John McLaughlin’s greatest challenge as a chief financial officer is wrapped in one of his greatest successes.
Some 2,000 people would eventually be tasked to work on getting B.C. ready to host the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. But in 2003, the current CFO of Concert Properties Ltd. became one of the first half-dozen people tapped to help deliver a good event, on time and on budget, without any scandals.
“The biggest single challenge in it came in 2008 when the financial crisis hit,” said McLaughlin, who served as executive vice-president and CFO of VANOC, the organizing committee for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, after two years working on the city’s bid.
It was T minus 16 months. McLaughlin’s team was set to deliver a master budget and comprehensive plan for all of the global sporting event’s business units.
“Then the crash happened, and we just had to say to the board, ‘Hey, we’ve got this plan but we no longer have any faith in it because we don’t know what’s going on in the world right now,’” he recalled.
The markets were in turmoil, investors were panicked and it was unclear what would happen in the weeks and months ahead. With a major sponsor on the brink of bankruptcy, and businesses and institutions of all kinds struggling with fallout from the crisis, McLaughlin had no option but to rewrite the plan for a new reality.
It was stressful, to say the least.
“In the end, it was mission accomplished,” McLaughlin said.
The 2010 Winter Games weren’t McLaughlin’s first experience managing the finances of a major event.
After completing his chartered accountant designation, travelling throughout the South Pacific for two years and working at a major accounting firm, McLaughlin was hired to help manage the finances involved with bringing the world’s fair to Vancouver, an opportunity that quickly saw him assume the role of managing entertainment finance.
“I thought I’d died and went to heaven; it was amazing,” he said with a laugh.
Expo 86 brought Russia’s legendary Kirov Ballet – now the Mariinsky Ballet – to North America for the first time in more than two decades. The La Scala opera company from Italy – which had never travelled – made the trip to Vancouver. There were high-quality street performers, a folk area, a stage for rock ’n’ roll. The Canada Pavilion alone featured 13,000 hours of performances.
While he had been sent by his boss to “rein in the flakes in entertainment,” McLaughlin instead gained insight that would serve him well throughout his career.
“I discovered quite quick the way to actually get something done is to really find out what they need, and make sure they get what they need,” said McLaughlin. Instead of reining in big spenders, he wound up supporting people who not only knew how to stretch dollars, but who understood the ins and outs of the entertainment world. And sometimes, that meant finding room in the budget for bottles of Jack Daniel’s if artists’ riders required them.
“We’re in rock ’n’ roll now, we have to do this kind of stuff,” recalled McLaughlin.
The role ultimately helped turbocharge his career – and a whole sector.
“Expo really did launch an industry for Vancouver and B.C. in terms of event experts.”
After Expo 86, McLaughlin went on to work as vice-president of finance and administration at Music ’91, a touring festival that brought acts including Johnny Cash and Crosby, Stills & Nash to B.C. He worked the Commonwealth Games when they came to Victoria in 1994.
His work with the Vancouver Winter Olympics earned him the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and he has since served the IOC’s evaluation commission as an expert adviser on finance and marketing.
In between his various roles, McLaughlin has found time to travel to nearly 60 countries, including an eight-month cycling trip from Asia to Europe.
Eight years ago, McLaughlin landed at Concert Properties, a company chaired by David Podmore, who was also involved in the success of Expo 86 and Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic bid.
“It’s meaningful because it’s important to our community – what we do, what we build,” McLaughlin said.
The company builds and operates multiple, multi-year residential projects; it has built and managed rental properties and owns nearly 90 industrial and office buildings.
Concert has recently got into operating seniors’ residences, and this year, as the company celebrates 30 years, will bring new announcements, community events and a company Ride to Conquer Cancer trip, in which McLaughlin will be riding.
“I think it keeps us all on our toes,” he said. “It’s always interesting.” •
Business in Vancouver and the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia will honour the province’s top CFOs at the BC CFO Awards gala dinner, being held June 6 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For more information or to register, go to biv.com/bc-cfo-awards.