The Hockey News - Money & Power
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
IN 1967, WHEN the Toronto Maple Leafs captured their most recent Stanley Cup, Lawrence M. Tanenbaum was playing a peripheral role in winning a title of his own. He was the student-manager of Cornell University’s Ken Drydenbackstopped team, a role he had served since his freshman year. Two of Tanenbaum’s self-professed passions guided his Ivy League career: building, which brought him to Cornell to pursue a degree in economics, and sports, which brought him to the door of legendary coach Ned Harkness, looking to attach himself to the hockey club any way he could. As Tanenbaum left the Big Red behind, his passions guided him down a path that eventually led to the Leafs.
Tanenbaum’s tenure with the Maple Leafs began in 1996 when he purchased a 12.5-percent share for $21 million. His influence helped facilitate the 1998 acquisition of the Toronto Raptors and the Air Canada Centre, when the former Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. rebranded to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE).
The club’s current ownership structure was configured in December 2011, when Canadian telecom titans Rogers Communications and Bell Canada purchased a majority stake in MLSE, each acquiring 37.5 percent for a total of 75 percent. The deal saw Tanenbaum retain his role as MLSE chairman – a title he’s held since 2003 – while giving Tanenbaum, through his company Kilmer Sports, a 25-percent share of the company, up from 20 percent.
Toronto’s legacy of Tanenbaum builders began with Larry’s grandfather Abraham, and then his fa-
ther, Max, who founded and prospered with York Steel during the city’s postwar building boom. Max purchased and revived Kilmer Van Nostrand out of bankruptcy in the late 1950s, and Larry took over the construction side of the business in 1968, expanding it into a prolific global enterprise.
Tanenbaum is shielded somewhat by the corporate veil provided by MLSE, Bell and Rogers – a luxury not afforded to many high-profile lightningrod owners. Team president Brendan Shanahan, hired in 2014, provides yet another layer of insulation. Tanenbaum shares the upper rung of MLSE with president-CEO Michael Friisdahl, Bell Canada CEO George Cope, Rogers chairman Edward Rogers, and Goodmans LLP chairman and NHL alternate governor Dale Lastman. Rounding out MLSE’s board of directors are Anthony Staffieri and David Miller of Rogers, and Bernard Le Duc and Glen Leblanc of Bell.
Despite Tanenbaum’s relatively low-key public presence, his fingerprints and blueprints cover the landscape of the city. And while the Leafs are MLSE’s most profitable franchise, the NBA’s Raptors have become a darling of the city, and it was Tanenbaum’s influence that brought the NBA to Canada in 1995. Prior to his involvement with the Leafs, Tanenbaum lobbied several franchises to relocate to Toronto. In doing so, he laid the groundwork for expansion and pulled strings to bring the Leafs and Raptors under the same ownership group and a shared arena. In 2017, Tanenbaum was named chairman of the NBA’s board of governors.
Though he operates the NHL’s second-most valuable franchise in hockey-centric Toronto, Tanenbaum avoids the spotlight. To little fanfare, he and his wife of 53 years, Judy, pour millions into philanthropic causes. He is a founding board member of Right to Play and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, has made major contributions to Canadian First Nations communities, and to medical research, including Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Recognizing his contributions to business and philanthropy, Tanenbaum was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2007, and in 2012 was bestowed an honorary law degree from the University of Toronto. When accepting the degree, he credited a tenet of his Jewish faith, “tikkun olam” – a directive to repair the world – as his guiding principle.
As the face of Maple Leafs ownership, Tanenbaum’s guiding principle is simple, and to diehards, perhaps more altruistic: bring Toronto its first Stanley Cup since his junior year at Cornell. – CASEY IPPOLITO