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Geoffrey Molson by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Geoffrey Molson by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

the lunch

Geoff Molson: An entrepreneur with an eye for entertainment Add to ...

It has been an hour since our conversation started, and music has accompanied us all the way through the salmon tartare and the salmon filet Mr. Molson ordered in an Omega-3 splurge.

Geoff Molson readily admits he is no music connoisseur, even if the 43-year-old man with a boyish figure was crazy about Nirvana in his early 20s. Tellingly, he doesn’t even own an iPod or another portable music device. When he exercises, it’s accompanied by the same Tragically Hip and Eminem records he’s run to for the past three years – CDs that were forgotten at the Bell Centre gym, where all the hockey players bring their own music to work out. But repetition has its virtues. “That is where I do my best thinking,” he says.

His interest in the music industry is rooted in what he calls his entrepreneurial spirit. Evenko was a “coincidence” – something that came with the prized hockey team he dreamed of owning since he was a boy. But the Canadiens are a mature business, and this is a chance for Mr. Molson, who has worked for multinationals such as the family-controlled Molson Coors Brewing Co. or The Coca-Cola Co., to build something of his own.

“With the Canadiens, we can do things better but we can’t expand, really,” he says.

That is not to say that running the Canadiens is an easy job. There was the four-month NHL lockout which wreaked havoc in the 2012-2013 season, even if it has given the Canadiens predictability on the team’s all important payroll costs. “We know the math,” Mr. Molson says.

There is the intense scrutiny on the Canadiens’ performance, such as Carey Price’s uneven goal tending, about which Geoff Molson gets an earful at the amateur hockey rinks where he accompanies his three sons when they play hockey.

And there was the controversy over temporarily replacing head coach Jacques Martin by the unilingual Randy Cunneyworth – which became an “affaire d’État” or national crisis in Quebec. (The Montreal Gazette even lamented the team had given a Christmas gift to the separatist Parti Québécois.)

“I learned that our relationship with the fans is fragile. You always have to have your fan hat on,” Mr. Molson says. He has since won back the affection of Montrealers, who applauded spontaneously when he appeared on a giant screen at the men’s final of the Rogers Cup.

The Habs president believes that with the team being put together by general manager Marc Bergevin, the Canadiens now stand “in a good place.”

“I want to build a team that has a chance of winning the Cup every year even if, obviously, it doesn’t always happen that way,” Mr. Molson says.

In contrast, there is less pressure and possibly more upside to growing the CH Group into an entertainment giant, as Evenko is widening its reach by managing artists, such as comedian Philippe Bond. “If you land a Céline Dion, a 16-year-old phenom that wants to go under management with us, then you are laughing,” he says.

That ambition has put Mr. Molson on a collision course with Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Québecor Inc. vice-chairman whose company has launched a court challenge over the management contract for Place Bell, which the City of Laval granted to the CH Group. Mr. Péladeau is building his own amphitheater in Quebec City, and both groups are vying for the biggest artists and shows.

But Mr. Molson dismisses the notion that it’s a rivalry. “(Mr. Péladeau) may think differently than me, but I don’t see it that way,” he says. “My goal in life is not to beat others. I am thinking we have a nice business here, so let’s build it into a long term success.

“Our competitors,” he adds, “are on the ice.”

Which may explain why he advocates bringing the Nordiques back to Quebec City. The Canadiens are waiting.

 

CURRICULUM VITAE

Personal

Born July 23, 1970, in Montreal. The youngest son of Eric Molson and Jane Mitchell shares the controlling interest in the CH Group with his older brothers Andrew and Justin.

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Follow on Twitter: @S_Cousineau

 

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