Expressing confidence in the region's future, Hector Dougall says he is going "all-in for Thunder Bay."
The city businessman has just received approval from Canada's broadcasting regulator to assume the ownership of Dougall Media's TV and radio stations.
The CRTC’s go-ahead means he now has sole responsibility for navigating the companies through an ever-changing and increasingly competitive media landscape.
Dougall said he is not dissuaded by the challenges of operating a high-cost business in a smaller city in an era in which audiences can access innumerable entertainment and news sources without turning on a radio or TV.
“Technology may change and the method of delivery of information might change...but the need for accurate, quality, trustworthy information that is local to our community is going to do nothing but grow,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
“If there’s going to be a focus for our company, it’s going to be on embracing the digital age, to be able to transition ourselves as an organization so that we still are the voice of what’s going on in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.”
Dougall is equally optimistic about the region’s economic future.
“There are a lot of naysayers out there saying Thunder Bay is in neutral, it’s not going anywhere, it’s a backwater. I don’t believe any of that.”
He’s forecasting a lot of growth in the resource sector of the Thunder Bay district and Northwestern Ontario, which will generate significant spinoff economic activity and new jobs.
Dougall said he also believes maintaining local ownership of the stations creates advantages that are unique to the Thunder Bay market.
“We are the last of the independents in Canada...as far as television stations being owned by one person. And in broadcasting, increasingly, the small broadcasters are being gobbled up by the big ones," he noted.
Dougall sees local ownership as a strength, “because nobody gets to tell us what to do. Our news department will make the decision about what stories get to air. We don’t have an overall corporate master that we need to serve here.”
He added that anyone in the community who needs to talk to the president of the company is going to be able to do that under his watch.
Dougall’s interest in the business began when he was only eight or nine years old and his late father, Fraser, was the owner.
“I loved it. I was running around the hallways of 87 North Hill Street. I would poke my nose into every nook and cranny, often to the chagrin of those who were just trying to do their jobs,” he recalled.
Later, he held various positions with the family’s companies, mostly in radio.
Dougall obtained a BA degree from Lakehead University and an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University.
After completing his education he worked in radio in the U.S. and joined a global management consulting firm.
As his professional career advanced, Dougall and his business partner Derrek Lennox formed Kewin Consulting.
The company provides various services to numerous First Nations including in the areas of economic development, community planning, entrepreneurship and education training.
Dougall admitted to "sitting on pins and needles” over the past few months while he waited for the CRTC’s decision to approve the ownership transition from the estate of his late mother, Elizabeth.
“It’s a big moment. It’s the start of a new chapter here at Dougall Media,” he said.
But as he embarks on the process of modernizing the company, he's mindful of lessons from his father and from his namesake grandfather, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Lakehead’s first radio station in 1931.
“Values are absolutely important. I think values drive behaviours. My grandfather had partners. That was one thing he did really well. He worked together with people. He was entrepreneurial, and wasn’t afraid to dive into new things.”
Dougall said his dad continued in that vein, taking over the company in 1963, when he was just 21 years old.
He said one of the things his father did that he’s trying to emulate is to be on a first-name basis with every member of his staff.
“He always knew everybody’s name here. We have over 85 employees here. I’m still working on that.”
Dougall believes his willingness to take over the company and keep it operating was significant not just for him and his family, but for the entire community.
“If my family and I hadn’t decided that I would be the one to carry on, the companies would have been dissolved, broken up, and sold off. Thunder Bay would have lost its voice here, and would have lost a newsroom of 20 journalists covering this city and this region. In my view it would have been a tough haul for Thunder Bay.”
He said service to the community will be "behind everything" in the months and years to come.
"My mom, my dad, my grandfather, they all held many different service positions in the community. As I start to move forward I'm going to be more engaged with the community as well."