Ex-convention centre CEO travels new path

David Sali
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For nearly a decade, Pat Kelly tried to entice business to Ottawa’s downtown convention centre as its CEO.

Floor 13's Pat Kelly

Now, he’s on the other side of the table.

Mr. Kelly left the Shaw Centre in March 2015 after eight years in charge of that facility and its predecessor, the Congress Centre. He launched his own firm, Pat Kelly Consulting, in September, and recently he forged a partnership with two other well-known Canadian tourism consultants, the Yukon’s Patti Balsillie and Montreal’s John Dunn.

Their new venture, called Floor13, offers a range of services to tourism enterprises, including sales and marketing advice, strategic planning and public relations.

Mr. Kelly said he’s known his new partners for years. The three “seasoned veterans” of the tourism industry each bring different backgrounds and perspectives that make their alliance greater than the sum of its parts, he added.

“We started talking about the advantages of perhaps collaborating under some kind of a brand,” he said. “The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like a good idea.”

All three will remain independent consultants, working together on bids when they feel their combined experience will give them an edge against larger competitors.

“What we have found is that there are some opportunities where our chances of being successful in the bidding process are enhanced by teaming up,” said Mr. Kelly, 62, who spent decades as a hotel manager before becoming CEO of the convention centre.

“We thought that if we’re going to team up fairly frequently … we found that in some cases it’s better to go under the common brand that offers the background and experiences of all three of us as opposed to one of us.”

They named the business after the floor number that was long skipped over in a multitude of hotels for fear it was bad luck. Mr. Kelly said it’s their way of telling clients they aren’t afraid to be a little different.

“For us, it suggests a certain degree of risk-taking, innovation, edginess and being somewhat unconventional,” he said. “This is not the typical cookie-cutter consultant approach. We really take a customized approach to every client’s challenge. We’ve been in their shoes.”

While Mr. Kelly’s resumé is weighted toward the operations and strategic planning side of the industry, he said Mr. Dunn brings extensive expertise in sales and marketing to the table while Ms. Balsillie has a history of working with non-profit organizations and aboriginal groups.

That diversity has already paid off, he said, noting the partners won two contracts before they even made their venture public.

“From my perspective, this is quite encouraging,” he said. “There are some bid opportunities where being able to put all of that background experience under one brand really works to our advantage and helps us to compete a little bit more effectively against some of the bigger hospitality consulting houses.”

Mr. Kelly said he has no regrets about striking out on his own.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “There’s something quite rewarding about running your own business. It’s certainly a learning experience, and so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

After years of living in Stittsville and making the daily trek downtown, he’s loving the convenience of running his business from home.

“I certainly don’t miss the commute into work and back every day,” he said with a chuckle.

Organizations: Shaw Centre, Congress Centre

Geographic location: Yukon, Montreal, Stittsville

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