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Hat Trick: Daniel Tolensky on Finance, Analytics & Hockey

  • By Ira Apfel and Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 2/22/2017

During a recent interview for the AFP Conversations podcast, Daniel Tolensky, CFO of advertising agency Arrivals + Departures, as well as online and mobile gaming business Karma Gaming, discussed his roles in both organizations. He also explained on how his finance background helps in his other role as director of analytics and operations for The Will Sports Crew, a Canadian sports agency that represents NHL players like Nail Yakupov and Tyler Seguin.

AFP Conversations: You clearly wear a lot of interesting hats. And I’m wondering what you consider to be your number one job. What is your number one priority that you devote most of your time to?

Daniel Tolensky: My primary job, I guess you could say, is at the advertising agency and I’ve been working in the advertising industry for about 15 years now. I started on the client services side of the business and quickly realized that I’m very passionate about the agency. So I kind of created a role for myself at an agency called Grip Limited. It was, at the time, growing very quickly and I realized that I was very interested in the operations of how an agency ran. I was there until about 2009.

I was approached by the founder of a company—back then it was called Extreme Group. They had reached out to me about taking on the CFO role. I had worked my way up at my prior agency to controller and I’d done my CMA destination at the same time. So it was kind of a good natural stepping stone for me. I moved into the CFO role back in 2009 and I’ve been there ever since. We rebranded just about two months ago now as Arrivals + Departures.

AFP Conversations: You’re also learning about startup finance, being CFO of a startup too. How do you juggle those roles? Arrivals and Departures is a fairly mature company, and now you’re also helping start up other organizations.

Tolensky: The challenge is always getting enough sleep, to be honest. But I like having my hands in the bunch of different companies. It’s great to have, even at the agency back when I started in 2009. We had a 13, 14-year-old agency from Halifax that had been tried and true and everybody knew it out there. But, we also had this agency in Toronto that only had about 10 or 11 people. So essentially that was still in startup mode. So even just from the agency, we had a startup and we had a mature business and the markets were very different. They still are to this day, obviously. But, the East Coast market is very small in terms of competition, but also very small in terms of client opportunities.

A lot of the clients over the last decade or so have moved their head offices from Atlantic Canada to Toronto or elsewhere. So we had a mature business that had been around a long time in a challenging market and then we had a startup agency in Toronto, where essentially most of the head offices in Canada are close to. But, you also have 200 to 300 ad agencies in the city that ranging from 500 people to two-people shops. So I’ve always had that balance of, how do you build an agency, and then how do you take an existing business and evolve it so that it stays relevant and stays competitive with what’s going on the marketplace.

AFP Conversations: Turning now to your role in the hockey world and sports agency representation—What does your work entail at The Will Sports Group?

Tolensky: So I do a lot of tracking and analytics, predominately focused on contracts. I’ll be the first to say that it’s far from a full-time job. As we discussed, I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate. It’s helping our guys to maximize their potential when it comes to their contracts expiring. Largely around July 1st is Unrestricted Free Agency Day. Or when guys are looking to sign extensions mid-season and tracking comparable contracts. Where would be a good place for this player to sign to continue his career? It’s a lot of that—a lot of tracking and analytics, and comparing players. And really it’s really about arming our agents—the leads who are doing these negotiations—to have the best information that they can to make the case that our guys deserve as much money as we think they deserve, based on their performance and their potential.

AFP Conversations: You’re working for players and in contract negotiations—how many teams have analytics departments? And do they all at least have somebody? Or is it still kind of more of a traditional type of approach to just scout by eyes and let the eyes do the analysis?

Tolensky: I think by now most, if not all of them, do have somebody. Not all organizations like to publicize it. For the ones who maybe don’t have a strong presence in-house, there are companies where teams can subscribe to services and have access to certain platforms and things like that. So, I think all teams use it. The question really becomes the people in charge of the negotiation, which is for the most part, the general manager. How much do they believe in it, right? Because you can have data—it’s like that in adverting, and it’s like that in hockey. You can have as much data as your team and your systems can compile. But are you a person who relies on data? Or are you person who relies on your experience? Or are you a person who relies on your gut feeling? I think the best probably draw a little bit of everything.

Hear the full interview here.

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