The Hockey News - Money & Power
ST. LOUIS BLUES
AN ADOLESCENCE AND adulthood involved in hockey – Tom Stillman was destined for that. An NHL owner? That was never in the plans. “I grew up in Minnesota where playing hockey was a way of life,” Stillman said. “I’ve loved the game since I was a little kid and was lucky enough to play it in college.”
In the early 1970s, Stillman was a forward at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he jokingly claims he was a Hart Trophy-type player before coming clean: “I’m really a lot like Father Time, moving at a glacial pace.”
After Middlebury, Stillman graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School and moved to New York, where he worked for the firm Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood. There, he played at the famous St. Nick’s Hockey Club (founded in 1896) with other former amateur players, including Chris Zimmerman, who would pop up later in his life. They competed against Princeton, Yale and other universities, as a pre-season warmup for those clubs. But as Stillman again reminded, “I wasn’t going pro.”
After six years, Stillman’s firm transferred him to Washington, D.C., where he met Mary Danforth, the daughter of three-term U.S. senator John Danforth from Missouri. They married in 1988 when Stillman also took a position with the U.S. department of commerce as chief counsel for export administration. The couple had the first of their three children in D.C., then decided to move to St. Louis.
In St. Louis, the heart of Anheuser-Busch country, in the mid-1990s, a time when the mega-brewery was dominating the beer scene, he purchased a distributorship called St. Louis Beer Sales (which he renamed Summit Distributing) and went head-to-head with the giant.
“A lot of people did question our sanity for doing that,” Stillman said. “A-B was very, very strong here, but it appeared to us that it would be hard for them to gain much more market share because they had so much and we thought there would be an opportunity to chip away at that.” Summit did more than chip away, adding Miller about four months after Stillman’s acquisition and climbing to the peak. In two decades, it has serviced 3,000 retail customers in seven Missouri counties with a portfolio of more than 700 brands of beer.
Meanwhile, Stillman retained his passion for hockey, playing in various pickup leagues, but he hadn’t considered becoming an owner. But in 2005, the Blues were for sale, and Stillman became involved in a group that was interested in buying the club. They lost out to another group led by Dave Checketts, but eventually Stillman was brought on board as a minority investor. He was frequently seen at practices, sipping coffee and peering from the seats. “I enjoy being around the rink, watching the drills,” Stillman said. “It’s miserable work, but somebody has to do it.”
In 2012, Checketts sold the Blues to Stillman and a group that included 15 other local investors: Jerald Kent, Donn Lux, James Cooper, Jo Ann Taylor Kindle, Steve Maritz, Edward Potter, Andrew and Barbara Taylor, David Steward, James Kavanaugh, John Danforth, Christopher Danforth, Jim Johnson III, Scott McCuaig, John Ross Jr. and Tom Schlafly.
“The group is very committed,” Stillman said. “Not only to the Blues, but to the city.”
In an era where many billionaire sports owners treat their franchises as lucrative assets, Stillman might be one of the few that has an office at the rink and goes there every day. Not only has his group built the Blues back into a competitive team, they’ve also renewed their community presence with the help of Zimmerman – re- member, Stillman’s teammate at St. Nick’s? – who is now the CEO of business operations.
And yes, at 67, Stillman still skates twice a week with Blues alumni, which sometimes includes Hall of Famer Peter Stastny. “He developed what he calls the Gordie Stillman hat trick,” Stillman said. “He says, ‘Tommy, it’s when you get a goal, an assist, then you get off the ice so somebody better can score!’ That’s pretty funny, but I do lead the league in certain stats, like giveaways. I’m a machine!” – JEREMY RUTHERFORD