Lunch with Tom Gaglardi

Tom Gaglardi, Northland Properties | BCBusiness
“If [the Sutton Place Hotel in Revelstoke] had not been in B.C. we would have said. . .we can get out of this, capture a bunch of our money and just write this off.”

Tom Gaglardi talks about hockey, the hospitality industry and how he’s no longer the man you thought you knew.

Tom Gaglardi knows he’s something of a changed man.

The real estate and hotel mogul feels he was once more akin to his late grandfather Phil, the legendary minister of highways who relished public attention. These days, the 44-year-old considers himself more introverted – although happy enough to continue being the mouthpiece of the family’s Vancouver-headquartered Northland Properties Corp. (His father Bob, the company’s founder, is publicity-shy.)

“Everybody has an ego and when I was younger it was important to get recognition,” the CEO reflects as we sit in Fleuri, the restaurant of Northland’s latest acquisition, Vancouver’s Sutton Place Hotel. “I’ve tired of that and the older I get I really treasure my anonymity. I’ve become a lot like my dad.”

When you work in a familial set-up, it must be impossible to avoid making such comparisons. Daily, he and his father “drive the growth” of 45 Sandman Inn Hotels and 140 restaurants including Moxie’s, Shark Clubs and Denny’s of Canada totalling some 10,000 employees. Both his sisters, Andrea and Devonna, are involved in the business; his brother, Mitch, runs U.K. operations. And Gaglardi met his wife, Brittney, in 2000 when she worked for the ad agency that represented Moxie’s.

Deals made by the father-and-eldest-son partnership are in unison, such as paying $198 million for this Sutton and its Edmonton sister. While Gaglardi admits they cost “dearly,” he adds that it was too big an opportunity to pass up. “It’s tough to find good assets,” the Kerrisdale resident says, adding that the Sutton brand now includes a hotel at Revelstoke Mountain Resort and one planned in Calgary.

If something doesn’t make sense to one of the men, Gaglardi says, “normally you can convince the other that the logic isn’t there and we shouldn’t do it.” Times do occur, however, when father and son are off kilter on a proposition. If one is unrelenting, Gaglardi insists, “the other will say, ‘well, go have at it.’”

His slip into sports-world parlance is apropos. As owner of the Dallas Stars (his mother, Karen, is Texan) and the Kamloops Blazers, he quips, “My dad never told me I couldn’t do anything, and I’ve had some stupid ideas like buying a hockey team – twice.”

A lifelong player himself and father of three boys who have all followed him onto the ice, Gaglardi – or Gags, as his teammates know him – has long desired to belong to the NHL owners’ club. In 2008, when his legal challenge against Francesco Aquilini over his deal to buy the Canucks failed (“obviously disappointing, but I’ve moved on,” he states, shutting down the subject), he bought the Stars last year. As he tucks into spaghetti and meatballs Gaglardi surmises, “It’s everything I thought it would be.”

If hockey is all Gaglardi Junior’s, Revelstoke is tilted more towards his father. Northland had originally lent money to the B.C. ski hill, so when trouble loomed during the 2008 economic maelstrom the company decided to take it on. Mention a letter published in Revelstoke’s local newspaper this year suggesting that “it’s time to invest back into the mountain,” and he is clearly peeved. “It’s ridiculous how committed we are,” he says, adding that the town is where his great grandfather worked on the railway after emigrating from Italy. “I’m proud of the resort and my father likes the asset a lot, but if it had not been in B.C. we would have said, ‘You know what? We can get out of this, capture a bunch of our money and just write this off.’” Gaglardi is not sure when they will see a return on their investment. “My father’s heard me say, ‘I told you so’ a couple of times,” he adds. “We would have made way more money in our main industry.”

He laughs and admits it doesn’t help that he skis “like a hockey player.” Gaglardi returns to the topics of his favourite game and the notion of change. While watching his team in Dallas his box will buzz with around 20 people; in Kamloops it will be him, only – and some Molson Canadian. “Socializing is part of what I signed up for and I get that,” Gaglardi concludes, “but I’m just as happy to sit by myself. I guess you’re just different over time.”