CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie reflects on his time as a Bison and Asper student
You might think the Canadian Football League’s newest commissioner enjoys telling the story of how he flunked his first accounting exam.
With obvious relish, Randy Ambrosie [BComm(Hons)/87] describes how he showed up at the University of Manitoba’s management library the day of the test “without having so much as cracked the spine of the textbook.”
Settling into a seat next to his future wife Barb, a fellow BComm student, he opened the book to the first page, turned to her, and asked her what a debit was.
“She looked me dead in the eye and said ‘Get – away – from me.’”
Ambrosie, who was named the CFL’s newest commissioner in June, says the experience of failing that exam taught him an important, if obvious, lesson in the value of preparation – a lesson that later served him well as he made a name for himself on the gridiron and in the executive boardroom.
“Bottom line is, if you show up prepared, you have a much better chance of success,” he says. “That goes with football or any athletic pursuit: you have to practice, practice, practice before you play – especially if you want to win. That’s the standard to which I hold myself, and my executive team. When we go into meetings, we go in prepared.”
Ambrosie’s new job with the CFL follows a 25-year career in the investment industry. During that time he held senior management roles at independent and bank-owned wealth management firms such as AGF, HSBC Securities, CIBC Wood Gundy, Merrill Lynch, and Midland Walwyn. As CEO and president of 3Macs (MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier Inc.), he steered the long-term growth strategy that led the company to the forefront of the Canadian investment industry.
Prior to that, he played in the CFL for nine seasons. He was a Grey Cup champion with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1993. He was the Bisons’ highest ever CFL draft pick when the Eskimos selected him in 1985.
It was football glory that brought Ambrosie to the U of M. At first, a business degree was merely a means to that end.
“My brother, who also played football at the U of M, said, ‘You need an education to play football, not the other way around.’ I picked business because it felt like a natural fit. My dad was a successful businessman. It was the environment I grew up in.”
As he matured over the course of his studies, Ambrosie says, he started to take his business degree more seriously. “The people I admired most were in business and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Football may be glorious but the game doesn’t last forever, and I wanted something in place for when I couldn’t play any more. I wanted to learn how to be good leader, to help others succeed.”
One of Ambrosie’s role models was former Asper prof Ross Henderson. It was in Henderson’s Business Policy course that Ambrosie received another lesson in preparation.
“You couldn’t come into his class unprepared or he’d sniff you out and put you on the spot. I admired him a great deal. I don’t think I’m alone in this. He truly set the standard for the kind of professional I wanted to become.”
Henderson also taught Ambrosie the power of the personal touch.
“On the first day of class he asked each of us our name. He’d memorized them by the second class. It’s a skill I made a point of learning.”
Ambrosie says he owes much of his success to the moment he recognized how football could create networking opportunities that helped advance his business career. Far from being mutually exclusive, the two goals – football glory and business success – fused for a time, each pushing the other forward. “It all blurred together,” he says. “I’d wear my business suit to afternoon football practice, get changed, and head out onto the field.” Once his football career ended, he was able to jump right into business.
However, the greatest outcome of his time at the U of M was neither his football career or his business success.
“The best thing I got from my degree was my wife Barb,” he says. “We were friends in high school and started dating during our BComm degrees. We’ve been married now for 31 years. I love her every bit as much today as I did when I first met her.”