Scott Saxberg has come full circle.
Starting as a teenager in the 1980s, Mr. Saxberg worked for several seasons with the Winnipeg Jets – the old Jets – the NHL team of Hawerchuk, Steen and Babych, the team that broke a city’s heart when it was packed up and shipped off to the Arizona desert in 1996.
Last year, he joined a Calgary-based group of oil barons that assembled a bid for the money-losing club that those Jets became, the Phoenix Coyotes. He is now part owner of the franchise, which aims to grow a fan base in a cactus-dotted region that has been slow to embrace the sport.
In the time between the two events, the Manitoba-born engineer built Crescent Point Energy Corp. from a junior oil company into the dominant driller and producer of crude in the part of the Bakken shale formation that juts up into Canada, and a growing player in the main part of the red-hot prospect in North Dakota.
Crescent Point began operations in 2001 and within two years converted to an income trust and went on a shopping spree for oil assets. In 2009, it converted back into a dividend-paying corporation and made several more acquisitions. Since then, production has more than doubled and Crescent Point is now Canada’s ninth-most valuable energy company. Mr.
Saxberg eschews top-down formality, encouraging staff to talk often with senior executives so ideas don’t get bogged down in bureaucracy.
Today he is in the bustling Oyster Bar on the Stephen Avenue. level at Catch in downtown Calgary. The reservations were initially made for the more-refined second floor of the establishment, a go-to venue for serious business lunches. But he called an audible at the last minute to move the meal downstairs, opting for fish and chips in what he describes as a less hoity-toity atmosphere. As is normal for the youthful 45-year-old, he’s left his tie at home.
Like any red-blooded Canadian, the engineer-by-trade says he grew up as a hockey nut. As a young man working for the Jets, he co-ordinated the game video that the players use to study and prepare for opponents. But he had no long-term designs on being a sport franchise owner before joining the group led by Calgary financier George Gosbee, chairman of AltaCorp Capital.
“So it’s sort of an interesting circle of events. I’m a hockey fan. I play hockey. My kids play hockey. I have an understanding of the NHL, with the inner workings of the team. I was there (with the Jets) six years. So I wasn’t afraid from that perspective,” he says amid the lunchtime din. “And the way the deal was structured it was a very good deal. It’s a risky deal – like we could lose all our money. But I looked at it as a great leverage into other business opportunities.”
The group includes several other oil men, including RMP Energy’s Craig Stewart, Bonterra Energy’s George Fink and Anadarko Petroleum’s Bob Gwin. They bought the Coyotes last August in a $170-million (U.S.) deal.
Former Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Vernon, whose son plays hockey with Mr. Saxberg’s, alerted him to the opportunity about a year ago. The oil man told him to have Mr. Gosbee call him and the two met a couple weeks later to discuss the idea.
“To be honest, I looked at it and thought it was crazy. It’s a lot of money and it’s pretty risky,” he said. “But I told him to keep me in the loop and I’d do some work on it. I did more research and when we walked through the deal terms, it resonated with me.”
That was because of a key aspect that allowed the group to get bank debt based on a long-term contract with the Phoenix-area suburb of Glendale, Ariz., where the team plays. That measure was strikingly similar to a deal he watched a wealthy friend complete years earlier for supplying electricity to Seattle – realizing value from the security of the franchise. “I always remembered that,” he said.