Driving Stamps forward

DAN TOTH, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

Ted Hellard tried retirement and (gasp!) it was worse than work. In fact, he loathed it. The 50-year-old entrepreneur, and co-founder of astonishingly successful Critical Mass, was living what most people would consider a dream lifestyle.

Happily married to wife Jackie, a former local golf pro, and financially set for life -- several lives, actually -- Hellard just couldn't stand an existence without a watch and dayplanner.

It's just one of many reasons the Calgarian recently joined forces with long-time friends, John Forzani and Doug Mitchell, to purchase the Calgary Stampeders CFL franchise.

"I tried it for a couple of years," explains Hellard, a natural busybody who filled his days with leisure activities, whiling away the hours on the golf course or tinkering with his cherished classic cars.

"For a couple of years, I went into a full retirement stage. It was all leisurely. Either golf or working on cars. I wasn't challenging my brain in any way, shape or form. Even though the last six weeks (finalizing the Stamps deal) has been very tiring, it's also been very rewarding because I feel like I'm challenging myself again, mentally. Somewhere in the middle is a good lifestyle, but I definitely shifted too far over.

"You'd be surprised when you take it easy how numbing it actually becomes. You're just not motivated."

He's now plenty motivated as interim president of the Stampeders, rolling up his sleeves to lift the once-proud franchise back on track.

This opportunity wouldn't be possible without his wildly successful, interactive marketing company Critical Mass, housed the last five years in a refurbished four-storey warehouse on 11 Ave. S.E.

The business consisted of just two employees when it first started 10 years ago but has since exploded into a world-class corporation employing 300, the vast majority from Calgary.

"People don't realize how incredibly high the creative design and technology talent is in Calgary," points out Hellard, whose globally recognized company boasts website clients as diverse and influential as Mercedes-Benz automobiles and Dell computers.

Hellard only spends about 10% of his time in the Critical Mass offices, maintaining contact with the company's direction via his role on the board of directors while occasionally providing input on major accounts.

When not working out of his spacious home office, Hellard is either relaxing at his potter's wheel or out in the garage, hovering over one of his 11 classic cars.

"I love cars, they're probably my biggest passion," says Hellard, whose hobby has advanced light years since he "walked away" from a '66 Rambler in college that refused to run.

"Mostly from the 1930s or '70s, the two sets of cars I focus on. I have hot rods that come straight out of the '30s. I have a '32 roadster, and a lot of muscle cars from the late '60s and early '70s."

Hellard was born in Ontario, one of six boys whose father was an air force mechanic. The family moved to Nova Scotia until Ted was 10, when they finally settled down in the Lakeview area of Calgary.

After attending Central Memorial high, Hellard followed his love of basketball to the U of C, where he played five seasons with the Dinos, which he candidly admits was his only reason for chasing a post-secondary education.

After struggling academically to stay afloat in any college that would have him, Hellard entered education, and eventually taught in Lacombe.

A school trip to Italy and Greece provided the germ for a business idea, a successful student travel company.

He eventually got his first taste of high-tech industry's potential by creating a golf instruction CD with Michel Clairo, a creative genius from Paris.

"We partnered up, worked out of a kitchen 10 years ago, and basically that was the creation of Critical Mass," Hellard explains.

"He was the creative person working on the golf instructional disc, and I was the project manager. We met there and decided to start a company together, and move forward from there. When we started, it was just the two of us."

Hellard has two teenage sons from his first marriage. Tyler, 19, is in college, and Ryan, 17, is a Grade 11 student who just happens to play defensive back for the Cochrane Cobras, alongside lineman Michael Forzani, John Forzani's son.

Hellard, and wife Jackie, also have a five-year-old daughter, Jamie Lee.

Another of Hellard's many interests is helping coach his son's team, earning with it an appreciation of football's complexities and how it relates to business.

A successful football team relies on many of the same concepts that helped Critical Mass develop a winning record.

"We have a lot of superstars at Critical Mass, but ultimately, if they don't work together as a unit, the product we push out won't be satisfactory to the client," Hellard insists.

"It won't matter how good the superstars might have been in the middle of the process, if you don't work together, it will be a failure."


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