Blogs & Comment

New book scores a Hat Trick

Oilman Harley Hotchkiss writes about business, hockey, but mostly his various communities.
Too often business biographies dont connect with the average person. Oh sure, these budding tycoons often start out just like anybody else, but before you know it theyre rich, successful and putting on airs. By the book’s last page were left feeling like we dont really know the person we just spent several hours reading about, and, even more damning, we don’t care to. Fortunately, thats not the case with Hat Trick: A Life in the Hockey Rink, Oil Patch and Communityby Canadian oil-business veteran Harley Hotchkiss.
Certainly, the book, co-written by Paul Grescoe (who also helped pen Dick Haskaynes solid Northern Tigers), has all the typical trappings of a poor-boy-makes-good kind of story. Hotchkiss grew up on a depression-era farm in southern Ontario, loved hockey, went to school and eventually found enough success as an investor in the oil and gas industry that hes been able to give millions away to various organizations, as well as own a chunk of the NHLs Calgary Flames.
But details of Hotchkiss oil patch successes are relatively short in the book, which is really more about the people hes worked with rather than nitty-gritty details of how great his business ventures were. And it works. People are always more interesting than dry business tales, especially when the people are colourful folk such as Daryl Doc and Bryon B.J. Seaman, T. Boone Pickens and Nelson Skalbania, who was one of the first co-owners of the Flames along with Hotchkiss.
The Flames may have been dumped in the first round of this years playoffs, but theres more than enough tales about hockey and the business of hockey to keep fans amused between periods during the next two rounds. Especially enjoyable in light of Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillies attempt to land an NHL team is all the background wheeling and dealing Hotchkiss and his partnersand credit for getting the Flames has to go to the Seaman brotherswent through to move the team from Atlanta. The two situations are totally different, but provide an interesting comparison of the NHL at two very different times in its history.
But Gary Bettman haters beware. You may find newfound respect for a man many people openly despise, especially if you are a fan of the Flames, Edmonton Oilers or Ottawa Senators. Hotchkiss credits Bettman for helping to save all three teams. All the teams, including the American ones that were losing money themselves, coughed up money to support the Canadian teams through the Canadian currency assistance plan, recalls Hotchkiss. Ill be forever grateful to those American teams for doing that, and to Gary Bettman and his leadership team for doing that.
Not that Hotchkiss would have anything bad to say anyway. In conversation, Hotchkiss is unfailingly polite, even apologizing if he thinks hes rambling on a bit too long. He often ends his tales with phrases such as or so the story goes as if hes talking about events that may have happened to somebody else. And maybe he is in a way. It seems like Hotchkiss is a bit taken aback at how his career unfolded, crediting lady luck, his co-workers and his wife far more often than himself for any success hes had.
Indeed, there have been a few serendipitous momentsor turning points as Hotchkiss calls themthat have determined where hes ended up. It turns out that he never really intended to go into the oil and gas business; he never intended to be an NHL franchise owner; and he never intended to be NHL chairman, especially for 14 years. And he certainly never intended to write an autobiography. But he did. These endeavours werent exactly whims, but neither were they exactly planned.
One of my biggest challenges is that I find it hard to say no, says Hotchkiss. I dont like to get my name involved in something unless Im personally supportive of it and Ive got my own time, energy and resources committed to it. Im not a letterhead kind of a guy.
And yet, despite a business career that would consume most peoples time and energy, Hotchkiss devotes a large part of his book to the friends hes met over the years and his family. He admits he might have spent more time with his family, but hes spent enough that he doesnt feel the regrets that many businesspeople have. Theres no sense of having missed out on his family, his kids or outside interests. He understands that its knowing the people in your communitywhether its defined by a common kinship, interest or geographythat make a life worth living.
In the end, thats what makes Hotchkissand Hat Trickso likable.
Hat Trick: A Life in the Hockey Rink, Oil Patch and Communityby Harley Hotchkiss with Paul Grescoe, Dundurn Press, 2009, $36.
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