His main fear? That his successor will not keep up.
“When I leave, it has to be strong enough to not crumble,” he said. “One of my great challenges is for this castle to not fall apart in four or five years.”
‘He brings results’
Dressed in a lawyerly pinstripe suit, with three pins on his lapel (Order of Canada, National Order of Quebec and Olympic rings), Aubut moves swiftly as he gives a tour of his offices in Montreal, which will be officially inaugurated in the spring. Sweat is forming on his forehead as he describes how he had a hand in the nitty-gritty details of office design.
With a child’s energy he shows where the massive television screen will be located, points to the rooms where sports officials will meet, mentions how fundraisers will be held on the newly landscaped terrasse at a busy downtown intersection. He goes on to explain where he will put a treadmill and other exercise machines like those he has in all of his residences and workspaces, trying to get in shape.
It is an obvious contradiction: The rotund man who oversees an organization dedicated to ideals of fitness, strength and grace struggles to maintain his own health. “My biggest battle is against my weight,” he said. “I probably lost 2,000 pounds in my life. Up and down, up and down; that’s not real good.”
The fact he never seems to slow down is cause for concern. In addition to working for the COC, Aubut sits on a few boards and works full-time for the Heenan Blaikie law firm (the offices in Quebec City are still called Heenan Blaikie Aubut).
“We all think that his work rhythm versus his waist size isn’t a good equation, but that’s his way of doing things,” said Jean-Luc Brassard, a former Olympic mogul skier and medal winner who is assistant chef de mission of the Canadian delegation in Sochi.
Like many people, Brassard said, Aubut is far from perfect, but the upside of his style compensates for any downside.
“Sure, he loves the limelight,” Brassard said. But athletes can detect when someone tries to live off their work and sacrifices, he said, and wouldn’t tolerate Aubut if they felt he was an imposter. “We admire what he has done,” Brassard said. “He brings results.”
Although a federalist, Aubut has no overtly partisan leanings. Basically, he cozies up to whichever government happens to be in power, both in Ottawa and in the provinces.
The COC’s executive director of communications until recently was Dimitri Soudas, a former director of communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, while his manager of media relations, Jane Almeida, worked in former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty’s office – one Conservative and one Liberal. Chief executive officer Chris Overholt was a senior executive with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL. The COC recently hired Ray Lalonde, a former executive with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, to replace Soudas.
“I don’t compare to the average,” Aubut said. “We compare ourselves to the best. And then we become the comparator.”
There is an obvious overlap between Aubut’s volunteer work with the COC and his day job as a lawyer and deal maker.
By working in the Olympics, Aubut hobnobs with the world’s elite in splendid settings. They talk amateur sports, but also set up contacts that can eventually pay off. When he organized a 4,000-seat filet mignon feast in Quebec City in honour of former IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2012, the building was packed with one of the biggest contingents of CEOs and senior executives in Canada ever assembled.
Aubut, however, said “sports doesn’t bring a lot” to his legal career, “except for the national respect that comes with the function.” Although obviously wealthy – he is said to have pocketed $15-million on the sale of the Nordiques alone – he makes no apologies for his workaholic pace.
“I have to do both, given I’m still earning a living,” he said. “I get nothing here financially as the biggest volunteer, which doesn’t mean a lot when you go to the grocery store.”
Still, Aubut acknowledged he will always need to feel needed. Not only does he want to go out with a bang – to see high Canadian medal counts, to play every shift as if it were his last – he wants to remain at the centre of something big.
“I’d be unhappy, I think, if I lost this feeling that people need me,” he said. “I think I would feel a bit useless.”