That Sudbury Sports Guy: The Ottawa Gee-Gees Hockey House, merging the worlds of Mike Corneau


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Like most young, talented Canadian hockey players, Mike Corneau did not make a living playing the sport that he loved — at least not long term.

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Yet strewn all across the landscape of his career are reminders and cross-connections of his time spent on the ice, in the dressing room, being part of so many teams along the way.

Now 42 years old, the leading scorer from the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats squad that posted an incredible 40-0-0 mark in NOJHL play in the 1999-2000 season has moved on, principal and co-founder of TCU Development Corporation in Ottawa.

The establishment of a real estate-based enterprise with former Ottawa Gee-Gees teammate Billy Triantafilos is rife with instances where the roads of hockey and business intersect for Corneau, who dabbled in the pros for a couple of seasons, following his graduation, before returning to the nation’s capital to begin what has been a fascinating journey.

“My experience as a hockey player, being part of a team environment, was unbelievably valuable,” Corneau suggested recently. “I don’t think that I would have the company and our team now that works so well together if I wasn’t part of that. I was able to see so many leaders, to interact with so many people.

“I take those bits and pieces from everybody and try and instil those values in people — and Billy is the same way.”

The irony of this story, perhaps, lies in the fact that the introduction to both his future entrepreneurial colleague, as well as the basic concept of property management, came courtesy of the Ottawa Gee-Gees Hockey House, the student-athlete accommodation that boasts many siblings at campuses right across Canada.

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“This was something I was doing at university more out of necessity; somebody had to take care of the Hockey House for the team,” laughed Corneau. “Somebody had to take the reins. I didn’t see that growing into a career at the time. I didn’t see it as more than a job to help out.”

In fact, even as he eased his way out of hockey, policing appeared to have the inside track in the area of career aspirations. Right place, right time, right confluence of factors: it all played in to what became the enterprise that now oversees some $500 million in real estate development, as well as the management of a projected $1 billion in assets.

“When I came back (to Ottawa), I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some people who were doing real estate development and suddenly that experience that I had at university started to make sense,” said Corneau. “Student housing was something that I knew well.”

Before long, Billy and Mike were doing enough in that industry to justify their roles as a legitimate sources of information.

“We were kind of doing it on the side, just investing for ourselves, and friends and family would kind of pick our brains,” said Corneau, who has seen almost his entire family make their way from Greater Sudbury to Ottawa.

“But they needed more than just a little information over a cup of coffee; they were looking for someone to do it for them. That’s how we took on our first clients — and it went really well.”

As in Connor McDavid can play hockey really well.

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Well, OK — that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But the fact is that Corneau and Triantafilos were clearly onto something. Taking from the words of their own website, the company grew exponentially.

“The plan was to work on our own assets and to have people join us,” said Corneau. “But it grew into larger developments and we had to bring in partners to join us. Then in order to make projects viable, we had to take on larger projects where we benefit from economies of scale, where we benefit from some of the fixed costs.

“It allowed us to hit the profitability levels that we wanted for ourselves and our investors.”

It might sound like it’s all about the business, for the local hockey talent made good. But a cornerstone of their work, right from the start, has been viewing the tenants as critical components of their team.

“Billy and I see eye to eye on this — a lot of this is how we treat people,” said Corneau. “We try and take a really caring approach with the people in the buildings, and they see that. It’s not just about collecting a rent for us.”

Much the same as team success, in any sport, is so often build on the ability to tap into contributions from every single athlete on the roster, this hockey based partnership has viewed their efforts as very much a win-win scenario. Make things better for one and things will be better for all.

“By being creative and resourceful, we felt that we could improve the quality of living,” said Corneau, as TCU continues to make inroads in terms of their philanthropic involvement in the community, including their support of Ottawa Gee Gees hockey. “We had learned what we liked and a lot of what we don’t like.

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“We felt that we could provide students and student athletes an environment which included what we did like.”

Though they are not alone in embracing the concept, they are at the forefront with their beliefs.

“The market is slowly changing, but I’m confident in saying that we are leading the charge in that area, talking to tenants who are going through challenging times,” said Corneau. “For the most part, if we take care of the people, they take care of the building.”

In a sense, Mike Corneau and Billy Triantafilos are earning a reputation as very good teammates, within a business context.

“Hockey players are extremely competitive,” Corneau noted, with a smile. “I took that pro athlete mentality and shifted it a little. My sport is now real estate development, so I’m completely dedicating myself to that.”

Randy Pascal’s That Sudbury Sports Guy column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star.

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