Gortsema Sports Success

October 16, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Tim Gortsema can do something most executives can't.

As senior vice president of business operations for the Grand Rapids Griffins, he gets to begin his business year with a clean slate every October.

And this week that fresh start holds extra meaning for him.

When the Griffins open their 12th home season Saturday night, Gortsema will also be starting his 12th year with the American Hockey League franchise and its owners, Dan and Pamella DeVos and David Van Andel. But Saturday's opener will be a bit more special this year, as it will mark the beginning of his first full season as the team's top business executive.

The personable Gortsema replaced the venerable Bob Sack in the post last December when Sack left the franchise to join McShane & Bowie as the law firm's COO. Prior to moving up the team's corporate ladder, Gortsema served as vice president of finance and administration for the Griffins and the Grand Rapids Rampage, the DeVos-owned Arena Football League franchise.

Gortsema is still tying up a few loose ends for the Rampage, which begins playing in March, and has turned much of his attention to the Griffins, which began playing Oct. 6. He said it has been a pleasure to have a hand in directing both franchises for multiple reasons, but mostly because of the caliber of the teams' owners and the way they operate.

"The biggest thing for professional sports is the quality of ownership, and I think at DP Fox, and the Griffins and Rampage specifically, we have integrity and a quality of ownership that is unparalleled. We have ownership here in Grand Rapids that is as good or better than the ownership you'd find in the big four major-league sports," he said.

"They follow a mantra of 'hire the right people, and then let them do their jobs.' They give us parameters on how we manage this business, and then they step back and let us run with it."

Gortsema played a key role in recent discussions with the Detroit Red Wings that wound up with both clubs agreeing to extend their affiliation for five more years. What was important to Gortsema in those talks was getting more marketing opportunities with the NHL franchise for local fans to enjoy.

The first one was truly a first, and it took place last month when the Griffins held a "Wings for Lunch" promotion where Red Wings players practiced on the arena ice and then signed autographs for the thousands who attended.

BRIEFLY

Name: Tim Gortsema
Company: Grand Rapids Griffins
Title: Senior Vice President of Business Operations
Age: 39
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Hudsonville
Family: Wife, Suzanne; children, Danielle, Justin and Madelyn
Business/Community Organizations: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants, and a deacon at Fellowship Reformed Church
Biggest Career Break: Working at Deloitte & Touche while earning his undergraduate degree at Hope College.

"We were able to do something unique that we've never done in the past years of them being in Grand Rapids. Their guys were willing to stick around and sign autographs, which was great. What I thought was most interesting about the autograph session was the clock wound down, and the guys had to hit the bus to go to Detroit, but several of the players said they wanted to stick around and sign the last autograph for the kid at the back of the line. That, I thought, said a lot about the character and integrity of the players," he said.

The Griffins' bottom line also benefited from the new agreement.

"We did improve the deal financially in that they're now picking up the coaches' salaries, a change that we jointly pursued with them."

Gortsema said his biggest career break came as a student at Hope College when he went to work for the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm. He said he gained valuable insight while there into many business aspects and came in contact with a number of notable business people. He started there as an undergrad and stayed while he earned his MBA from Western Michigan University.

"Deloitte gave me the opportunity to work in a variety of different industries with a bunch of different people, and to figure out what worked and didn't work for effectively running a business," said Gortsema, a Grand Rapids native.

"One of the people that I worked with at Deloitte (Diane Maher) left before I left, and she eventually became the CFO for Dan DeVos. She was my connection for coming to the hockey club 12 years ago," he said.

Fourteen years ago, he made another lasting connection when he married his wife, Suzanne. They met on the Hope College campus, and today they live with their three young children — Danielle, 11, Justin, 9, and Madelyn, 4 — in Hudsonville. Suzanne grew up in Riverview, which is on the east side of the state, and started dating Tim during their senior year.

"Suzanne has a full-time job at home, and she works harder than I do," he said.

In his spare time, Gortsema plays golf, works out at the downtown YMCA and does his best to keep up with his kids' schedules. He coaches Danielle's soccer team and Justin's baseball team.

"Weekends are family time. We do fun stuff with the kids. We had both the older kids in soccer games on Saturday, and then on Sunday we went to the apple orchard," he said of a recent weekend.

This weekend the Griffins will try to score a bunch of goals against a group of Ice Hogs from Rockford in the home opener. Over the coming weekends, Gortsema and his crew will keep score of the goals they set and the ones they've met on that big clean slate they have hanging in the office.

"I think the nice thing about sports is every year is a fresh start. It's a little different than most organizations, but every year we get to start anew and figure out what our themes are going to be, how are we going to attract fans to our product, what new wrinkles are we going to have for the entertainment aspect," he said.

"We have a tremendously talented and tenured staff and management team here. We're going to be tapping into all of that background and experience. Everybody will be pulling the wagon — no one will be riding — to try to accomplish the goals we've got out there for this year and beyond."

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