Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bomber acting CEO on reasons for taking a seemingly impossible job: 'I can make a difference'

We have just one question: Why?

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New CEO Wade Miller takes on challenge of fixing Blue

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New CEO Wade Miller takes on challenge of fixing Blue Photo Store

Let's begin here: Wade Miller doesn't need this.

You had only to observe over the last week the man's seemingly endless supply of finely tailored dress shirts -- each neatly monogrammed on the cuff with the initials 'W.M.' -- to understand this was not a guy who needed a job when the Blue Bombers board of directors asked Miller late last week to take over from Garth Buchko as the club's new CEO.

 

The elegant Tag Heuer watch Miller wears tucked discreetly beneath those monogrammed cuffs tells the rest of what you need to know about how little Miller needs the aggravation that has already come with being the new boss of singularly the most dysfunctional pro football team in Canada.

The watch, Miller explains, was a gift from a business partner and is cleverly inscribed 'XL XL' to mark the occasion upon which it was given -- Miller's naming by the Globe and Mail in 2007 as one of Canada's 'Top 40 under 40.'

The newspaper honour was testament to the successful business career Miller has built since retiring from the Bombers in 2005 after an unlikely 11-year football career.

Miller is the co-founder of Pinnacle Staffing, the biggest professional and executive recruiting firm in the province, and is also the founder of Elite Performance and Elite Sports Injury, which are local centres for high performance athletes.

Add to that a couple of Booster Juice franchises he also owns and it seems safe to say that even the considerable salary that is paid the Bombers CEO -- Buchko was getting paid north of $300,000 a year -- would not have been a driving motivation for Miller to take the Bombers CEO job.

'I don't see it as a risk, I see it as an opportunity. This is about the opportunity to help this franchise and help this community'

And that gets us from there to here. Why would Wade Miller -- heck, why would anyone who didn't need the money -- want to take on the leadership of a football team whose championship drought is well into its third decade and which is at the present moment 1-5 on the field and even more maladjusted off of it?

Because let's face it -- this mission Miller has chosen to accept does not come without grave risk to his own finely cultivated personal brand, not to mention his high-powered business career. Just look at what happened to Buchko, who was one of the most successful radio executives in Canada when he took the Bombers job, only to get run out of town barely a year later amidst a chorus of catcalls and criticism.

Wade Miller needs that? Like a hole in his not inconsiderable head. So one more time then: Why on earth, man, would you want this job?

"It's a challenge -- that I can make a difference and bring back that attitude and that winning culture that this organization has had for so many years. That's what I'm here for," Miller said in a one-on-one interview with the Free Press Thursday morning.

"I don't see it as a risk, I see it as an opportunity. This is about the opportunity to help this franchise and help this community. You know, I love the Jets. But when the Bombers win and this organization is going in the right direction, there's a different feel.

"This football team is a part of the fabric of our community," Miller continues. "I just think there's a pride that this is our team -- as a fan, as a sponsor and as a community -- it's our team."

It is perhaps precisely because ordinary Winnipeggers feel a sense of ownership of the Bombers that they don't for, say, the Jets, that emotions about the team run so high, in good times and, lately, mostly in bad.

You'd have to have a fair bit of self-confidence to want to take on the leadership of an organization like that and Miller has certainly never lacked for a belief in himself -- if for no other reason perhaps than there were times in his unlikely career when the diminutive player with no particular special talent was the only one who did believe in him.

Miller, 40, believes everything that has brought him to this point of his life -- his roots as a native Winnipegger, a playing career that put him in the franchise's Hall of Fame and now a business career -- makes him uniquely positioned to accomplish what everyone in his newest job has failed to do since 1990: Win a Grey Cup.

"My history and what I've done is much different than anyone else who has sat in this role for this organization," says Miller. "I have the experience of football -- 11 years as a player, coached, been through these situations before on that side of it. And I've started my own businesses -- multiple ones -- and it's a much different thing starting a business than running it...

"If you have a bad day as a football player, you get cut. So if you take that mindset into life, you can get a lot further ahead."

 

It is perhaps because of that unwavering belief in his own abilities that Miller rankles some people and is a bit of a polarizing figure in town. The people who don't like him think he's cocky, brash and crude. The people who love him think he's confident and a go-getter and says exactly what he thinks.

There doesn't appear to be any people in between. Here's a phrase you will never hear in this town -- "Wade Miller? I can take him or leave him."

Miller makes no apologies. "I know what I want and I'm driven to succeed and I'm very honest too. I'm just going to tell it like it is and that's not for everybody. But I'm very comfortable with who I am."

That may be, but is he still for the moment a bit uncomfortable with some of the demands of the new job he's taken on. He only reluctantly, for instance, did the short interview upon which this article is based -- and even then only after the better part of a week of prickly negotiations.

Personal questions raise his hackles. Asked where he lives, he'd narrow it down no further than 'south Winnipeg.' As for family, he's divorced and has a son, but asked that anything more personal than that be left out of this story.

He says, perhaps a bit naively, that this isn't about him, it's about the team. "In a week from now, no one is going to want to talk to me because they're just going to want to talk about football," Miller predicts.

Wanna bet?

"Our focus is a football team and a sports and entertainment centre and this amazing facility," Miller insists. "That's got to be our focus. The focus shouldn't be on me."

Alas, the focus is going to remain on where the buck stops last until the team on the field finally starts delivering.

That turnaround, says quarterback Buck Pierce, will require extraordinary leadership and he thinks Miller has the steely resolve that's going to be needed to make the hard decisions that are surely coming.

"There's no grey areas with Wade," Pierce said Thursday. "He's his own man, and he stands on his own two feet. He's learned a lot over the course of his life through football and through business. I think he fits the mould of a leader well."

Wade Miller wanted a challenge and he's got a formidable one on his hands. Never one to be outworked in his football career, he'll need to roll up those monogrammed cuffs to take on his newest assignement -- one that might yet prove to be the hardest job he's ever done.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2013 C2

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