On the fast track

The race promoter has ambition to burn

D'ARCY JIENISH June 2 1997

On the fast track

The race promoter has ambition to burn

D'ARCY JIENISH June 2 1997

On the fast track

The race promoter has ambition to burn

On a Tuesday morning, less than two weeks before Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson settle into the starting blocks, the cluttered Toronto offices of Magellan Entertainment Group have the nervous buzz of a hospital emergency department. Phones are ringing, fax machines humming and the young men scurrying in and out of meetings look like they are functioning on too much coffee and too little sleep. In this frenetic environment, Magellan’s 29-year-old president Giselle Briden seems sublimely out of place.

With her pale lime suit— the immaculate white trim going perfectly with her platinum blond hair, long glossy fingernails and sparkling smile—she could be on her way to a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. But Briden says she is involved in organizing every aspect of the Bailey-Johnson showdown.

“Initially, there was a lot of skepticism about a young female in this business,” she admits. “I want people to judge me on the results.”

And Briden—who favors words like “energy” and “enthusiasm”—bubbles over with both as she predicts that the One-toOne Challenge of Champions will be a slam-bang success. She expects at least 40,000 people to atI tend the three-hour exÿ travaganza at Toronto’s 1 SkyDome, which will also feature other track-andfield competitions and a concert by Dan Aykroyd and the Blues Brothers Band. The athletic contests will be televised in Canada, the United States and 54 other countries, meaning the audience could reach 300 million. As well, Magellan has signed several major corporate sponsors, including Adidas, Swatch and Motorola. “This event,” Briden says, “takes us up to a whole new level.”

In fact, Magellan appears to have rebounded from a shaky start. Last November, Briden held a SkyDome news conference to announce the race—which did not yet have a venue or a TV contract. Then, in early December, the CBC’s Sunday night

business program Venture portrayed Briden and her partner, Salim Khoja, a former stockbroker, as small-time Ottawa-based players on the motivational-seminar circuit who had boundless ambitions and cash-flow problems. Venture disclosed that Briden had declared personal bankruptcy five years earlier, while in 1995 the Investment Dealers Association of Canada—charging Khoja with, among other things, misusing client funds—had permanently barred him from working for any of its members.

But Briden had not given all those fist-pumping, think-positive speeches for nothing. And despite the bad publicity, she went on to meet Toronto businessman Edwin Cogan, who specializes in lining up investors for real estate developments and other projects. Cogan told Maclean’s that Briden had a contract with Bailey and Johnson, but could not raise money for the race. He found investors to buy out her backers, added to her staff, and in February moved Magellan from Ottawa to his already cramped Bay Street offices. ‘The whole thing had come unravelled,” Cogan says. “They were knocked against the ropes.”

Back on her feet, Briden is not eager to dwell on her mistakes. She will talk some about her past, however. A Toronto native, she is the youngest of four children whose father was an apartment building superintendent. After completing high school, she worked briefly renovating houses. She also dabbled in other businesses, and in 1992, declared bankruptcy when one venture left her $20,000 in debt. Then, she and her musician husband moved to Ottawa, where she started working with Khoja. “It was a really great education,” she says. “It taught me to do whatever it takes to make a project successful.” As Briden nears the promotional finish line, she still has a long way to go to silence the doubters.

D'ARCY JIENISH