When Chuck Lawson decided to open a chain of co-ed fitness centres he knew he needed a name or face that would appeal to British Columbians.
“My real estate agent said, ‘You should get somebody like Trevor Linden’s name on the club,’ ” Lawson recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh yeah, like that’s going to happen.’ ”
Lawson, president and chief executive officer of She’s Fit! health clubs, was not the first Vancouver-area businessman with eyes on bringing Linden – the most popular Canuck in history and a man so locally revered his name was bandied about for this fall’s mayoral campaign – into the mix. Linden, Lawson said, had already rejected “hundreds” of offers.
But Linden was intrigued by Lawson’s pitch and within the next year Club 16 Trevor Linden Fitness will open its sixth and seventh locations – part of Linden’s carefully managed post-hockey business career that included a highly visible role with eyewear provider Clearly Contacts.
Though it was Linden’s name that initially made him an attractive fit, Lawson said the two formed a true partnership.
He said Linden had his finger on everything, from choosing new locations to real estate negotiations.
And though Linden’s perceived lack of business experience has led some to question his appointment to the role of president of hockey operations for the Canucks, Lawson considers him an ideal fit due to his drive and business acumen.
“On many an occasion he has said to me, ‘Chuck, what else can I do?’ He really wants to be part of it all,” Lawson said.
Lawson was one of the few people Linden mentioned by name at a news conference Wednesday to discuss his new role. He thanked Lawson for his support and trumpeted what he learned from their venture.
“Through my 20 years as a player, 15 years with the [NHL Players’ Association] and my more recent work in growing and leading a private business, I believe I'm ready for this challenge,” Linden told reporters.
Lawson said Linden spoke with him about the Canucks job before he took it, though he – like Linden – wouldn’t disclose when the former player was first approached.
“I told him, ‘Do your due diligence, as you did with me and I’m sure you’ll come up with the right decision for you.’ And that’s the thing, he really is good at the due diligence. I know he thought about it a lot,” Lawson said.
Lawson doesn’t expect Linden to throw away his investment, though he obviously will not be as involved in the fitness centres as he has been. He expects he’ll update Linden on the business from time to time, but exactly how often is unclear.
When Linden wasn’t wrapped up in fitness centre business – or skiing or cycling, two noted passions – he also served as a pitchman for Clearly Contacts, appearing in commercials.
Roger Hardy, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, said more than 10,000 pairs of Linden-brand glasses have been sold. Sales have even outpaced Hardy’s own brand.
Hardy, with a laugh, said Linden became so identifiable with the company and was such a catalyst in its success that people would ask him what it was like to work for the former Canuck.
“As a businessman, I think he’s very well-respected. He’s well-liked. I think he’s got a very strong brand, not just in sport but in business as well,” Hardy said.
Arthur Griffiths, whose family owned the Canucks for more than two decades, said bringing Linden back was a smart move. He said Linden exudes a certain confidence and won’t be afraid to make tough decisions.
He said anyone questioning Linden’s off-ice ability only needs to look at the work he did to end the lockout, when he was president of the NHLPA in 2005.
“When the deal was done there was a massive, massive credit given by many players, owners and the league for what role [Linden] had in essentially building the bridge to bring the game back,” Griffiths said.