After hanging up the skates following an illustrious, 23-year career, Ron Francis took some time away from the rink. A year passed, and he was ready for a new challenge.
The Carolina Hurricanes had opportunities. At a meager entry-level pay grade, Francis joined the team’s front office as the director of player development in November of 2006.
“I wanted to learn, and I wanted to get better,” Francis told CarolinaHurricanes.com. “We talked about salary at that point, and [Jim Rutherford] said, ‘I don’t have much. This is what is in the budget.’ But it was never really about the money. It was always about learning and the opportunity. I was fortunate that he gave me that.”
Eight years and a number of various job titles – including associate head coach and vice president of hockey operations – later, Francis has been named the Hurricanes general manager, just the second person to hold that title since the organization moved to North Carolina in 1997.
“It was a whole new learning experience. As a kid, you’re playing the games, hoping to get to the NHL, hoping to win the Stanley Cup. And then all of a sudden, you’re not putting on the uniform or the skates. You’re putting on a suit and coming to the office and sitting behind a desk,” he said. “I came in with an open mind and a willingness to learn. I was fortunate that Jim Rutherford put me in a lot of different situations to learn a lot of different facets of the organization.”
Francis approaches his new role with a hands-on attitude and a blue-collar work ethic, no different than his Hall of Fame playing career and no different than what he learned from his parents as a young boy in Canada.
“It’s probably just the way I was brought up. My mom and dad both worked hard,” Francis said. “My dad lost his father when he was 15, and he went to work at the steel plant when he was 18 to support his mom and two sisters. He worked 41-plus years in the steel mill. There were a lot of days, I’m sure, when he didn’t feel like going into work, but he got up, went to work and put an honest day’s work in. As a kid growing up, you see that and it just rubs off on you.”
As such, Francis leans heavily on in-person scouting, noting his belief that it’s important to see a player live to glean information about all parts of his game in addition to talking with his coach and teammates to get to know more about his character and work ethic. Francis’ recent travel schedule speaks for itself.
“Just in the last month, I spent a week in Western Canada scouting junior playoff games there. Came back for I think it was 24 hours. Went back out for another week to cover the Ontario league. Came back for I think it was 48 hours. Went out with our big team, and then with the season ended, had a couple days of meetings. And I just got back from Finland two nights ago,” he rattled off. “I think it’s important to get out there and see the kids that you’re considering as possibly the future of your franchise. Getting to watch them play, getting to do homework on them and know as much as you can about them so that hopefully when you make that selection, you make the right one.”
His approach to a managerial role is a composite of assorted principles he’s accumulated while wearing a number of hats in the Canes’ front office.
“You learn different facets and how to relate to people. You understand the challenges in each role,” he said. “As a player, you really don’t understand [the bits of the business]. You’re more focused on getting yourself ready to play … that you don’t look at a lot of the things outside.”
Ultimately, Francis’ philosophies circle back to the mantra of hard work.
“I think no matter what you’re doing, if you want to be successful, you have to be a hard worker,” he said. “I think you have to put good people around you to let them do their jobs and rely on their advice and support. I think you have to treat people honestly and with integrity.”
Francis is neither unfamiliar nor daunted with challenges, and one he faces as the general manager of a smaller market team is remaining competitive in a deep-pocketed division and conference.
“Pete Karmanos brought the franchise to this market, and he spent a lot of money over the years on hockey, so he deserves a lot of credit for doing that,” Francis said. “You look at baseball, and people talk about the Yankees and Red Sox and how they have this unlimited amount of money, but then when they talk about the Oakland A’s, they talk about them being a smaller market team and having to do certain things to compete and battle. That’s kind of what we are. We’re not in a big market, and for us it’s important that we draft properly and develop our own talent properly. If we can do that, it allows us to be competitive with anybody.”
And Francis has already made clear the vision for his team.
“I want guys who love to compete, guys that want to come to the rink each and every day, whether it’s a practice or a game, whether they are a little banged up or healthy, and every time they stop onto the ice, they’re going to give me all they have, because I think that’s the only way, as a team, you get to be successful: everybody is buying in and competing hard for each other,” he said. “When the logo on the front of the jersey becomes more important than the name on the back, I think you have a successful team.”
Since retirement in 2005, Francis has challenged himself in various ways off the ice. That continues today, as he becomes the eighth general manager in franchise history.
“You never want to stop challenging yourself,” he said. “For me, it’s always been that way whether I was playing or not playing, you want to keep giving yourself challenges, and you want to keep finding ways to overcome those challenges. That’s how I approach every day.”
On or off the ice, Francis’ goal remains consistent.
“I want to win the Stanley Cup again. This is just a different way of getting there,” he said. “I don’t get to put my skates, stick and gloves on there and bang people around and do things on the ice, but hopefully through things I do off the ice, we can try to get that team as successful as possible on the ice.”
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