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A Second Wind

Every professional athlete faces retirement. But after these four bowed out, they found success in new careers, applying the same talent and work ethic that made them sports stars.
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

(continued from page 4)

At 24, Savard was in the early stages of a Hall of Fame career with the Canadiens and an association with the franchise that would bridge three decades, when he bought his first apartment building, in 1970. "You didn't need much cash to do that," he says, "and I was interested in real estate even then. I was also making $10,500 a year, so I knew my hockey income wouldn't be enough."

Everyone in hockey worked in the off-season, which for most players lasted from April to October. But Savard's Canadiens teams raised the Stanley Cup in eight of the 14 years he played in Montreal, winning four in a row at one point, and lasted deep into the playoffs almost every year, so his window of opportunity was often substantially shorter. By the time the Canadiens had finished celebrating another championship, training camp was only weeks away.

For that reason, and because of the heady, self-motivated players that the franchise tended to collect, those Canadiens were more likely to become entrepreneurs than simply get jobs for the summer. Success was in their blood, on and off the ice. "Nearly everyone on those teams became very successful," Savard says. "Ken Dryden, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, Jacques Lemaire, Mario Tremblay. Of course, a lot of them stayed in hockey."

Savard stayed in hockey, too. A week after he played his final game, in 1983, he was named the Canadiens' general manager. He stayed in the position 13 seasons, winning two more Stanley Cups with teams he constructed. He made far more than he ever did as a player, but he never stopped buying and selling real estate.

He was involved in a project to complete an unfinished Montreal apartment building, lending both his famous name and his expertise. Later, he bought the Chateau Champlain hotel in Montreal and landed an affiliation with Marriott. Over the years, he acquired partners and a reputation as a shrewd developer, but also as a winner with 10 Stanley Cup rings who puts his work ethic behind his projects. "You can't just put your name on it and expect it to succeed," he says. "[Former Islanders star and NHL Hall of Famer] Michael Bossy put his name on a restaurant. He was a good player, and it was a pretty good restaurant. But he wasn't ever there, he wasn't the owner, and it didn't work."

In 1984, Savard visited Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. He bought property there, sold it, then bought a $295,000 beachfront lot to develop for himself. Five years ago, he built a house. Now, having struggled through enough of Montreal's frigid winters, the 59-year-old businessman spends about half his time on the island, living in a six-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot mini-mansion overlooking the waves and working on his golf game.

On a breezy January afternoon, he settles into an easy chair and watches the Weather Channel, taking stock of where he is—and where he isn't. "65, 67, 70—not too bad," he says, reading off the local temperatures for the weekend. Every few minutes, his phone rings. His partners, Bernard Thibault and Mario Messier (who wasn't a hockey player, but sure sounds like one), consult frequently with Savard. After one call, Savard heads back to his chair and says, "I love real estate because it always rewards you in the end, even if you go through five or six bad years. Especially if you're smart enough to only buy prime land." That $295,000 lot on Hilton Head is now worth $3 million in land value alone.

A true defenseman, Savard's business philosophy is to take few chances. The company works on only a few projects at a time, making sure each is successful before moving on to the next. "My goal is not to be a powerful corporation, it's to be a good company," he says. "To be successful, but to grow slowly." On his most ambitious project, Savard is still waiting for the finish line. During the Clinton administration, his company built a 690-room hotel in Cayo Coco, Cuba. Called El Senador, it has four swimming pools, a cigar lounge specializing in vintage Cubans, and a gym, and includes villas constructed on pilings in the middle of a lagoon. He figured relations between the United States and Cuba would soon be normalized, and he wanted to be in position to take advantage.

Instead, George W. Bush was elected, and policy went the other way. As a Canadian, Savard is permitted to share ownership of the resort with the Castro government, but as a businessman, he knows it's a losing deal. He relies on filling the property with Canadians and the occasional European, and waits for the day when the 295 million potential customers on his doorstep will be able to visit.

In the meantime, he has his golf, long walks on the beach with his wife, Paulette, the soft ocean breezes, glasses of wine and good cigars. He also has all those Stanley Cup rings to remind him of past—and ongoing—success. "Sometimes I wear the first one, from 1968, because the first one always means something," he says. "Sometimes I wear one of the others. It's nice to have the choice."

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