While family members and friends fretted over impending surgery to remove a large tumor from his mid-brain, 21-year-old George Gosbee felt nothing but anger.
“I had a talk with my dad the night before the surgery and I said, ‘Dad, I’ve never seen Michael Jordan play. I’ve never even been to a Super Bowl,” Gosbee said Monday. “I was so mad. I felt ripped off. I was this young, ambitious guy, and while I understood everybody being concerned about me, there was just too much to do in life, so never did I doubt I’d come through it.”
Obviously, he did. And the guy that came out the other end of that “wake-up call” event adopted a supercharged, seize-the-day mentality that has fueled a dizzying 20-year career in corporate finance, investment banking and global capital markets.
“George is a guy that doesn’t like grass to grow under him,” said former Calgary Flames goaltender and decade-long friend Mike Vernon. “He just keeps moving forward — on to the next challenge.”
Most of those challenges have originated from his hometown of Calgary, where he is currently the chairman and CEO of AltaCorp Capital. But Gosbee’s old world and new one will collide when the Phoenix Coyotes host the Flames on Tuesday at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
“I think I got the jitters out when the Coyotes went to Calgary during the preseason, but you’re always going to be attached to the sports team you grew up with,” said Gosbee, a lifelong Flames fan who was there in 1989 when Vernon helped lead them to the Stanley Cup. “I’m always going to like the Flames.”
Calgary will probably always be home for Gosbee, who bought a new home there recently after his previous one was destroyed by floods in June. His wife, Karen, is searching for a second home in the Phoenix area while the family attempts to sell its other house in Palm Desert, Calif., and Gosbee noted there is no shortage of Albertans in the Valley. The family recently spent Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 14) with about “15 other Calgarian couples.”
But it will take some time for the Coyotes’ new co-owner to establish the roots and relationships that he has in Calgary.
“If I need help with anything in Alberta — Calgary in particular — I call George and he puts me in touch with the right people,” said Leo de Bever, the CEO of AIMCo, an investment management corporation on whose board Gosbee sits. “He knows everybody and he gets along with everybody. Alberta is a small, tight-knit society, so to have someone like that to lead you through it and tell you how it works is invaluable.”
It helped de Bever avoid a major brouhaha recently with the Wildrose Party, which de Bever describes as Alberta’s version of the Tea Party.
“They were about to go on a rampage against my company due to a misunderstanding about our intentions until he sat me down with the party leaders and diffused the whole thing,” de Bever said. “He knows all the politicians of the party in power here but he went to school with all the guys in the opposition party.”
Gosbee considers deal-making and compromise a necessity of life — a lesson hammered home by the unique layout of Calgary’s business community.
“You’ve got every major oil and gas company in the world within a 9-square-block radius,” he said. “You learn the skill of acting with integrity and trust really quickly or you get kicked out of the sandbox.”
While profit has obviously been a driving force in his ventures — and de Bever says Gosbee “seems to have the golden touch” where that is concerned — buying a hockey team creates a bit of a conflict.
“I think his passion for hockey will ensure that this won’t be his best investment because it’s not just about making money,” de Bever said, laughing. “He’ll probably spend money on this that he could have gotten a much better return on elsewhere. But I think George has reached a stage in life where he wants to have some fun. This is about applying his business acumen to something he’s passionate about.”
Gosbee still sees opportunity in this latest venture, which he views as buying a share in the league as much as it is buying a team. But there are challenges in a venture that is largely foreign to him, from increasing corporate sponsorships to increasing the franchise’s charitable and community presence.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s nothing like going to work every day with a steep learning curve, surrounding yourself with good people and then going after it.”
Gosbee, 44, admits that with three kids (John, Carter and Isla) and the arrival of middle age, some believe he has slowed down. But he still lists heli-skiing as his favorite activity. He still loves rock climbing and he still considers himself a “live sports junkie” who followed Jordan around to see his last game, attends Chelsea FC games and has seen two Olympic gold medal hockey games and five Winter Olympics overall.
“I didn’t think owning a hockey team could bring me this much energy,” he said. “I didn’t think I could get to a higher level of being a fan than I was already, but that last game against Detroit (Oct. 19), when all the owners were there and we were high-fiving and fist pumping, that was incredible.
“When you own a team, you feel more connected. You feel this obligation to perform because you want it to work for everyone involved: the investors, the management and coaches, the team and the fans. Maybe that’s why it feels so elevated.”