Burke brings more than hockey knowledge

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Brian Burke has been described in a lot of ways.

But the one word that kept rattling around in the cerebral cortex as he spoke in London Tuesday was "impressive." This guy is.

Who knows whether the president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs can turn that franchise around. But he's made a convert here. He's the right man to try. If he doesn't succeed, there may not be anyone who can.

Burke spoke to a group of businesspeople about building and sustaining a business. He's an intimidating man with strong opinions and a will to succeed. His speech was sprinkled with the kind of language you'd expect a hockey guy to use. His anecdotes were funny. His inside information was appreciated and his generosity in donating $15,000 to the Special Olympics was the kind of thing community leaders do.

His hockey success is extensive.

But it's going to take more than simple hockey knowledge to turn his franchise around and that's where Burke will make his mark.

It's going to take a change in company culture, attitude, approach and decision-making to produce a viable product.

The hockey man with a history degree from Providence College and a law degree from Harvard laid it on the line to the business community. This is what you have to do make your product and business successful.

It's what Burke is doing with the Maple Leafs.

Burke emphasized there was "really nothing new" in his message.

His message was reinforcing what a business needs to do.

Burke is assessing his own organization. When you look at the long list of important things that a rebuilding business needs, you recognize the Maple Leafs are lacking those elements.

Burke says character is the "backbone" of building a business or franchise.

He assesses intelligence; practicality and common sense; the resolve to work with what you have; determination; persistence and tenacity; the capacity for hard work; courage; usefulness and the ability to do more than one thing; positive attitude; coachability; selfishness; empathy; accountability; leadership and "followership."

"You don't just need leaders. You need followers," he said. "Not everyone wants to drive the bus. Some are happy to ride in it and are more than willing to help when you run out of gas."

In business if you can't fill in those boxes, your bottom line stinks.

Teams that are able to fill those boxes, win Stanley Cups. Those that don't, become the Maple Leafs.

He went on to say that after you assess character, you must get rid of the deadwood.

"It's the hardest job. It's a s----y job," Burke said. "We find a million human reasons to not make the tough decisions . . . Your business deserves better than that. Make the tough call."

While all the focus seems to be on who the Leafs will trade to prepare for the future, rebuilding is a much bigger job than that. Trades won't do much good if the Leafs continue to draft as they have.

Burke knows that in sound business model, a good infrastructure determines success or failure. Scouting is infrastructure.

"I'm assessing all that," Burke said. "I want to be fair to them."

Burke is a big believer in fairness, fairness in wages, promotions, assessments and in helping people get through tough times.

Burke talked about the three pillars of success he has for his hockey team.

"We want to play a style that's entertaining," he said. "We want to show fiscal responsibility because that's your money we're spending. We want community service. That's not optional. It's especially important in a smaller community."

Service to customers is also near the top of Burke's list.

"Experts will tell you that it's eight times harder to get a customer you had and lost than it is to get a new customer," he said. "You know what, that's bull---t. It's almost impossible to get a customer back. You've got that customer there, spending money. Their wallet is open. They are handing you money. Keep that customer."

If there's one thing the Maple Leafs do, it's keep customers. Leaf Nation may be volatile and starved for victory but they always come back, wallet open.

Burke is determined to give them something worthwhile to buy.


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