street and Kingsway in Vancouver, as well as the purchase of the Provincial Bank building in Montreal (with its 250,000 square feet of office space). He has also been working hard on forging a relationship with the Musqueam Indian band, entertaining band leaders in his box at hockey games. The Musqueam own the rights to vast swaths of land in Vancouver that could be worth billions if developed, including the current site of Shaughnessy Golf Course. Francesco Aquilini would love his company to be the one that develops it.
“But the way it works,” he explains, “is that my brothers and dad play a big role in every deal. Sometimes they will play a bigger role, sometimes I will. But everything, and I mean everything, is a collaborative effort.”
According to some of those who have dealt with him, Aquilini can be an aggressive and hard bargainer. It’s perhaps not surprising then that in the course of doing business for nearly 30 years he’s earned the wrath of the odd developer and property owner – though, in typical Vancouver fashion, few would speak publicly about their grievances. One deal Aquilini negotiated was for a tiny parking lot in Gastown, the last piece of real estate the family needed to sew up an entire block of buildings. The lot was owned by the PCI Group. Dan Turner is senior vice-president at PCI. When phoned and asked how negotiations with Aquilini went, Turner would only offer a “no comment.”
One developer who did not have a happy experience with Aquilini and did not want to be quoted said, “The Aquilinis are a very powerful family in this city. Let’s leave it at that.”
More recently, Aquilini explored the possibility of bringing a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to Vancouver. This did not amuse Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot, who has been trying to build soccer in the city for a number of years and has also been putting together an MLS bid. Neither Kerfoot nor Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi would comment on Aquilini’s MLS manoeuvring. “Our approach is to not even acknowledge his bid,” responded Lenarduzzi, who, along with Kerfoot, is said to be furious with the Canucks owner.
Aquilini has been instrumental in many of the company’s key recent hires, including the aforementioned Negrin brothers, though the family does not make any of its major hiring decisions in isolation. In the last few years, the company has employed the services of Kevin Somerville, president of Somerville Partners. Somerville is an industrial psychologist based in Denver who consults with many Fortune 100 companies on succession planning, organizational development and senior executive coaching. He flies up once a month to offer advice to the Aquilinis on a range of matters, and last spring he was brought in to talk to prospective Canucks GM Mike Gillis. He approved of the decision to bring him aboard.
The hiring of Somerville demonstrates the overarching corporate philosophy at the Aquilini Investment Group: leave as little to chance as possible. That means doing deep research on any possible acquisition and on any major hire, especially one such as Gillis who, with no previous NHL management experience, carried a certain amount of risk.
Gillis was hired a mere nine days after Nonis was fired. At his news conference, he said he’d only met Aquilini for the first time a mere seven days earlier. When asked by BCBusiness when they’d met for the first time, Aquilini refused to answer: “There are some things I just won’t talk about.” In fact, according to a source who did not want to be quoted, Aquilini met Gillis several months earlier – possibly more than a year before Nonis was fired. And after that initial meeting, Aquilini and Gillis would meet several times before the Aquilinis officially named him the new Canucks GM.
Aquilini was apparently so impressed with Gillis’s knowledge of the game and his approach to problem-solving that it’s doubtful Nonis would have been kept on as Canucks GM even if the team had made it to the second round of the playoffs. In short, Nonis was not Aquilini’s type of guy.
“The thing that impressed us about Mike was the way he prepares himself when he makes a decision,” explains Aquilini. “Mike has a tremendous ability to get to the heart of the matter, just like my dad. He thinks things through. Nothing is done off the cuff. There are no emotional decisions. They’re all based on thorough research and analysis.”