Toronto Through the Eyes of Ian Clarke
It's the off-season for Ian Clarke, the man in charge of the money for the Raptors and the Maple Leafs. Most summer days he trades in his suit for a short-sleeved shirt, gold chain hanging on an open neck. In September, his suit and tie will make a comeback as Clarke attends nearly every hockey and basketball game of the season, schmoozing clients in the corporate suites he implemented, hanging in the VIP lounge and checking that beer service (another of Clarke's ideas) is fast flowing before grabbing a late-night dinner or drinks with his wife and some friends. With a life like this, it's hard not to like Toronto.
The Montreal native moved here in 1984, along with his girlfriend (now wife), a new Chartered Accountant designation, and the energy to "work hard and play harder." In 1990 he joined Maple Leaf Gardens Limited and rose up the ranks, financing the 1998 deal to buy out the Raptors and the Air Canada Centre.
As the Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Clarke, a father of two teenage sons, is one bean-counter that knows how to have a good time. "We're in the entertainment business so if you're not having fun here you should check your pulse," he says.
What neighborhood did you move to when you first came to Toronto and where do you live now?
Our first apartment was on Sherbourne and Bloor. It was quite a surprise to us after moving up from Montreal. The first night we go for a walk and we realize that it was an area frequented by prostitutes... Now we're settled in Pickering.
Why the GTA?
I grew up in Montreal in the suburbs. I don't have a cottage like a lot of people I work with so I find that it gives me the little breathing space, you get a little bit more backyard, have a pool. That's my oasis.
How do you get around the city?
I drive in and out everyday. A lot of times if one of my kids needs the car I'll take the subway which is what I like about living east-west, that's very frequent.
When you think of Toronto, what three words come to mind?
International. Big and busy. Conservative.
In what ways is Toronto more conservative - as a Canadian city, a North American city, a world city?
I was making a comparison to Montreal, or to Vancouver or Calgary in terms of maybe a little bit more focus on business; A little bit more straight-laced.
What's your favourite building in Toronto?
I know the one it's gonna be, it's gonna be Maple Leaf Square.
What do you do in the city after dark?
You know, Spice Route's nice, different places. Our season starts in September we've got 200 nights a year that we're busy in our facility. So a lot of times I'll be around, I'll say hello to acquaintances, I'll say hello to season seat holders, I'll visit people in their suites. Then afterwards, if my wife is with me, we'll go out for dinner somewhere... and have a drink with our friends. The Danforth is one area that stays open a little late. The Keg on York Street's nice, there's a couple of places that stay open late downtown.
You've got a job that a lot of Toronto sports fan and business kids would dream about. What advice do you have for them?
I always say to my guys, my kids, you've gotta aim high. It's like a ladder. If you aim for the top rung and you only get half way at least you're off the ground. My other saying is you can't soar with the eagles if you're playing with the pigeons.
Do you have a place in Toronto that you think Torontonians should know about?
What I find fascinating - and my wife always laughs at me - because I always say, "well let's go down to the Science Centre."
Where do you go to find nature?
In the GTA we have some of the best golf courses and I'm an avid golfer. That's another thing that rejuvenates me, because there's nothing like nature... and getting frustrated by trying to hit a little white ball.
If you could tell City Hall to do one thing right now, what would it be?
Tax levels are always perceived as being too high, so how do Torontonians feel about the value of their tax dollar versus the services they get? There are things like this recent strike... How do you start to reign in some costs and show Torontonians that you're spending wisely?
Do you feel like Torontonians are getting value for money from City Council?
I think there are areas that, like all businesses, you can be a little bit more efficient... And the problem is you have to have strong leaders that will take the pain for that gain and it's not going to be immediate.
There's a popular belief here in Toronto, that a lot of Americans don't want to play in Canada, for Canadian teams, do you think that has legs?
In hockey I still think the Maple Leafs are the Mecca of where someone wants to play. I think it's more people saying that about basketball players.... Some players were concerned over the perceived tax rates, because if you're in Florida there aren't any state income taxes so you have to talk about structuring things properly and what is that true difference in take-home pay. But I think more and more, you're hearing it from Turkoglu, you just heard it from O'Neal when he came up, there are players that love to come up here for Caribana, for all the things that this city presents. The Greek community, the Turkish community... That's the great thing about Toronto, you've got these communities but you can be different and you can respect people. Whereas in the States you've got a melting pot and you don't have that necessary respect. So I think that chasm is being narrowed.
Rogers is cutting costs for the Blue Jays and tried to trade one of their star players, pitcher Roy Halladay. How are you guys dealing with economic pressure? Should fans be worried about the status of the top players on the Leafs and the Raptors?
No, we're definitely not taking that tact. Yes, we've instituted cost reduction program in our company but we've done it like other companies where you take a look at your travel, entertainment, your overhead expenses and you try to control it.
One of our main tenets is being dedicated to our teams and we've gone to both of our general managers and told them to spend right up to the [salary] cap level and in basketball we've allowed Brian to spend right up to the [luxury] tax level. Each year we're trying to give our general managers the necessary tools to win. We haven't been successful in the last couple of years. I've been here for 19 years... and winning is good business for us... We're getting there. I like the two GM's we have, the two Brians, they've both made some strong moves this summer... It's a construction job to create and rebuild the teams.
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