Finalist

Harley Hotchkiss: Finding practical solutions to everyday problems

CALGARY — The Globe and Mail

Harley Hotchkiss, is a Canadian businessman who lives in Calgary, AB and is part owner of the Calgary Flames. Hotchkiss is a Companion of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Alberta Order of Excellence. He was photographed in his home on Wednesday, December 22, 2010. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

At 83, sports magnate, oil man and philanthropist Harley Hotchkiss has made a difference to his community in many ways, but the past year brought together both of his prime interests: hockey and medical research.

As a part owner of the Calgary Flames - one of six men who brought the National Hockey League franchise to town 30 years ago - he is acutely aware that the prevalence of head injuries has become a major concern in the hockey world. So it is no coincidence that the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute is now conducting a study of body-checking and concussions at the peewee level.

Story continues below ad

"Hockey," says Mr. Hotchkiss, "is a heavy, hard physical game and we're not going to get [concussions]completely out, but I think the work we do … can have a positive, long-term impact."

He provided $10-million in seed money for the institute, which opened in 2004, on the condition that its researchers work hand-in-hand with clinicians - in the hope of improving patient care. His dedication to finding practical solutions to everyday problems was also behind Project 75 (now called the Seaman-Hotchkiss Foundation), a not-for-profit fund that he and his Flames partners established in 1980 to underwrite the cost of grassroots hockey initiatives, supporting everything from education to major infrastructure projects.

Born in Tillsonburg, Ont., and a graduate of Michigan State University, Mr. Hotchkiss moved to Calgary in the 1950s and soon became a major figure in the oil patch. But he came to true prominence when he and lifetime friend Daryl (Doc) Seaman were instrumental in shifting the NHL's Atlanta franchise to Calgary.

His NHL role expanded in the mid-1990s when, with the game in crisis in Canada, league commissioner Gary Bettman coaxed him into becoming chairman of the NHL's board of governors. The problem was the significant discrepancy between the value the Canadian and U.S. currencies. Then, as now, most costs, including player salaries, were factored in U.S. dollars but revenues - largely gate receipts - were earned in the significantly lower Canadian dollar.

The two men persuaded the rest of the league to shore up small-market teams, which were bleeding red ink, by introducing the Canadian currency assistance program. Mr. Bettman says the calm and reasoned approach of Mr. Hotchkiss was a primary factor in keeping the program alive long enough for the loonie to recover - and today the Canadian franchises are among the most valuable in the league.

"Harley was instrumental in making sure that Canadian teams would hang in there, so there would be something left to save," Mr. Bettman said. "Giving something back has always been his priority.

"I don't know anybody … with better values, or who is more concerned with his community and family, than Harley Hotchkiss."

This sentiment is echoed by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who worked closely with Mr. Hotchkiss as the league's senior vice-president of hockey operations. While in Calgary this month, he and former Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher spent 90 minutes with Mr. Hotchkiss, who is now battling cancer.

"Harley's a guy I wish I was more like," Mr. Burke says. "He's a gentleman who has managed to keep his priorities straight and still be highly successful. His ethical code is beyond reproach. I would make any kind of deal with Harley Hotchkiss on a handshake. His word is that good."







The Nation Builder

Harley Hotchkiss held six two-year terms as the chairman of the NHL's board of governors. He pushed for the Canadian currency-assistance program which, in the era of the 62-cent dollar, contributed to the survival of NHL hockey in Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. He spent five years as chairman of the Foothills Provincial General Hospital board in Calgary and six years as chairman and trustee of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. More recently, he was a founding member and past chairman of the Hotchkiss Brain Foundation.

The nation building

Mr. Hotchkiss has been a philanthropist throughout his adult life, with a particular achievements in both health care and amateur sport. His donation of $10-million helped to launch the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. The Seaman-Hotchkiss Fund made a $1-million contribution to the 18,000-square-foot facility in Toronto that will house the Maple Leafs' practice facility and Hockey Canada's Ontario office as well as the Hockey Hall of Fame's archives and research centre.

The next step

On the health-care front, Mr. Hotchkiss believes that there is a need to keep medical treatment accessible to all, while at the same time preventing costs from choking the system. "One thing that's happened in our province is we've swung almost too much to the cost side. … I come from the school that having community leaders involved in the health-care system is helpful and healthy and it's politically smart." He concluded: "I want to beat Edmonton every time on the ice. Off the ice, in health care, we need to find ways to work together."

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek