WDC hires interim COO to meet growing demands 

Search begins for permanent president to take over by New Year

The Whistler 2020 Development Corp. (WDC) has hired an interim Chief Operating Officer to cope with the burgeoning demands of the athletes’ village development.

Real estate development consultant Gary Cowan accepted the job after being offered the position by the board of the WDC.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to participate in the development leading up to the 2010 Olympics,” said Cowan, who is based in Vancouver. “I think it’s a great legacy for the municipality of Whistler. And it’s an interesting real estate development project.”

Interesting not only because the company is creating a neighbourhood from scratch, he said, but also because of the complexity of overlapping the 2010 Games mode with the legacy-housing mode.

Cowan is well-versed in the details of the project having been involved from the early stages as a consultant, helping to develop the business plan and doing the financial analysis in that plan.

“I’ve been working very closely with the board over the past year on a number of different initiatives within the context of the business plan,” he said.

The decision to hire Cowan as the interim COO is a sign of the changing needs of the corporation.

“To date we’ve basically been in construction mode other than doing the overall master plan and the business plan…” said board chair Eric Martin, who like the other eight board members volunteers his time free of charge in this project. “Now we’re getting more diverse and more complicated and, I think, needing a better overview.

“We’re getting more and more involved in the vertical construction and (doing) more and more business deals…. We need somebody to take charge of it.”

Cowan was asked to assume the position until the end of the year while the WDC launches a search for a permanent president.

The WDC is just starting that process of looking for a president and has asked three head hunting firms to give them proposals to do the search.

It is a position that is expected to last for three to five years as the WDC will be responsible for the changeover from athletes’ village to resident housing neighbourhood after the Games.

Cowan may throw his hat into that race.

“I would say I would consider that, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have taken the interim role, but we’ll see how that plays out over the next couple of months,” he said.

In the meantime he will be busy with the day to day running of the corporation, liaising with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC), and the resort municipality of Whistler.

One of the main challenges, he believes, will be finding the right staff to fill the jobs as the company continues to grow.

“I think one of the challenges, as with running any business in Whistler, will be staffing and obtaining qualified contractors, obtaining the staff that we need to continue to expand within Whistler 2020,” said Cowan.

The company is in the process of looking for at least one construction manager. It had previously advertised for the job and had narrowed the search to one candidate but it didn’t work out.

Cowan said they will take another look at the applicants and may advertise again for the position.

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