President & CEO of Sports Direct
Interview with Dan Leblanc
From 2010-2015, Dan LeBlanc was the CEO and President of Halifax-based Sports Direct, a global leader in providing sports data and statistics for more than 50 leagues and 2,000 teams across the NFL, MLB, MBA, NHL, NCAA, soccer, golf, auto racing and tennis leagues. In 2015, Sports Direct was purchased by Gracenote, the world’s leading provider of sports and entertainment data.
It was a position almost tailor-made for Dan as it provided him the opportunity to pursue his three passions: Management, Technology and Sports.
We spoke to Dan and learned that Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's Univesity also afforded him the opportunity to pursue the same three passions. Read on to learn how his time at SMU enabled him to combine his interests and how that was instrumental in his career development.
Let’s start with the academic side of your experience at Sobey School of Business. Why did you choose to do your Executive MBA at SMU?
I was actually working out west, in IT, and I started doing consulting for Saint Mary’s. From there, I transitioned into a management position, on campus, in the IT department at SMU. I had always intended on pursuing my masters so, working at SMU, a school with an excellent reputation for its business program, was the perfect opportunity to pursue that goal.
So we have the management and the technology parts of your “three passions”. Where did the “sports” part come in at SMU?
While I was working and studying at SMU, I also spent three years as the assistant coach of the varsity hockey team. It was a great privilege to work with Trevor Steinburg, the varsity hockey coach at the time, who I actually knew from years ago playing junior hockey in Ontario. I had also played hockey when I went to university so being able to be part of the student athlete experience again, as a coach, added to my experience and I enjoyed being able to give a little bit back to the university.
For students who may not have discovered their passions so early on, how do you think SMU can help them realize their potential?
There are two things that really stand out for me as advantages to going to SMU. The first is the accessibility of the professors. When I was doing my masters, I actually had the president of the school at the time teach a course. This is a very unique opportunity - to have the president taking time out of his busy schedule to teach a course and be accessible. And all the profs were like that. You really get to know them, not just as teachers, but as mentors.
And what’s the second thing about SMU that you feel gives students an advantage?
Saint Mary’s was an early adopter of seeing the importance and opportunities around having a large body of international students on campus which has helped Halifax have an international focus. I’m a huge believer and proponent of Halifax as a city that can compete on the world market, and I really believe that SMU has that outlook woven into its fabric and that truly makes it a unique learning environment.
It sounds like SMU has really played a big role in your career development.
Definitely. In fact, it has played a big role with my entire family as three of my siblings have also graduated from SMU and have gone on to have successful careers pursuing their passions.
Since leaving Gracenote, what have you been up to?
When Sports Direct was acquired by Gracenote, I oversaw the successful integration of two sports data companies into the new, larger entity. Having the opportunity to lead a locally grown company through the acquisition process was a tremendous experience but I recently left the parent company to pursue other interests and to satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit. I feel Halifax is going through a transformational period and opportunities abound. And, again, SMU is helping Halifax compete globally because of its excellent commerce programs and its ability to recruit both domestic and international students. The goal is to position Halifax as a place where people will graduate, stay, and help grow the city. But all of the students benefit from making friendships and connections with students from around the world. Who knows where those connections can lead?
Other than the entrepreneurial spirit you feel is alive and well in Halifax, what other things do you think would appeal to a student, considering SMU?
Halifax’s population is 400,000. So it’s not so huge that you get lost in the shuffle. But it’s also not a small, isolated city. It is a vibrant, thriving urban centre. So from a social and lifestyle point of view, you get the best of both worlds. Plus, for a city this size, its cultural, food and music offerings are incredible – Halifax has so much to offer.
Is there any advice you would give to students who are either about to start university or are already studying?
The advice I would give is to be open to opportunities and embrace change. Also, don’t think of university as just the time you spend pursuing your studies. The students, friends, colleagues, profs and alumni I met and worked with at SMU are connections and a network that are still a big part of my life and continue to offer opportunities, to this day.