Paul Godfrey, currently Chief Executive Officer of Postmedia
– the nationwide chain of newspapers - is whom one might call a Renaissance Man, having held careers in the newspaper business, professional sports management, and politics.
During his former career as Toronto’s Metro Chairman, he helped to lobby for a Major League Baseball team to come to Toronto. It was a dream come true when the Blue Jays played and won their first home game on a snowy day, April 7, 1977, at Exhibition Stadium.
He owns a miniature scale model of Toronto’s SkyDome (now known as the
Rogers Center), with a retractable dome, that he comes by honestly. In 1984, he joined the Stadium Corporation of Ontario committee, whose mandate was to choose the location and design for a new domed stadium, that would eventually become the SkyDome.
He eventually assumed the helm as the Jays’ team President and Chief Executive Officer in 2000. One report said that, under his purview, attendance increased from 1.6 million to 2.4 million over the eight-year period that he directed. Previously, there had been many years of decline and disinterest since the strike in 1994.
And, if Godfrey had his way, there would be a National Football League franchise in Toronto as well, a goal he continues to lobby for.
Add hockey to the mix, and it is Paul Henderson’s winning goal in the deciding game eight of the 1972 Canada-Soviet series that he considers Canada’s finest hour. “It united the country at that time.”
What led him to managing sports teams and a media chain had been a logical progression of political involvement, beginning with managing works on a city level.
After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1962 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering, it was only two years later that he entered politics in the now-defunct Borough of North York (before it became amalgamated into the City of Toronto.) He was elected as Councillor in 1964, and Alderman in 1966 and 1969. He was appointed Controller in 1970 and was re-elected in 1972.
A year later, the Metropolitan Toronto Council elected Godfrey as its Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, a position he held for four terms, a record 11 years. In 1990,he received the City of Toronto’s highest award, the Civic Award of Merit.
Being Chairman taught him what he cherishes most about Canada, and his lifelong home, Toronto.
“I believe that Toronto is the most livable and safest city in the world,” he says. “The crime rate in Toronto is low, and so is the relative level of poverty.”
He knows personally from where he speaks, having grown up in the College-Spadina area –close to the Kensington Market – with parents who lived near the poverty line.
With an innate sense of understanding the most economically vulnerable, scores of individuals have benefited from his philanthropic work with the Herbie Fund, a charity he and wife Gina initiated in 1979, and were involved with until 2015.
The Fund provides financial support so that children from around the world can receive life-saving surgical treatment at The Hospital for Sick Children. Operations include cardiac, plastic and neurosurgery, and separation of Siamese twins.
Thus far, seven hundred children from nearly ninety countries have been treated through The Herbie Fund – what is now perhaps Sick Kids’ most famous of charities - having raised $20 million thus far.
In a similar philanthropic vein, Godfrey has also been the Salvation Army’s National Spokesperson. This workdove tails nicely with his general feeling of what he believes is the greater human purpose: “To improve the on going quality of life and mankind.”
Godfrey left the political sphere to take on the role as Publisher and CEO of the Toronto Sun newspaper in 1984,where he stayed for sixteen years, when he was traded for the Blue Jays in 2000. While still at the Sun, his hard work and accomplishment over the decades was recognized with the highest civilian honor – he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, in 1999.
Those combined leadership positions helped him solidify his own understanding of what it takes to oversee a team.
“A great manager has great people skills. Getting people to work with you, rather than for you, is probably one of the most important things. When I interview people for my team, I don’t necessarily hire the smartest person, but the person with the best people skills. I think that’s the biggest differentiation point.
”Fast forward to the first day of 2009, having left the Jays, he went to bat as president of the National Post –twelve days before his seventieth birthday. Six months later,he took over its umbrella organization of eleven newspapers, CanWest Global Publishing, whose name was changed to Postmedia.
“Postmedia produces the best content, ever. We’re renowned for having the best columnists and we have been voted as having the World’s Best Designed Newspaper,” he says, unabashedly.
So while those might be objective, honest boasts,he’s wide open to hear the good as well as the bad, and encourages such with his team.
“I find that having served in public life that people always tell you what you want to hear. It could be praise on a speech, or a ballplayer getting praise for a play. Well, not every game is a great game. Business leaders have off days. My wife Gina of 49 years will tell me when I have flopped. Does that type of thing hurt? There’s a little dent. But I appreciate it more when I hear how I can improve. You need to hear criticism from the people you trust,” he notes.“And never let things go to your head when someone’s heaping praise on you. In every person’s life a little rain must fall. You have to make sure you don’t get too uppity,and don’t get too down on yourself when things aren’t going well.
”Ultimately, whatever one’s job in life is, there is something most meaningful - something more important than a career - that many lose sight of.
“Family is all that you have. Your job isn’t the most important thing. Your family is. I’ll try to adjust meetings for people if they have a conflicting family obligation. You get more out of your employees if you understand this, than you would if you decide to be tough on them.”
Godfrey, who has lifted himself up from poverty, won himself a place in distinguished city politics, managed major league's - and major newspapers - sees his accomplishments as the results of determination and sheer gumption.
“I have a great belief that man creates his own life for himself,” he says. “To some degree, everyone creates their own destiny. If you sit and allow things to happen around you, nothing will happen.”
Dave Gordon has penned more than a thousand articles, and more than five hundred editorials, on every topic imaginable. He writes regularly on domestic and international politics, current events, culture, relationship issues, and much more.
He has spent time in the newsrooms of the Toronto Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Baltimore Sun, National Post and eye Weekly.