A Toronto businessman for the last 30-plus years, Jamie Coatsworth had spent enough time in meetings that sitting on a board wasn’t high on his post-retirement ‘to-do’ list. Helping not-for-profits was, and upon offering his services to Cross Country Canada (CCC) when he retired three years ago — working with executive director Davin MacIntosh on a non-taxable trust for national-team athletes — Coatsworth suddenly found himself interested in joining its board.
MacIntosh had urged him to do so, Coatsworth explained on the phone Thursday from Toronto.
“He said, where we really need help with your kind of background is on the board,” recalled Coatsworth, a commerce-and-consultant specialist who spent 29 years as a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the world’s second-largest professional services network. “I said OK. I hadn’t been looking for board position. I was more into not-for-profit and project work.”
But in 2012, CCC’s nominating committee approved Coatsworth’s candidacy for director and he was subsequently elected to the organization’s nine-person board of directors.
Two years later, he’s the president.
Coatsworth explained his rise to chair/president of the board materialized over the last couple weeks and was far from preplanned. The board sensed that former president Richard Lemoine would resign from his position rather than be re-considered for another two-year term. Coatsworth said he looked around the room and spoke with fellow board members about who might step up to fill the volunteer role.
Nobody raised their hand, so he said he’d do it, Coatsworth explained. Recommended by the divisional chairs from CCC’s participating provinces and territories, his bid for president was supported by the board and officially approved last Saturday at the Annual General Meeting in Canmore, Alberta. While acting chair Jim McCarthy filled in for the last few weeks, Coatsworth’s two-year presidency went into effect immediately on June 14. There was no need for a vote, Coatsworth said, because the position was open.
“Looking at my professional background, I think I could do a pretty good job,” he said.
A recreational skier with a longstanding interest in the sport and Canada’s top athletes, Coatsworth has privately sponsored a number of Canadian skiers since after the 2002 Olympics, starting with the second-ranked skier on the team: Sara Renner (he figured No. 1 Beckie Scott was well enough off after earning gold in Salt Lake).
Rather than give what he considered “at the time, a fairly modest amount of money” to an organization alone, he figured it would be better spent directly going to the athletes. He called up CCC in 2002 to figure out how to do just that and has been financially supporting athletes ever since.
Coatsworth currently sponsors World Cup Team members Devon Kershaw and Lenny Valjas, and also backed the now-retired Dasha Gaiazova and Chandra Crawford’s Fast and Female enterprise. While some athletes might mention his name on their websites, Coatsworth said he was never “looking to broadcast it too widely. All these kids could use a hand.”
He also gives money to Cross Country Canada “as I always have,” he explained. “I give some money to a couple of other clubs that have racing teams — Hardwood Hills, where my wife and I ski. I give some money to them a couple of other clubs, plus some athletes, a couple on the World Cup Team, several athletes on the [Alberta World Cup] Academy, and a couple people that are not on either [the national team or training centres].”
While his support of athletes is widespread, he said his personal sponsorships aren’t major dollars. Still, the gesture has helped connect him with CCC’s developing and elite skiers.
“Through these sponsorships I’ve gotten to know [certain athletes], gotten to enjoy them, follow their racing … kind of cheerlead,” he added. “Next thing you know I’m on the board and next thing, I’m chair.”
Before joining the board in 2012, Coatsworth specifically asked MacIntosh if his sponsorships might be a conflict of interest. MacIntosh said no, because the board is not involved in day-to-day management of the national team, or decisions like team selections or carding.
Coatsworth explained that he plans to be “quite vocal” about his personal sponsorships and steer clear of anything that might be a potential conflict. As chair, he is automatically on the high-performance committee, which selects national-team athletes at the end of the season, for example, but Coatsworth said he’ll “absolutely refuse myself from any decisions there.”
Aside from appointing Coatsworth, the board elected two new directors to the board — Dorothy Lothian and Jennifer Tomlinson — to replace outgoing members Mike Norton and Rhonda Jewett.
Asked about his relationship with MacIntosh, which Lemoine cited as a primary source of tension in his two years as president, Coatsworth said it was good — “I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” he said.
At the same time, he pointed out he’s “not quite 30 years older” than MacIntosh, so his advice isn’t exactly fatherly, but it does come with years of business experience, specifically with company management restructuring.
“One of the things we’ll be a little more rigid about it going forward is sticking to our governance role of management,” Coatsworth said of the CCC board. “Our job as the board is to set policies and hire a [CEO] to run the business.”
In that sense, he said it’s up to MacIntosh to take actions where appropriate — and when it’s not appropriate, make the call to ask the board to weigh in.
Leading a policy governed board during the start of an Olympic cycle, when a “big chunk” of funding is determined by how the government views a sports entity’s medal potential, may not be the easiest thing to jump into — especially after Canada’s cross-country skiers failed to medal at the 2014 Sochi Games. But that’s where Coatsworth’s expertise as a previous member of CCC’s finance and marketing-fundraising committees might come in.
“Our funding from Own The Podium (OTP) for able-bodied has been cut back a bit,” Coatsworth said. “You scale back on some things.”
At the same time, OTP’s funding is more or less a lump sum intended for athletes’ training and competition expenses. With Gaiazova and Crawford retired from the World Cup Team and Perianne Jones now on the development team, Coatsworth said the number of World Cup athletes has gone from seven to four, which lessens the blow of reduced funds for those athletes.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal — it’s not like we don’t have the resources to do what we want to do,” he said. “It’s no real surprise frankly, and we’ve still got sufficient funding to do what we want to do for athletes who are going to be challenging for World Championships.”
Perhaps CCC’s biggest challenge is filling out its World Cup Team with up-and-coming talent that can be competitive in Europe.
“We’ve got a lot of talented athletes below the World Cup Team,” Coatsworth observed. “How do we get them the experience, the coaching … so that in South Korea [at the 2018 Olympics] it’s not just people like Alex Harvey who are competitive? … How do we get those people up a level? That’s the big challenge going forward.”
Most recently, Coatsworth was president of an insurance-consulting business called Nordic Insurance — pure coincidence, he said of the name. He did not insure nordic skiers.
“That company was named and formed before I got involved with any sponsorship of athletes,” he said of the business, which involved his consulting arrangement with PwC. “Going back to my squash-playing days, I had a nickname: the Nordic Butcher.”
Why? “Blond hair flailing around the squash pit,” he said.
Appointed president on Saturday, Coatsworth flew from Canmore to Toronto on Tuesday. He usually makes the trip west to CCC’s headquarters three times a year for meetings and said it’s “to be determined” what kind of travel and time commitment his position as chair requires.
In the past, both Lemoine and MacIntosh worked closely with the Canadian Snowsports Organization, Canadian Olympic Committee and International Ski Federation (FIS), for example.
“Richard had a much deeper background in ski racing than me,” he said of Lemoine’s race organization and timing experience, as well as years serving Cross Country Ontario. “I’m a recreational skier so I don’t have that background or that knowledge to the extent that the chair should be to be involved … It may well be [appropriate] for somebody else on our board to be sitting on those committees.”
Coatsworth said someone like Al Pilcher, a two-time Olympic nordic skier (in ’88 and ’92) who’s more familiar with these organizations, might be a better fit.
“I spoke with Davin MacIntosh and I said, you tell me where you need me and I’ll be there,” he said. And if he’s not the right person, he’ll seek out another board member.
“It’s a challenge for all of us,” Coatsworth said. “Whether it’s somebody new in the position … there are lots of things that need to be done, lots of decisions that need to be made. We’ve already gone to Davin said here are the challenges and issues as we see them. We want to see what your plan is dealing with these.”
From there, the board will determine how they can support their CCC team.
“When you get a change like this you have to say … what do we need to change,” he added. “We’ve got lots of people with different backgrounds that can help with these things and we’ll do that.”