It has taken a while, and understandably so, but Ron Francis is making a move away from hockey.
Not from Raleigh. He and his family are staying. But hockey.
Francis, the former executive vice president and general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, has joined NAI Carolantic Realty, company chairman Steve Stroud announced Thursday. Francis will work with clients on commercial real estate investments, Stroud said.
“I’ve known Steve for a long time and stayed in touch over the years,” Francis said in an interview. “When things changed for me he said, ‘What are you going to do?’ and he said I would be good at this. We talked about it, I hemmed and hawed, and made the decision to go back to school and take the class and learn about real estate in November and December, passed all the exams and got my brokerage license.
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“I talked with Steve and said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ Here we are.”
Francis, 55, used the word “reinvent” in describing his move into the business world. For nearly all of his life, it was all hockey.
He was a Canadian junior star, an NHL star, a two-time Stanley Cup winner and judged worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame after he retired as a player. He had his number retired by the Hurricanes and was the first hockey player selected for the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
Moving to the Hurricanes front office, he was the director of player development, vice president of hockey operations and also associate head coach, then named general manager and executive vice president in April 2014.
Everything changed when Tom Dundon became majority owner of the Hurricanes a year ago. Dundon, citing personality differences, first reassigned Francis to president of hockey operations in March 2018, then fired him the next month.
Francis has remained an investor in the team as a member of Hurricanes Holdings LLC and said he will continue that financial relationship until November 2019. He said his contract with the team ends June 30, 2019, and said he preferred not to comment on the team or his departure from the Canes while still under contract.
Francis said he has not attended any Hurricanes games this season or seen the telecasts. He was once Rod Brind’Amour’s teammate and later his boss as GM, but has watched from afar during Brind’Amour’s first year as a head coach.
“This will be a dramatic change from what I have been doing in hockey, there’s no question,” Francis said of his new position “I do think a lot that you learn in hockey and learn in sports in general translate well to the business world in terms of communication, teamwork.
“It’s a new challenge. But I certainly feel more comfortable that I’m doing it with NAI Carolantic Realty and Steve Stroud and the people he has here, who have an outstanding reputation and are known for their hard work and knowledge. I’ve got some learning to do but some good people to learn with.”
In terms of hockey, Francis said he believes he could have “stayed in the game” and his name has been mentioned as a potential candidate for other GM jobs. But he said that could not have happened while maintaining his investment in the team, and likely would mean moving his family.
“At this point in our life, we thought this isn’t exactly what we’re looking to do,” he said. “So this is a new venture. I’m sure not a lot of people at 55 reinvent themselves.”
Francis did agree to serve as co-general manager, along with Sean Burke, of the Canadian team in the recent Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Another former teammate, Kevin Dineen, was the Canada coach although the Canadians did not win a fourth straight title.
It has been a busy time, Francis said. He said he and his wife, Mary Lou, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with a two-week trip to Italy. While there, he said, their daughter, Kaitlyn, was engaged and will be married in 2020.
Now, he has a new non-hockey job and said he was at his desk Thursday at the NAI Carolantic Realty office off Trinity Road, not far from PNC Arena.
“I’ve been in this area 20-plus years, been in this market and made a lot of good friends,” Francis said. “I’m excited about this opportunity.”