Q&A: Catching up with Mark Chipman
UND alum Mark Chipman relays his life trajectory from playing collegiate football to owning a pro hockey team
At the University of North Dakota, Mark Chipman earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, played football, met his wife and became a Juris Doctor.
Several decades later, the Winnipeg native saw two of his three daughters attend his alma mater.
It is only serendipitous that none of this would have occurred had it not been for Chipman’s insistence on an impromptu stop in Grand Forks during a college scouting trip across North Dakota with a high school pal.
Since he left the classroom, Chipman had forged a successful law career in Florida before he brought major-league hockey back to his hometown in 2011 with the acquisition of the Atlanta Thrashers and their rebrand as the Winnipeg Jets.
Today, he serves as the executive chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Jets, sits on the NHL’s Board of Governors and leads the philanthropy efforts of his organization.
Over the years of professional prosperity, UND has always loomed large for Chipman, who received the University’s highest honor, the Sioux Award, in 2012.
With his in-laws in town and one of his children still on campus, Chipman regularly traverses the roughly 200 miles between Winnipeg and Grand Forks. Every visit humbles him, he said.
He was last at UND in early November for this year’s Olafson Ethics Symposium, where he discussed ethics in professional sports.
Mere hours before his keynote appearance, UND Today staff writer Dima Williams caught up with Chipman to talk all things UND.
Football. I came down to play football. I stayed and went to law school here because I met my wife just as I was about to graduate undergrad. I was going to leave and go to law school elsewhere. But I met her and decided to stay and it was a good decision.
What did UND teach you?
As an 18-year old when I came here, I think it is just the experience of having to grow up, you are on your own. I was lucky because I had the structure and environment of a football team that helped. It puts you through a maturation process where you have to grow up fast. There is nobody to wake you up in the morning. There is nobody to make you do anything.
This place always felt really natural to me. It is so similar to where I am from just two hours up the road. It is similar in so many ways because the people are so much the same. What it provided to me is the sense of pride that everybody felt here – and I think the school has always really nourished and fostered that sense of pride – and I just felt a part of it right away. It just felt right and it still does. It kind of became my home and it still feels like it is. When I come back here, so many familiar feelings come up, so many good and positive memories of the friends I met here and the professors I got to know. It was a great experience.
Talking about friends and professors, who at UND has made a lasting impact on you?
Most important would be the head football coach at the time, Gene Murphy. He was a really unique man. I was not a very good player. I had to walk on, which means I was not a scholarship athlete. He treated me as he treated anybody else. There are only few people in my life that I would look back on it and I could say impacted me as positively as he did.
I had some great professors along the way, too — Mark Langemo in business school and Dean Jeremy Davis who ran the law school when I was there. There are a lot who I am probably forgetting.
What is your most vivid memory of campus?
My most vivid memories would be Saturday afternoons at Memorial Stadium and those games against North Dakota State. Those are sort of burned into my memory.
Is there a particular game that you will never forget?
I didn’t play in the game but I was part of the game in my freshman year. We played North Dakota State in Fargo and won. We had a really good team that year. We were undefeated. I had no idea what it was all about until I experienced that – the intensity and just being around that game. I was terrified. Just being on the sidelines was scary enough, nevermind being in the game. I will never forget that day as long as I live. It was just something to be a part of even though I was just barely a part of it.
You sent your daughters to UND and visit often. How has the University changed over the years in your eyes?
I don’t think it has changed much. My daughter played hockey here and when I went to those games, it still feels the same way. There is a familiarity. There is so much pride in the school that keeps being passed on. It never diminishes. It gets bigger and better.
Now to see the school with all of the improvements like the Wellness Center and the hockey arena and now the High Performance Center and the law school expansion that they have done, the new med school, it is really remarkable how the school keeps advancing forward in really significant ways. It was a much more modest campus when I was here, although at the time we thought it was fantastic. Now, it is world-class.
How did you make the switch from playing football to the business side of hockey?
I grew up playing both. If I could have continued to play both, I would have but I had to make a decision at one point in time. I wasn’t good enough to play hockey here and made the switch to football. I always loved the game of hockey. I grew up with it. I played a lot more hockey in my life than I did football. My father was a really good hockey player.
So, the opportunity came up to get involved in the business about 22 years ago. I never really imagined that it would become what it has. It was just sort of an opportunity to get involved in it and seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Then, one thing led to another and it grew to what I do now. So, it wasn’t really a conscious switch from one to the other. It was organic, just how my life unfolded.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. People who excel and do it with humility. When I look around the examples of people who have inspired me, they have always been exceptional at what they do but are doing it under the radar and quietly and not doing it for accolades.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family, my daughters. Raising young women in this day and age can be a daunting task and I think my wife and I worked hard at that and I am very proud of my girls. Beyond that, I would say the culture that we have built within our company. It is a very talented, hard-working, passionate and humbled group that I get to work with. I am really proud of our culture.
What advice would you give to current UND students?
Keep it humble. As soon as you fall into a place where you think it is all about you, you are on a dangerous path. There is nothing that you cannot achieve really on your own that you cannot do much better in connection. That fork on the road that separates enduring success from fleeting success is when the ego gets involved, when you think that everything that you have achieved is about you and you are owed something.