Banner year for Bernie Ashe

A man wearing a Redblacks jacket smiles and claps his hands. Stadium stands seen in the background are filled with fans.

“Had they not made accounting fun, I don’t know what I’d be doing today.”

—  Bernie Ashe 

By Sabrina Abraham

It’s not just his six-foot-seven frame that makes Bernie Ashe stand out, but also his ability to focus and be present. Even the Telfer alumnus (BAdm ’78), voted Ottawa’s 2015 CEO of the Year, attributes his accomplishments to this ability.

“It’s about being in the moment, in my humble opinion,” Ashe says. “It’s doing well what you are doing now.”

And Bernie Ashe does a lot. In the past three years alone, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) CEO has launched two pro sports teams and revitalized one of Ottawa’s major destinations.

Before that, from 1990-97, he was executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the Ottawa Senators. He helped bring a National Hockey League team back to the capital and build the arena now called the Canadian Tire Centre into a world-class venue.

“My seven years with the Senators were 14 years of work,” he says. “It was a grind.”

‘Moments of feeling terrified’

It’s not surprising that he admits to feeling some uncertainty when, in late December 2012, he was offered the job of overseeing OSEG. It was a daunting prospect that would involve managing the complicated Lansdowne Park redevelopment and three sports franchises (including the existing junior hockey team, the Ottawa 67’s).

“I had moments of feeling terrified, thinking to myself, ‘My God, can I do this again?’”

But do it again he did. Lansdowne Park’s 24,000-seat TD Place stadium and new 360,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment district are testament to that.

So, too, is the success of the city’s new Canadian Football League team, the Ottawa Redblacks, who made it all the way to the 2015 Grey Cup game in their second season. The new North American Soccer League team, the Ottawa Fury FC, has also become a source of city pride, competing in the league’s championship match at the end of their second year.

However, it’s not all glamour, Ashe says.

“It certainly is a cool industry, but it isn’t all fun. We track things. We measure things. It’s a business,” he says. “We had nine Redblacks sellouts in the first year and six in the second. But it is a business, and it’s hard to see empty seats. We live with that kind of anxiety all the time.”

Made accounting fun

Ashe originally set out on a completely different path. He enrolled in science at the University of Ottawa, intending to follow his older brother into medicine.

But a year into that program, he realized he was better suited to the world of business administration. While at the Telfer School of Management, he stayed active with intramural sports, winning a spot on the Gee-Gees men’s hockey team in his final year.

After graduating from Telfer, Ashe became a chartered accountant. He says he owes a great deal to his uOttawa accounting professors, David McConomy and the late Hodge Morrisey.

“Had they not made accounting fun, I don’t know what I’d be doing today,” he says.

Bernie Ashe receiving his Alumnus of the Year Award in 2015. Photo: Robert Lacombe

Community involvement

Beyond the business and sports spheres, Ashe has made his presence felt in the city through years of active community engagement. He earned the 2015 CEO of the Year award, a joint initiative of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and the Ottawa Business Journal, because of his “vision, passion and leadership in Ottawa,” which extend beyond his business interests.

Ashe serves on the board of Celebrations Ottawa, the organization planning events to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. In the past, he was a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Table on Homelessness. And over the past 14 years, as a trustee and former chairman of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, he has helped the hospital undergo two major restructurings.

“We are a village of people that need to help each other out,” he says. “One of the benefits of having worked in business is that you realize that a lot of the social institutions and organizations, such as in education and health care, don’t have access to that kind of business experience. I want to take that responsibility and help where I can.”

Ashe collected another accolade in 2015 when he received the uOttawa Alumni Association’s Alumnus of the Year Award in recognition of his outstanding business and community leadership. His continued involvement with Telfer includes taking part in the school’s mentorship program and CEO in Residence series.

What’s next for this accomplished alumnus? Learning to use social media and finally being present in that world, he admits.

“Since the day I joined OSEG, I’ve been wanting to get on Twitter. So here is my public commitment: I am going to be on Twitter by the time you read this.” 

Main photo:
CEO of the Year Bernie Ashe in TD Place stadium, centrepiece of the redeveloped Lansdowne Park. Photo: OSEG

Bernie Ashe speaks to a roomful of people seated at tables and listening attentively.

Bernie Ashe returned to his alma mater in March 2016 to speak at Telfer’s annual leadership discussion. His continued involvement with the school includes taking part in its mentorship program and CEO in Residence series. Photo: Mélanie Provencher 

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