Riding around in the back of the Canadian men’s ski team van and reading The Economist directed the course of Scott Hutcheson’s life.
He decided to go back to school – he’d dropped out to join the ski team – and learn what it takes to launch projects to profitability.
Hutcheson is a man who has stood at the intersection of business and sport for much of his life.
Those who know him say he has the skill set to shepherd a city to where both worlds fuse on a monolithic scale, which is an Olympic Games.
As chair of Calgary 2026, the bid corporation tasked with constructing a deal that business, government and the public will embrace, Hutcheson has a lot to do and little time to do it.
Calgary must decide by January if it will make a pitch for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. There will be a plebiscite later this year when the populace will give a thumbs up or thumbs down.
“It’s never safe to step out as a leader. It’s often got giant challenges,” Hutcheson told The Canadian Press on the 15th floor of The Edison, an office tower owned by his company Aspen Properties.
“If we get to put to bid in, I think Calgary has a fantastic opportunity, but we’ve got to get there. There’s a lot of hurdles between now and then. It’s not for the weak of stomach.”
You’d think a man who bought the Calgary Tower must be whimsical, but the 191-metre downtown tourist attraction came in a 2006 deal for a larger commercial property, to which the tower is attached.
“It’s a very tiny piece of the bigger investment,” Hutcheson said. “It kind of scared me to be honest because it’s a different business than commercial real estate. It’s a tourism destination.”
The 58-year-old from Huntsville, Ont., moved to Calgary to start his own company in 1998 after working in finance and commercial real estate in the U.S.
Aspen Properties owns and manages $1-billion in assets in Calgary and Edmonton. The Canadian Press rents space in the base of the tower for its Calgary bureau.
The commercial vacancy rate in Calgary hovers around 25 per cent. So what’s in it for Hutcheson, if the city pursues and wins the bid for 2026?
“I don’t know that Aspen gains necessarily,” he replied. “If we as Calgarians, whether we get the bid or not, can turn a conversation from the negative place our business community is today, to some dreams and some hope, I think the community can change some of the narrative.
“I would hope we put good numbers and good value propositions that are very believable and very accurate in front of our community and let the community assess that.”
Hutcheson is 2026 bid chair in part because John Furlong, the head the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Games, championed him.
“To me, the big test of leadership is, is anyone following?” Furlong said. “When Scott is at the front of the room, people are paying attention and they’re following.
“He has a way to take a room. He speaks thoughtfully. When he presents something, people tend to gather around it because they think it’s well thought-through.”
According to those who know him, Hutcheson speaks quietly, listens a lot and analyzes continuously.
“Scott’s one of those guys that has the highest form of intelligence, which is acute common sense,” said Bob Rooney, chief legal officer of Enbridge.
“You can get a lot of people that will overanalyze and go too far into esoteric issues and he can bring it back to what’s fundamentally important, to whatever issue you happen to be dealing with at the time.”
Added Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Sandip Lalli: “What he’s known for is a wholesome business leader with multiple industry experience and having the foundational experience as an athlete.”
You don’t take on a tilting-at-windmills project like an Olympic Games without loving sport.
Hutcheson has chaired and served on various boards running national sport, including WinSport, which oversees the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and Own The Podium, which directs funding and provides technical expertise in Canada’s high-performance sport system.
He’s also been a board member for the annual World Cup downhills at Lake Louise, Alta., where he and some Canadian ski legends raced in the first one in 1980.
Hutcheson doesn’t count himself among the Crazy Canucks. He says that title is reserved for six men – Steve Podborski, Ken Read, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Jim Hunter and Todd Brooker.
Hutcheson was primarily a slalom and giant slalom skier for Canada from 1978 to 1982, although he liked downhill too. He competed in all three disciplines at the 1982 world championship in Schladming, Austria.
“He’s a big strong guy. He was a power skier,” Podborski said. “He made it happen on the race course much the same way he does in business.”
Hutcheson’s father Bob put his son on skis, as the saying goes, as soon as he could walk.
Bob Hutcheson owned and operated several businesses in the Huntsville area. He and wife Jane volunteered at the ski venue, Nakiska Ski Resort, at the ’88 Games in Calgary.
Scott’s younger brother Blake was chief executive officer of Oxford Properties Group, but was recently named president and chief pensions officer for Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) that boasts $95-billion in assets.
After retiring from the Canadian team, Scott headed to the University of Utah where he raced on scholarship, finished his high school equivalency and obtained his first finance degree.
The father of two sons says the parallel between entrepreneurship and ski racing is managing risk in a healthy way.
That is also a requirement for a successful Winter Games bid.
“We’re built with healthy fear and unhealthy fear and when you’re hurdling down a ski hill at really fast speeds, you have to overcome some healthy fear and you have to work through that over time,” Hutcheson explained.
“Business is similar to being an athlete. You’d better take baby steps and if you take a leap too far ahead at any point in time, you can get yourself into trouble by taking risks that you’re not aware of.”